The Bengals didn't do a whole lot to beat the Browns 19-14. In fact, just about the only thing they did was not drop the interceptions Derek Anderson threw in the two-minute drill to close out the first half. This game was all about Anderson making questionable decisions all game long. Whether it be because of the flu, the windy conditions, or a psychological issue, Anderson didn't bring his "A-game" when the Browns needed it most. Now, we are at the mercy of the outcome of the Tennessee Titans vs. Indianapolis Colts contest this Sunday to determine whether or not the players on our 53-man roster will need to bother suiting up again at the beginning of 2008.
The goats of the game were clear this time around...
Goats of the Game (Cost Us The Clincher)
- Derek Anderson: This one hurt, and was a step backwards for all of the progress Anderson has made this year. Don't get the wrong impression; by no means am I calling for Brady Quinn. Anderson's constant throws into zone coverage reminded me of the throws he was making against the Oakland Raiders earlier this season. After that game, Anderson improved on his decision-making in regards to throwing over the middle. I guess it's hard to erase those tendencies completely in one season, because they came back to haunt him again against the Bengals. The ones that hurt even more came down near the red zone in the second half when we could've rallied to win. Twice on first down plays, he tried to force a ball into the end zone rather than remaining patient.
- Dave Zastudil: In the first quarter, the Browns were set to attempt a long field goal with wild winds swirling in Paul Brown Stadium. Dawson and Zastudil were waiting until the last possible second for the wind to die down, but that moment never came. When the ball was snapped, Zastudil lost the handle on it, and the red-hot Dawson couldn't even get an attempt off. If Dawson had drilled the kick, you never know if we would've been in position to kick a game-winner at the end.
Awarding Game Balls (Fighting Until The End)
- Leigh Bodden: Maybe the only thing Bodden needed heading into another matchup was for people not to talk about him. The last several times the Bengals and Browns have squared off, a big deal has been made about the battle between Bodden and Chad Johnson. This time around, I hardly heard a word about it, and Bodden played perhaps the best game of his career. He recorded two interceptions, both of them requiring nifty adjustments at the last second, and also broke up a would-be touchdown to Johnson in the first half.
- Braylon Edwards: Edwards' 14th touchdown of the season broke the team record, and his 15th of the season extended his record a step further. It's a shame that Edwards' 40+ yard catch on the final drive of the game was brought back due to a push off penalty, because it could've set the Browns up for a victory. Anderson has maintained his ability to use Edwards' body to his advantage; now he needs to go back to doing the same for Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius.
- Two Minutes in Hell: There has never been a more frustrating first-half two-minute span than the one Anderson had against the Bengals. A claim can be made on both occasions that he was trying to throw to a receiver that was fairly open deeper or shorter down the field, but the throws were so off that it's impossible to figure out exactly what he was looking at. His ineffectiveness in the drill was surprising, because if there's an area where Anderson has been 100% money this season, it has been during the two-minute drill. After his first pick though, I don't agree with Anderson attempting a pass on a similar play -- either go deep down the field, or go into the locker room and regroup.
- Too Cute: I wasn't very happy with the timing of a lot of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski's playcalling. It wasn't necessarily the plays that were being called, but the fact that he kept calling for Anderson to throw the ball in the first half when Jamal Lewis was running the ball effectively seemed to spell out that we were trying to be too cute with the playcalling. The Bengals were waiting for Anderson to throw the ball on too many occasions, and Chudzinski -- by virtue of giving Lewis 21 carries instead of something closer to 30 carries -- failed to capitalize.
- Quiet But Clutch: I was prepared to call it a failed effort for linebacker Andra Davis in terms of making an impact for two straight games, but he stripped Bengals running back Kenny Watson of the football with just under two minutes to play in the game. Had the Browns won, Davis' strip would've meant more of course, but the fact remains that his noteworthy plays the past two weeks have been a step forward.
- Chinedum Ndukwe: Is it really possible that a rookie safety, Chinedum Ndukwe, played a major role in the Browns failing to clinch a playoff spot? Too many times a big deal is made when a team is without their starting safeties, but this is already the second time this season that backup defensive backs have actually plagued Anderson. Anderson had trouble finding success early a few weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals, who were without Antrel Rolle. This week, Ndukwe intercepted two passes, nearly taking one of them the distance.
