If there's one bright spot to losing to the Cardinals last Sunday, it's the fact that we may have given an NFC team that I'd like to see make the playoffs a shot at hammering down the wildcard (assuming the Browns make the postseason too). On gameday, points can be made that neither team really deserved the victory. The Cardinals were thin at receiver and didn't have their typical down-the-field showcasing, but they managed the ball better than the Browns did. Still, the Browns executed several big plays on offense, and technically should have won the game, according to more than half of the "analysts" from ESPN, SI, Yahoo, FOX, etc. combined. Unfortunately, they weren't the referees officiating our game, and because of that, we lost.
With a tough loss that had me hoping we'd get another after-the-game reversal call, let's check out this week's goats of the games, followed by the game balls...
Goats of the Game (Factors in a Losing Effort)
- Leigh Bodden: I know he apologized for it already, but that doesn't change the fact that Bodden's first quarter blunder cost the Browns dearly. After the Browns' offense had already put the defense in bad shape, Daven Holly broke up a third-down pass on the Cardinals' first offensive drive of the game. While the ball was on the ground, Bodden proceeded to kick it high up into the air right in front of an official, resulting in a delay of game penalty. Even if it wasn't a delay of game penalty, I personally would've flagged Bodden for unsportsmanlike conduct. The five-yard penalty was enough for a Cardinals' first down, and eventually led to Arizona going up 14-0.
- Simon Fraser: Despite his allegiance to Ohio State, I don't really have a soft spot in my heart to keep Fraser on this team. Not only is he pretty useless as a starting defensive lineman, the Arizona game marked the second time in as many years that he's cost the Browns on a major penalty. Last year, he smothered a defenseless Ben Roethlisberger on an interception return by Daven Holly, costing us great field position. Against the Cardinals, he retaliated a headbutt from an opposing player with a headbutt of his own, warranting a 15-yard penalty. Granted, we had the game winning pass at the end, but maybe with a little closer field position we could've gotten a pass closer to the part of the end zone that is clearly in bounds.
Awarding Game Balls (Positive Spins to a Negative Result)
- Braylon Edwards: Edwards' 67-yard touchdown catch against the Cardinals will still be disputed by some, but the effort is what warrants the ovation. It wasn't as clear as Marvin Harrison's catch, fall down, get up and run touchdown against the Denver Broncos several years ago in the playoffs, but Edwards' situation is comparable to what I'm surprised doesn't happen more often in the NFL. I can't get over how energized I was to see Edwards dive out nearly full extension to make the catch, roll over up to his feet, and continue sprinting all the way for the score. Edwards has already set career highs for a Browns receiver in a single season, and there are still four games left.
- Jamal Lewis: The Browns stayed committed to running the ball in the first half when we were down two scores, and Lewis stayed productive. We got away from the run in the second half, and understandably so, since time was quickly running off the clock. While Rob Chudzinski didn't take my advice to call for more checkdown plays to the running back, Lewis did have 3 catches and 24 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown featured Lewis catching a rope in the flat, and then hurdling over a defender as he took a shot on his way into the end zone.
- Anderson's Miscues: With the way he played, it wouldn't have been a major shock if I had deemed Anderson one of the goats of the game. He threw two interceptions, both of which were very poor decisions. As much as I like blaming Tim Carter for being the intended receiver on the first pass, the throw would've been picked off regardless of who was in there (although, maybe if a more physical guy was in there, Anderson would've thrown the ball higher). On his second interception, the announcers said it perfectly -- Anderson is proud of the way he's learned to find his checkdown receivers when his primary target is blanketed, but he failed to do that with Edwards triple covered. His other miscue -- a bad exchange with the center -- was costly, but something that does happen every now and then. Why didn't I give him a goat of the game nominee? Besides Bodden and Fraser fully deserving to be up there, Anderson kept his poise throughout the game and showed the moxy of a confident quarterback even when we were down two scores.
- Referees' Reviews: While I was watching the game with my brother, he originally insisted that on Sean Jones' interception and on Edwards' touchdown reception that the calls would be overturned. On Jones' interception, the replay showed that the ball touched the ground. However, when Jones rolled over, his hands were underneath the ball. If Jones was able to firmly grip the ball with both hands within under a second of the ball "possibly" touching the ground, then Houdini does exist. Without 100% evidence, the call should've stood as called on the field, and it did. On Edwards' touchdown, my brother insisted that Edwards' leg bent at the point when the defender crossed the screen, surely indicating that they made contact. Sure, you can theorize that, but the cameras never showed a definite "yes" that it occurred; in fact, to me, it looked like it was just a coincidence of the how Edwards' leg bent at that time. Again, without 100% evidence, the call on the field stood.
