Do you know what's amazing? The Browns have scored 27 points or more in there past six games. During that stretch, the Browns have a 5-1 record, making them the hottest team in the NFL besides the Patriots, Packers, and Cowboys. Throughout that time though, the point differential in victory wasn't too impressive. Sure, we beat the Dolphins and Rams by ten and seven points respectively, but that should've been a given considering they were both winless at the time (Miami still is). We were forced to win two games in that six game stretch by a field goal in overtime -- one against a pretty good Seahawks team and the other against a pretty bad Ravens team. The team's ten point victory over the Houston Texans this past Sunday was what we had been waiting for though. We've been calling for a defensive showing all season long. We got it.
As the team's confidence is building, it's time to jump right into the game balls and then the regrettable game goats...
Awarding Game Balls (Are the Tides Turning?)
- Brandon McDonald: I don't think it's fair to make excuses and say that Andre Johnson struggled because he was still recovering from his injuries. Johnson wasn't denied a 100-yard game the first two weeks of the season, and he wasn't denied a 100-yard game the week prior to facing the Browns. With rookie cornerback Eric Wright out with an injury, I expected much of the pressure to be on veterans Leigh Bodden and Daven Holly. Instead, the Browns used another rookie cornerback -- Brandon McDonald -- to cover Johnson in key passing situations. This was basically McDonald's first chance at receiving significant playing time this season, and he came through more than anyone could've expected times ten. He broke up several passes, had a critical interception in zone coverage, and made plays on special teams. Johnson was held to three catches for 37 yards, a season low.
- D'Qwell Jackson: Two defensive players getting the game balls? That's most certainly a first this season (although to be fair, Jamal Lewis and Kellen Winslow deserve game balls too). The Browns' run defense had slowly been getting better and better over the past several weeks, but with Jackson back in the lineup full time, the defense kept the Texans to a total of 77 yards rushing. Jackson had about 11 tackles, an early pass break up, and a nifty interception after a tipped ball by Andra Davis.
Goats of the Game (Almost Blew the Game)
- Darnell Dinkins: I don't like it when television networks do not show a replay of what happened after a penalty is called. After Joshua Cribbs' 29-yard kick return with about seven minutes left in the second quarter, Dinkins was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct (or a personal foul) after the play, resulting in a 15-yard penalty. I can't comment directly on what he did considering I didn't see it, but referees don't usually throw flags for nothing. For being a big-time special teams player, Dinkins seems to be the only guy on the unit getting flagged for things. It cost us once against the Steelers, whether he was guilty or not, and it could cost us again down the stretch.
- Dave Zastudil: First, two defensive players get game balls, and then two special teams players get game goats. The wind definitely seemed to be a problem in the stadium on Sunday, but even with that in mind, I'd have to imagine that Zastudil could have gotten off some better boots.
- Hit 'Em Hard: Jamal Lewis isn't getting weaker, he's getting stronger. Against the Texans, I think it was confirmed that Lewis is ready to get the job done in the month of December against teams that aren't known for stopping the ground game. Props to offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski for continuing to run the ball, even when it didn't work out as we would've preferred in the first couple of series. As the game went on, there were more counters in which our guards did a tremendous job securing a hole for Lewis. It was Lewis' first 100+ yard rushing performance since Week 2, as crazy as that sounds. He finished with 29 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown.
- Pool's Shot: I criticized Brodney Pool earlier this season for not playing to the level of a starting safety. The first drastic improvement he made -- or perhaps Todd Grantham made in play calling -- was not being isolated man-to-man on the deep ball. Now that teams aren't going deep against us, Pool has the ability to do what he does best: roam around. Last week, that resulted in a 100-yard interception return. This week, it resulted in a tremendous hit on Texans tight end Owen Daniels, turning a first-down and goal from the five into a 41-yard field goal by kicker Kris Brown.
- K.J. Syndrome: Joe Jurevicius is usually money on third down plays, but he had Kevin Johnson syndrome against the Texans in the sense that most of his routes were run a yard shy of the first down (although Johnson's problem was more so that he'd catch and fall a yard before the marker). Jurevicius had five catches in the game, and three of them came up one to three yards short of the marker on a third-down play.
- On the Other Hand: You had to love the execution on third-and-one early in the second quarter by the Browns. Anderson play-faked beautifully and then found Jurevicius on a short pass right over the middle. Jurevicius did the rest, scampering for a 25-yard gain. Why did the play work so effectively? Up until that point, the Browns had been failing in short yardage situations on the ground, yet they continued sticking with it. The Texans completely bit for the run, allowing Jurevicius to be left uncovered.
