The last game with blizzard-like conditions in Cleveland came two years ago, when the Browns were shut out by the San Diego Chargers 21-0. That was a game where it was fun to watch the teams play in the snow for a quarter or two, but the feeling of being blown out deflated the excitement after halftime. Last week against the Buffalo Bills, things were different. In a game where only eight points were scored, the Browns kept us on the edge of our seats for four quarters as our road to the playoffs got a little bit closer.
Who were the shining stars in the snow? Or the goats of the game? Let's find out...
Awarding Game Balls (Flourishing in the Snow)
- Phil Dawson: For the second straight week in a row, Dawson is receiving a game ball. His 35-yard field goal was difficult enough with a swirling wind in the stadium. As soon as he made that kick, you could hear Cleveland Browns Stadium going crazy, and I'm sure thousands of households in Cleveland and around the country (to all of you Browns Backers) sensed that the momentum was with the Browns. When Romeo Crennel sent Dawson out for a 49-yard kick, I thought he was a little crazy to think that he could make it. However, since the Bills were struggling to do anything offensively, I was pretty confident that the Bills wouldn't have been able to capitalize on good field position. Dawson drove his kick the way a high-school kid would on a mere 30-yard field goal attempt. Whether it be by a miracle or simply by pure talent, Dawson's kick went through and hit the "Dawson Bar" on the way. Peter King called his kick "Vinatieri-esque". If the Browns go far this season, that'll be on the highlight reels before he attempts a game-winning/tying kick in the postseason.
- Jamal Lewis: This game wasn't about touchdowns -- it was about Lewis making another statement to opposing defenses around the NFL. Lewis carried the ball 33 times for 163 yards, continuing to look like a man that has never been bothered by any form of leg injuries. It was a slow start for Lewis this week, but with an offensive coordinator that is not afraid to keep feeding him, the former Baltimore Raven is determined to continue alleviating pressure off of Derek Anderson and our defense. With the weight of the world on his shoulders, Lewis has stepped up to the challenge this year.
Goats of the Game (What Are You Doing?)
- Kellen Winslow: As much as I like Winslow, he had his third consecutive below average game with only two catches for 28 yards. Derek Anderson's throws could have been better in some cases, but "K2" is supposed to be an exceptional threat on any given down. Lewis and Braylon Edwards are making their impacts on games down the stretch; it's time for Winslow to make his.
- Jason Wright: I couldn't really think of another player with a significant negative, so I chose Wright because I can twist one of his plays in a way that makes it seem significant. When the Browns were driving in the first quarter, Anderson was being pressured on third down. He pumped once to Wright in the flat, and then was forced to throw it at his back in the flat. In those type of weather conditions, Wright took too long to get his head around and recognize the situation. Perhaps if he had caught it and ran a little, we could've gone in for an eventual touchdown instead of a field goal.
- First Time for Everything: Andra Davis had his best game as a Brown in years. Tying for the team lead with six tackles, Davis was noted for making all of the plays in the backfield for once. It started early on in the game with a delayed blitz hit on Bills quarterback Trent Edwards. In a game where everyone seemed to be moving at a slower pace, Davis, for whatever reason, was running like he was on regular grass. I don't believe this is a sign of things to come for Davis, but if it is, it would be a much-needed boost to our linebacking corp.
- Doesn't Have to Be Pretty: There are two different types of snow games: the one in Pittsburgh, where the pass defenses were at a disadvantage, and then the one in Cleveland, were the pass defenses were at an advantage. That's why Derek Anderson's completion percentage of 37.5% of his passes wasn't pretty, but it was bearable. Alarmingly, several of Anderson's first few throws were almost intercepted -- the same trend he has developed for weeks now.
- Deflected, Inter...CAUGHT!: The subtitle sums up what play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson stated when Anderson's pass over the middle bounced off of Edwards and into the hands of Joe Jurevicius, who then scampered for a gain of 25 yards. Color announcer Steve Tasker also pointed out that teams should never have two receivers in the same spot. That's true, but by the deflection going right to Jurevicius when there were about four Bills in the area, it's another sign that things went the Browns' way all game long.
