After so many Browns losses at the end of a game, I've thought about it before: what if by some miracle, after the game was "over", the referees decided to change a call and continue the game? Remember the Browns' playoff game against Pittsburgh a few years back? I wanted the referees to come back and say "the receiver got out of bounds before time expired," in reference to Andre King catching a pass from Kelly Holcomb. Or, last season in one particular game, Braylon Edwards nearly came down with a catch in the end zone as time expired, but it went out of bounds. I wanted the referees to come back and say there was pass interference or something. Yesterday against the Ravens, especially after seeing the same exact 50+ yard attempt last week on the road, depression had set in when I saw the referees signal "no good".
I was standing up at the time, and after the "miss", I sat down and cupped my hands over my face. I looked on again while the announcers casually talked and the camera crew replayed the footage in slow motion, probably only intending to show that Dawson just had an unfortunate bounce. However, I clearly saw the football hit the curved ball beyond the goal posts, and I stood up in a fit of rage, screaming at the television set (and screaming through words in the Dawgs By Nature Gameday Thread). It took more than five minutes, but, perhaps for the first time in history, the referees changed a call occurring at the end of a game. Thankfully they did, because no matter how good or bad we played against the Ravens, if that play would've stood as a "miss", football as we know it may have been ruined forever due to the officiating conspiracies that would have been under discussion.
A win brings us one game closer to the postseason, so let's get to the breakdown of this week's game, starting with the gameballs, followed by the game goats, and finally the meat and potatoes (Thanksgiving pun) of the review...
Awarding Game Balls (Will Make Thanksgiving Better)
- Joshua Cribbs: For the second week in a row, Cribbs receives the top gameball for his tremendous play on special teams. There were quite a few individual players that stepped up against the Ravens, and I hate having to shun them, but Cribbs simply made too much of a difference again. The Ravens decided to challenge Cribbs on kickoffs, and it cost them, particularly after Matt Stover's go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter and then his return in overtime. Seriously, how many of you received a confidence boost after Stover's field goal when Cribbs almost drove six Ravens ten extra yards down the field? Cribbs also forced a fumble on special teams, although it doesn't seem like the statisticians have given him credit for that.
- Sean Jones / Brodney Pool: Despite the success that Kyle Boller had late against our secondary, this was the best game of the season from our safeties. It started on the Ravens' second series, when Boller threw the ball deep down the field. Playing center field and racing towards the wall, Jones made the interception as he dove to get it. Jones also had two blitzes where he shot through the line like a bullet to drill Boller. One of those resulted in Brodney Pool picking off a duck in the end zone for a 100-yard interception return, while the other was a borderline roughing the passer call by the referees.
Goats of the Game (Almost Blew the Game)
- Leigh Bodden: I didn't quite get a second look yet at every play that Boller completed down the field in the second half, but I do know that Bodden was responsible for a lot of the negative plays, including Devard Darling's 27-yard touchdown reception. On a day where the Browns were actually able to sustain some pressure on Boller and the safeties were able to make some plays of their own, Boller should have ideally felt like attacking Daven Holly's side more often than Bodden's side.
- Braylon Edwards: Even stars deserve to take their lumps. Despite having eight catches for 85 yards, it's still about the plays you don't make. Edwards had a fumble on the Browns' first drive of the game, and also had several drops. The biggest drop came on the Browns seventh drive of the first half. After the Browns were driving effectively, Edwards ran down by the five yard line and had a pass hit him right in the hands when we were at the 24 yard line. Edwards tried to turn to the end zone right away, and then dropped the ball. Although Tim Carter recorded a first down on the next play, we eventually went on to have a ridiculous stretch of penalties to set us back to 2nd-and-35 at one point.
- Redemption for Lewis: Last week, I blamed Jamal Lewis for costing us the game against the Steelers for his second half fumble and lack of productivity throughout the game. Lewis ran with confidence against his former team amidst stretches in which other players on our team appeared "weak". Watching him stiff arm Ed Reed, hurdle defenders, and plummet into the end zone for a touchdown really helped out the offense when the passing game was off key for once. He also almost became the first player in quite awhile to run for over 100 yards on the road in the Ravens' stadium.
- Pontbriand's Miscue: For the first time since being drafted as far as I can recall, Ryan Pontbriand had his first bad snap. It resulted in what appeared to be a fake field goal attempt at first, but on the replay, you could clearly see Zastudil hesitate on what to do after a high snap as Phil Dawson stood still, not sure whether to stay in his kicking position or move around. If the Browns had lost the game, Pontbriand's miscue could have played a major role in hindering our playoff chances.
- Kick of the Season: Throughout all of the kicks Phil Dawson has made in his career with the Browns, perhaps none of them were as significant as his 51-yard game-tying field goal as time expired in regulation. Dawson has been very reliable at the end of games the past three weeks -- two weeks ago he drilled the game-winner in overtime against Seattle, last week his 52-yard attempt would have been money in any stadium besides Heinz Field, and this week he hit the one mentioned and then the game-winner in overtime. He did miss a "short" kick early in the game, but I'll give him a mulligan on that for now. It's unusual that Dawson's last three successful kicks from beyond 50 yards have come in the Ravens' stadium.