- Percent Doesn't Matter: It doesn't matter whether Kellen Winslow is thirty percent healthy of sixty percent healthy; he's going to give it his all on gameday. Winslow made ten tough catches for a total of 107 yards and a touchdown. There's nothing that can get you more pumped up than watching Winslow leap up in coverage, protect the ball perfectly as he's coming down, take a big shot, and hold on. Although, watching Braylon Edwards hurl a fastball after catching a touchdown or Jamal Lewis hurdle over defenders can get you just as pumped.
- Things Happen: It's easy to blame the offense for not converting in some situations, like when Lawrence Vickers failed to get the first down on a fourth-and-short carry in the first quarter. However, sometimes you have to give props to the opposing defense, and this is one of those cases. You can't convert them all, right? It was interesting that Joshua Cribbs was lined up in the backfield though.
- Wish Granted: All season, Shaun Smith has been getting screwed in my opinion. Granted, he was fortunate to have a shot at starting at defensive end in place of Orpheus Roye, but he was supposed to be our defensive tackle. With Ted Washington done for the year and Ethan Kelley inactive Sunday, Smith finally got his shot and he came through with another sack. Watching the big man plug the middle made me actually feel like our defensive line has come a long way since the season started (although, that doesn't mean my overall opinion that the position should be addressed in the offseason has changed).
- Bodden's Picking Up: When Leigh Bodden slipped, from being fooled, early in the game by receiver Kevin Walter, I started shaking my head in fear that it'd be another long day for the veteran cornerback. After McDonald started making plays though, Bodden seemed to follow his trend and start breaking up some passes of his own. Bodden also quickly dove on the football after Kamerion Wimbley had jarred it free later in the game from tight end Owen Daniels.
- Picked by a Mile: We've gotten pretty used to Derek Anderson stepping up in the pocket and firing throws all season long. I'm sure many of you sensed danger just from the mere sight of Anderson pump faking hesitantly and then delivering a loft pass deep towards the sideline in the second quarter, because I certainly did. As soon as I saw the form, I thought one of two things: the ball would be intercepted, or one of our receivers was somehow left uncovered by at least 15 yards. Chances are it wasn't the latter, and sure enough the pass was picked off. After the game, Anderson stated that he knew what he did wrong, handling the situation appropriately (which I liked).
- Former Teammates: I forgot to mention in my gameday preview that Antwan Peek was returning to face his former team. Peek was quiet most of the game, until he recorded a big sack in the second half on Matt Schaub deep in Texans territory. On the next play, Schaub was intercepted by McDonald. Andre Davis did a fair job hanging onto the ball for the Texans, catching three passes for 51 yards. Props to safety Sean Jones for a perfect tackle on third down just shy of a first down. I still don't know how Jones was able to prevent Davis from getting yards after the catch on that play.
- Better Officiating: Compared to last week's crew, I thought the officiating was much better in this game. They seemed to get all of the tough calls correctly, including the one in which Texans fans felt Anderson was past the line of scrimmage when throwing the ball on one particular play. In order for a flag to be called, his entire body would've needed to have been past the line of scrimmage, and you could tell that part of his foot and/or arm was still behind it.
- Late Defense: It was discouraging to see the Texans drive the ball late for an easy touchdown, but give a mulligan to the defense after the overall day they had.
- Brownies: Defensive back Nick Sorensen impressed me for the second week in a row on special teams. He also did a nice job this week hanging onto the ball on an onside kick attempt by the Texans. Steve Heiden had one of his lone chances at making a big reception this season, and pass interference or not, the connection wasn't made near the goal line, resulting in a field goal. Joshua Cribbs' return stats go down when our defense gives up less points, but that doesn't mean he didn't play a factor. Jerome Harrison should have been activated for the game. It's hard to explain why since we're scoring so many points already, but I've gotten greedy and can't help it. Phil Dawson is on pace to make 27.6 field goals this season. His career high is 27 made field goals, which came two seasons ago.
The confidence has to be high for Browns fans. Because the Tennessee Titans lost (thanks Cincinnati), the Browns are in sole possession of the AFC's sixth playoff spot. It's a shame the Pittsburgh Steelers came away with a 3-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night, because it would've been great knowing that we were tied for the division lead when it looked like Pittsburgh was in line for two automatic victories (Jets/Dolphins). The Browns have the Cardinals this Sunday, and although they made quite a few mistakes this past Sunday at home, there's no questioning that they have the talent to go down to the wire in a shootout with us.