There were several candidates I went over for this week's game ball, most notably kicker Phil Dawson, who had two 50+ yard field goals and battled through an injury to lead the Browns to victory. I've already picked Dawson once this season though, and doing so again would have been too repetitive. Please understand that Dawson is basically the real game ball winner, just not for the purposes of this post.
It would also seem fitting to award a defensive player the game ball, considering the defense held the Seattle Seahawks in check the entire game (minus one play). I was also impressed with the contributions made by just-signed running back Chris Ogbonnaya. In the end, I'm going to give it to tight end Alex Smith.
Smith finished the game with 1 catch for 13 yards. That catch came in the third quarter on a third-down play, so moving the chains (which eventually led to Cleveland's game-winning field goal) was a plus, but not enough to get the game ball. Smith gets the game ball for somehow getting under the skin of defensive lineman Red Bryant.
Bryant had a great game against Cleveland (although not the HoF type of game Jim Mora Jr. wanted you to believe he was having), including two blocked field goals. For a guy who was having a great game though, how the "measly" (I say that in comparison) sized Smith was able to agitate Bryant is beyond me. The two got into a scuffle earlier in the second half, but I thought that might be the end of it.
When the Browns were trying to officially win the game, they were stopped on a third-down. With no timeouts left, Seattle could have potentially gotten the ball back with about 0:38 left. Given what our defense had done all game, that might have seemed like a guaranteed win for us. The problem was this: Dawson had already had two field goals blocked, and a third (as rare as that would be) could've been run back for a touchdown. And, if the field goal was good, Cleveland only would've had a six point lead. Leon Washington already got screwed out of one punt return for a touchdown, and we gave up a kick return touchdown a week earlier. Dawson can't get the ball out of the end zone, and I didn't want our special teams coverage units costing us the game.
That's where Smith came in. After the third-down play was over, whatever he said pushed Bryant over the limit. Bryant stupidly head-butted Smith, drawing a flag, an ejection, and an automatic first-down for the Browns. Ball game.
Here are the two sides of the story (pulled from the Plain Dealer):
Red Bryant: "He [Smith] was talking the whole game," said Bryant. "He was taking cheap shots at me. That's what guys do when they can't block you. He did a great job of getting in my head. I should have been smarter than that."
Alex Smith: "We were just going at it all game and I think he just lost his head at the end. It was just one of those things where we were battling all day and it got a little chippy from time to time. But you have to be smart at the end of the game. It was definitely a game-changer. It gave them the ball back if he doesn't do that."
Props to Smith for not responding either, because so many times we see that in the league despite the known consequences. Is this incident typically worthy of a game ball? Probably not, but I think a case could be made for my special teams concerns and how the Smith-Bryant incident prevented that.