- Blitzing Up The Middle: Blitz up the middle, blitz up the middle, blitz up the middle. The Browns have worked in that philosophy more often over the past two weeks, and the overall results have at least been somewhat positive. You can't tell by the yards given up, but the amount of sacks and turnovers are at least providing some excitement when our offense or special teams isn't being relied on. The Browns have ten sacks in their past two games after having only seven sacks in their first eight games.
- Better Play From Kelley: Part of the success from our defensive ends may be due to the improved play of defensive tackle Ethan Kelley, who was listed as having six assisted tackles in yesterday's game. Robaire Smith had two sacks on Kyle Boller, while Orpheus Roye seemed to quietly make his first sighting of the season with Shaun Smith inactive due to an injury. Judging against the Ravens' offense isn't fair, but the past two weeks, our defensive line has improved slightly.
- Major Flaw on the Line: After giving the defensive line their props, it's time to rip right into them again. Last week, I blamed Lewis' fumble for turning the momentum in the game. If you look at the past two weeks though, after our defensive line had created pressure in the first half and part of the third quarter, they started being overaggressive or not getting any push late in the game.
- Making the Throws: Derek Anderson can make the throws when we need to score in a hurry, or when the game is on the line in third-down situations. After Cribbs' nice return in the fourth quarter, Anderson dodged a defender and fired a strike down the field to Braylon Edwards between coverage, just deep enough for Dawson to get a good attempt off. Then in overtime, Anderson fired a strike to a leaping Kellen Winslow on what was a nicely designed, well executed play by the offense. Anderson's taken some heat for not lighting it up the past two weeks, but let's get real here folks: he faced two of the best defenses in the NFL today and played better than most quarterbacks in the league would have.
- Cowher's Homerism: For those of you that watched the CBS pregame show, you probably saw Bill Cowher's list of quarterbacks, including having Ben Roethlisberger ranked third. Overall, I thought the list was a joke in some areas, and was glad that Rich Gannon sort of stuck it to him for not even considering guys like Jeff Garcia or Jon Kitna For those of you wondering, I believe Cowher ranked Anderson 15th out of his 18 quarterbacks mentioned.
- Low Depth: Against any other team in the league, well, except for maybe the 49ers, Dolphins, or Falcons, the Browns would have been screwed against the opposing team's pass offense after the injury to Eric Wright. That left the Browns with Daven Holly stepping in as a starter, which in itself isn't so bad. However, after that, the depth on a slot receiver wouldn't have been too pretty.
- Fullback Handoff: The Browns ran the fullback handoff to Vickers three times in short yardage situation, and it appeared to work every time. However, the first time the Browns ran the play, the officiating crew have the Browns a horrible spot of the football in my opinion, resulting in a fourth down. Better offensive line blocking has removed some of the criticism for how often the Browns are running that play.
- Bad Stretch: It's easy to say it after the fact, but for once, I didn't necessarily agree with a little stretch of "trickery" that the Browns attempted. After we had a 10-0 lead and were running the ball effectively with Lewis in the second quarter, the Browns had received the ball at their own 26 yard line. On the first play, we ran a reverse to Joshua Cribbs, going for only three yards. It's tough to run a reverse against a fast pursing defense like the Ravens, and doing it deep in your own territory is not my favorite place to run it. On the next play, the Browns didn't operate the screen play too well on the same side, as it went for a four yard loss. On third down, Anderson threw a pick six to Ray Lewis.
- Jurevicius' Scamper: The playcalling on Jurevicius' 50-yard scamper worked out nicely based on how the play was drawn up. Everyone was set to run towards the opposite side of the field while Jurevicius sneaked across the other side. The defender following Edwards must not have even seen Jurevicius catch the ball at first, because for about a second after he caught it, the defender covering Edwards was still following him.
- Horrible Officiating: What can you say? The officiating in the game was one of the worst I've ever seen, from placing the ball incorrectly, to not calling horse collar tackles by the Ravens, to not doing enough after Haloti Ngata's low-blow cheap shot punch on Joe Thomas, to the "replay system malfunctioning" when the Ravens challenged a play, to finally initially getting the field goal call incorrect. In the end though, for our sake, and for the league's sake, thankfully the right call was made.
- Brownies: I thought Tim Carter was too sick to play? Defensive back Nick Sorensen was fairly active, recording four tackles on the day. Is Steve Heiden going to get his number called on a meaningful pass play this season? "Horse Balls" was appropriate for Derek Anderson on his diving extension of the football at the goal line, because I think that's asking for a fumble against any team in the NFL.
My wife (and cat) and I are in Milwaukee this year as I finish up school, but we still make sure to watch our Browns play. During the end of the game this afternoon when things were really tense, I looked next to me on the couch to see my cat, with appropriate bedding, unable to watch what happened. I thought it was pretty cute and snapped a picture. Even cats can be Dawg fans!
It's nice to be able to have some humor like this after the game. If Dawson's kick wouldn't have been good, meaning he just flat out missed it, the entire tone of this "review" probably would have ripped the team to shreds. That could mean its an unfair assessment at times, but in the end, we won, and that kept us in the playoff race. Now, we're even back in the race for the AFC North title after the Steelers lost to the Jets on the road. Next up is the Houston Texans in what should be a tough game. The Texans have a 3-0 record this season when wide receiver Andre Johnson plays, and with Eric Wright out due to an injury, Matt Schaub will be looking deep often.