- Extremely Fortunate: Boy, the Browns caught a huge break when Bills tight end Michael Gaines dropped a pass over the middle in the fourth quarter when he was wide open. Based on the replay, if Gaines had caught the pass, he would've had a free scamper to the end zone unless one of our defensive backs could've caught up to him.
- Safeties All Around: Not only did the Browns score via a safety when Brian Moorman kicked an overthrown snap out of the end zone, each of our safeties on defense had a noteworthy play. When Marshawn Lynch broke a 29-yard run in the first half, only one defender stood in his way: Brodney Pool. Pool kept his ground, conceded a few extra yards intentionally, and made a sure-tackle. Also in the first half, when a Bills' receiver leaped to try and grab an overthrown pass near the end zone, Sean Jones planted him as the ball went by.
- Heartbreak Confusion: For the second week in a row, after the Browns had dominated a game, our defense almost caused us "heartbreak confusion". In other words, our hearts would've been ripped out of our chests out of no where. Contrary to last week though, our defense wasn't at fault as much. Edwards made a few nice throws, although I didn't like the fact that we put Brandon McDonald into single coverage on Lee Evans on the second instance. The Bills didn't have time to run draw plays at that point, and Edwards had had trouble completing passes in double coverage all game long.
- Felt Their Pain: Granted, I was laughing when the Bills threw a screen pass on fourth down to end the game. Still, I can imagine the pain and how irate Bills fans must have been after that call. Their season was on the line, and they ran a play that even if it would've gotten them a first down, they wouldn't have had time to run another play. It was touchdown or nothing, and when the field gets smaller, especially in the snow, down near the red zone, the chances of scoring on that play were slim to none.
- Time of Possession: This goes out to a few of those Bills fans that thought their running game would keep our offense off the field. Time of possession: 28:13 (Buffalo) and 31:47 (Cleveland). Without snow, I don't think the Bills' offense would've struggled as much, but I think the Browns would've won by double digits.
- Changes in Rankings: It's nice to see the Browns finally move away from being the team to have given up the most points in the NFL all season. After being ranked 32nd in the league just about every week, the Browns moved up to 29th in points allowed. We're still last in total defense, but we did move from 30th to 29th in pass defense. With a struggling Bengals offense and a questionable 49ers offense (since they look better under Shaun Hill), it'd be nice for the Browns to finish around the 25th mark across the board.
- Punters on Their Game: I can't bash a punter for having a couple of miscued punts in the snow. Overall, neither punter did a bad job. In fact, each punter had three of their seven punts downed inside the 20-yard line, and they each also had one downed around the two-yard line. Moorman executed a fake punt beautifully in the first half, and Zastudil nearly punted the ball behind him once when he slipped. I wonder if that has ever happened?
- Returning at the Wright Time: None of our defensive backs had a bad game against the Bills, including the retuning Eric Wright. Seeing Wright back on the field was a positive sign, because we'll need him this week against the duo of Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Brandon McDonald had his first "blunder" if you'd like to call it that, as he slipped in single coverage as the game was about to end, allowing Evans to catch a pass around the 15-yard line.
- Oven Mitt: Where can I get one of Horse Balls' oven mitts? That should be a new trend in the NFL. Another note on Anderson while I'm at it -- he seemed to cut down on the aggressiveness of his throws in the second half. The Browns established a game of field position and were confident that they could keep it up for the remainder of the game.
Brownies: Another dumb plays for the Bills was on their wide receiver reverse run. That play is supposed to develop slow, but quick at the same time. The momentum was gone for the Bills' Josh Reed to have been able to suddenly turn up field without one of our defenders catching him. Andra Davis blew up the play, by the way. I didn't want to see Jerome Harrison in the snow. I'm still nervous about him fumbling the ball, especially in the snow. Orpheus Roye wasn't missed this week, but I still want him available to close out the season. Credit to the fans at the stadium who were pumped up throughout the entire game, and also chanting to pump up our defense at the end.
As big as the game against the Bills was, the Bengals game this week suddenly looks like a bigger one. We've always had trouble stopping Carson Palmer, and the Tennessee Titans are favored to win their final two games. If that's the case, then the Browns must win this week, otherwise they will have no shot at making the postseason. The Browns have had a lot of bright spots all season long -- toughing out another road win is the last thing we can ask for (until the postseason, of course).