Before the season began, many Browns fans gave Sports Illustrated's Peter King hell for projecting that the team would finish the year at 2-14. After a 1-11 start, it looked as if King's projection would come true. After two straight wins, the Browns have surpassed King's expectations and are actually starting to become a competitive team again. Here's what King had to say about the Browns in his Monday Morning Quarterback...
On Cribbs' Big Day
Josh Cribbs had a nice day for himself in Kansas City -- and an eloquent one afterward.
Rodney Harrison said it best on "Football Night in America'' Sunday night: When's the last time the best player on a team has been a special-teamer or a return man? Cribbs set an NFL record with his seventh and eighth career kickoff returns for touchdown Sunday, and they were both telling. The first, a 100-yarder in the first quarter, was a combo platter of moves and speed and physical play, with Cribbs breaking two tackles. The second, a 103-yard darter in the second quarter of Cleveland's 41-34 win, was a speed race up the left sideline.
We're watching a return man very nearly the equal of the best return man of our time, Devin Hester (though his prime was short), and a special-teamer who's physical and willing. And he's rapidly becoming Eric Mangini's favorite player.
Because everything in Cleveland is so politically charged right now -- with two friends of Mike Holmgren telling me over the weekend they expect him to take the czar job after turning down a late rush from the Seahawks Saturday -- and Mangini's future in doubt, you have to take everything players and coaches say there cautiously. But the Browns have looked lively and breakneck in the last two games, beating two suspect teams, Pittsburgh and Kansas City (and that's putting it kindly in the case of the Chiefs).
With that as a backdrop, I asked Cribbs Sunday after the game: If you polled all the players on the team, what would be the vote on whether to keep or get rid of Mangini?
"I think it'd be unanimous,'' Cribbs said. "I think the guys would definitely want to keep him. You can't judge coach Mangini on one year. The camaraderie in the locker room is great. You hear things in the media about coach Mangini being too tough on us. But I think we're building something here, and I think the players are behind him.''
Cribbs is a smart kid. I'm not saying a calculating kid, but he does know what makes a team go. He must have talked for five minutes Sunday about his kickoff-unit protectors, Lawrence Vickers and Blake Costanzo and Jerome Harrison. (Harrison also had the 286-yard rushing game Sunday at Arrowhead, the third-biggest rushing day in NFL history. How ridiculous, by the way, that that's a parenthetical.)
Cribbs said he hasn't made his contract a big deal this year -- he's making $620,000, 30th-highest on the team -- because of something club legend and adviser Jim Brown said to him: "I was told by the greatest, Jim Brown, to just play, and everything would take care of itself,'' Cribbs said. "He said when he played, all he worried about was playing, and he figured if he played to the best of his ability, they'd have to pay him. If that's what the great Jim Brown did, I think it's smart for me to do it too. I am confident I will be taken care of.''
Interesting story Cribbs told me about halftime in Kansas City. Mangini told the team, "Josh Cribbs cannot keep bailing out this team by himself. He needs some help.'' And Harrison, a total roster afterthought, told Cribbs he was going to do something about it.
Harrison, a fourth-year back from Washington State, rushed for 60 yards in 2006, 142 in 2007, 246 in 2008 and, in the first 13 games this year, 301 yards. Cleveland trailed 24-20 at the half, and in the second half, Harrison rushed 22 times for 208 yards, with touchdown of 71, eight and 28 yards. I guess Harrison was right -- he did do something about it.
Rewarding Harrison & Cribbs
Offensive Player of the Week
Based on opening-day salaries of every roster, there are approximately 1,018 players who make more in base salary than Jerome Harrison's $535,000. Harrison broke the Browns' single-game rushing record (held by Jim Brown) by 49 yards Sunday, rushing for 286 yards in a victory over Kansas City.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Josh Cribbs, WR/KR, Cleveland.
Now we've seen it all from this guy: two 100-yard touchdown returns in one half of football. In fact, they came 17 minutes apart at Arrowhead Stadium against the Chiefs and gave him eight for his career, an NFL record for kick returns for touchdown. Late in the first quarter, he took a Ryan Succop kick at the goal line, shrugged off two arm tackles, weaved, then sped for a 100-yard touchdown. One quarter later, Cribbs broke through initial traffic and put the burners on; no one came close to tackling him.
I've said this about Josh Cribbs a few times this season. He's 26, he's the 30th-highest-paid player on the Browns (2009 salary: $620,000), and he's the best special-teams player and returner in football. Pretty valuable asset for the Browns heading into another offseason of rebuilding.
It's nice to see the Browns receive some praise for once.