- Medicine Tasted Bitter: I suppose Shayne Graham's two successful field goals can be looked at as giving the Browns a test of our own medicine in terms of how the Buffalo Bills felt last week. Last week, Dawson's first field goal was good despite a big wind, and his second field goal was from longer distance and hit off a portion of the post (although, it was cleanly through). Graham's first kick was good despite a big wind, and his second kick ricochet off the top of the right goalpost and through the right side.
- Durability On D-Line: Already twice this season I've heard that the Browns were down to four defensive linemen in a game, and against the Bengals we only had three down linemen to work with. Of course the coaching staff can't expect injuries to occur, when they keep happening to guys like Ethan Kelley and Orpheus Roye on a weekly basis, it makes you question why we're activating an extra linebacker on gameday instead of an extra defensive lineman. The lack of a rotation helped pave the way for Watson's 130 yards on 30 carries against us.
- Cover It Up: Aggressiveness is part of Joshua Cribbs' nature on returns and the reason he was named to the Pro Bowl for the AFC. However, when you have five guys trying to take you down on a punt return in weather like this, you'd better have both arms wrapped around the football rather than trying to stiff arm somebody. Luckily, Cribbs' magical season continued, as he was able to reach out and grab his own fumble despite several defenders sitting on his back.
- Change of Pace: The one thing Chudzinski did do well was insert Jason Wright into the game after he had already established Lewis on certain drives. Wright found the holes quickly, as he scampered for 38 yards on 3 carries and also had 3 catches for 34 yards.
- Statistically Better, Impactually Not: While Kellen Winslow's seven catches for 73 yards look fair ok paper, this was far from a standout game for Winslow because of the plays he was involved with that Anderson couldn't connect with him on. On the Browns' first drive of the second half, Anderson's low throw to Winslow in the back corner of the end zone prevented him from coming up with the ball, resulting in an interception. On Anderson's final interception of the game, Anderson fired a pass near the left side of the field by the end zone towards Winslow. I know Winslow wasn't at fault for the play, but if the defender was standing their so long, I have to wonder if Winslow could've done a better job breaking the play up rather than acting like the ball would drop into his arms. Lastly, on the final play of the game, Anderson could not hook up with a rather open Winslow sprinting down the middle of the field. Again, not necessarily the fault of Winslow, but the "impact connections" to him weren't successful.
- You're a Monster: It was a scary sight to see defensive tackle Shaun Smith screaming at the Bengals' sideline -- he had me intimidated just watching at home. I'm not saying I condone crazy behavior, but at least it was someone showing some emotion on the Browns' defense for a change. I still think the Browns need to pursue a big-time nose tackle in the offseason, but Smith is definitely a keeper either as a backup or a temporary defensive end.
- It Always Works: Doesn't it seem like the plays involving Joshua Cribbs on offense always work, even when it's quite obvious he's going to get the ball? The Browns have been successful on offense, but surely there's a way we can use Cribbs' ability more to our advantage? If teams aren't stopping the plays designed for him, keep running them. And, if they start pursuing him, shouldn't that create more opportunities for Edwards, Winslow, or Lewis? I'm sure Cribbs would be far more capable of drawing a crowd than Tim Carter.
- Now, We Wait: This loss was on the Browns, because the Bengals did not do close to enough in my book to warrant an NFL victory. Now, we've put ourselves in position to hope for the Indianapolis Colts to build an early lead against the Tennessee Titans this Sunday night. Vince Young and the Titans' offense have struggled often this year, and it'd be great to see some of the Colts' talented backups make some plays.
- Brownies: Why did the Bengals run DeDe Dorsey on the first play of the game, but not at all after that? Eric Wright had one of his quiet, but solid games again. If you don't create turnovers and your name isn't mentioned much, it usually means you had sound coverage. Did Derek Anderson have the flu? I say even if he did have it, it'd be too tough to name Brady Quinn the starter all of a sudden for one week unless Anderson was so weak that he couldn't even lift his arm up. I believe if the Browns would've recovered Glenn Holt's fumble on the kickoff to start the game, we would've probably blown Cincinnati out of the water.
Last week, I stated that the game against the Bengals was a must win if the Browns wanted to make things easy in terms of clinching a playoff spot. They lost though, ruining the hopes and holiday spirits of Cleveland Browns fans across the country. I've been anxious all week for Sunday to come -- not to watch the Browns play, but to watch the Colts take down the Titans. For the first time in a regular season game this year, it doesn't matter if the Browns win 50-0 or get blown out of the water by Shaun Hill and the 49ers. Our fate rests in the hands of how long Tony Dungy plays his starters and how well the Colts' backup defensive players handle Vince Young. GO COLTS!!!