- The One That DIDN'T: We didn't "get" the two calls above by luck; we got them because they really happened that way. When Kellen Winslow caught the ball in the end zone on the final play of the game, he was clearly forced out. I'm not saying with certainty he would've gotten both toes in bounds, because anything can happen, but it sure looked like he would've been fine without the defenders there. The referee down by the goal line appeared to be staring at the ground to see if Winslow's feet were in bounds or not, completing ignoring the possibility of a forceout. The other referee running down the sideline didn't make a big deal out of it, and poof, the game was over. I guarantee you that after the referee saw the replay, he knew it was a forceout, but he could've reverse the original call on the field.
- Annoying Referee: I don't mean to make fun of anybody, but the head official against the Cardinals annoys me every time I hear him announcing a penalty. I feel like decking him right in the face...well, maybe not that serious, but it's still very annoying.
- Lawrence Vickers: I didn't quite understand the CBS announcers complaining about us going to the fullback Vickers twice instead of Winslow. Vickers was open both times, and he helped move the chains, especially on a nifty 25-yard reception in which he broke several tackles. I questioned Romeo Crennel for stating that Vickers was a centerpiece of the team's future in the offseason, but the young fullback has been nothing short of impressive this season.
- Step Backwards: I was concerned as soon as I heard that Orpheus Roye and Ethan Kelley would miss the game, and it really had a detrimental effect on the run defense. We went back to giving up over 100 yards to an opposing running back, this time to veteran Edgerrin James, who hadn't accomplished that feat since the second week of the season.
- Frustrating Cribbs: Props to the Arizona Cardinals special teams unit for being the first to frustrate Cribbs this season. They kept on kicking it high in the air where it would either go to Darnell Dinkins, or bounce and almost go for a fumble. Then, intentional or not, Cribbs had to sprint to a punt near the sidelines and muffed it after tripping over Daven Holly's leg.
- Two-Point Success: "Oh...my...god" was my gameday reaction to the Browns' two-point conversion attempt. Cribbs lined up in the backfield with Anderson under center. Anderson then motioned towards the left side and faced Edwards while sticking both hands up. Cribbs took the direct snap, looked to throw, then tucked for a run, then stopped and fired it to Winslow for an open conversion. It looked great on the replay to see how each minute detail of the trick play forced the defense to commit where the play inevitably did not end up going, leaving Winslow open.
- Sick to my Stomach: You'd better believe that I was dying to make fun of Ralph Brown in this review, hoping that he would've caused Arizona as much misery as he did for us last season. Instead, Brown continued committing misery for the Browns, especially on two big plays. He had tight coverage early in the game in the end zone on a pass to Joe Jurevicius. Later on, he quickly recovered Cribbs' muffed punt. Ralph Brown's is forever banished from being mentioned on Dawgs By Nature ever again.
- No Sense: Do you know what makes less sense than not activating Jerome Harrison? Activating him, only not to use him. While Lewis had a couple of nice catches, Harrison would've been a much better option against the Cardinals' defense on pass plays.
- Goal Line Stands: If for nothing else, let's hope that the offseason signing of Robaire Smith proves valuable for all of the goal line stands he's able to single-handedly come up with. He has been our best defensive lineman this season, as I anticipated heading into the season. By the defense keeping James out of the end zone prior to the second half's two-minute warning, the Browns' offense was given a chance to win the game.
Brownies: When Cardinals tight end Leonard Pope dropped a touchdown in the fourth quarter, Chaun Thompson had a chance to make his biggest impact of the season. Instead, he became the second person on the same play to not want the football. I didn't like how the Browns handed it off twice to Jamal Lewis halfway through the fourth quarter. It led to a poor series of plays that stopped the momentum we had built up with a couple of great pass plays. That could have actually cost us the game.
Worse than the Browns losing was the fact that the Titans snapped their three-game winning streak and the Buffalo Bills pulled out a last-second victory over the Washington Redskins. This week provides some favorable matchups for us, as the Browns are favored against the Jets and the Chargers are suited to take out the Titans. In a season where things have and have not gone our way, we can't afford our first two-game losing streak of the season to strike us during the "easiest portion of our schedule." The Browns are a playoff team and the Jets aren't, right? It's time to show it.