On September 28th, 2008, the Browns picked up their first victory over the season. That came against arguably the worst team in football, the 0-6 Cincinnati Bengals.
On October 13th, 2008, after a long bye week, the Browns picked up their second victory of the season. This time, it came against the undefeated and defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.
I was extremely fortunate to have witnessed the game in person. Although the stadium was jam-packed, I can't help by chuckle at the fans who, before the game, stated that they would not be attending (in fear of seeing the Browns getting blown out). Who could've blamed them though? Since returning to the league in 1999, the Browns have rarely beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers, and we have never defeated "the team to beat" during the regular season. We finally accomplished that.
This week, I'm going to do things a little different in reviewing the game. Because there were so many positives, I'm giving out more game balls than usual, and I'm cutting out the goats of the game altogether. Any negatives will be addressed in my general comments section.
Awarding Game Balls (Everyone Could've Gotten One)
- Derek Anderson: It took five games, but Anderson is finally getting his first game ball of the season here on Dawgs By Nature. Despite beating the Bengals, he had to be under a lot of pressure. He hasn't played a solid football game dating back to part of last season and was going up against the line that knocked him out with a concussion back in the preseason. Anderson still had a few shaky throws, but that's Anderson -- he's not a 70% completion passer. What counted is that he was about to hit his throws down the seams, check off to several reads, and get rid of the ball before the Giants could even touch him.
- Steve Heiden: I am so happy the Browns didn't place him on the injured reserve in the preseason. With a surplus of tight ends (and Martin Rucker healthy at the time), it could've been an "easy" way out to keeping an extra guy like Darnell Dinkins (who we kept anyway). Heiden proved exactly why we don't even really need Rucker to catch the ball -- he can do so just as well, and he can block very well too. The help he gave in taking on defensive end Justin Tuck was incredible.
- Eric Wright: What was the stress point all of training camp and the preseason? "Our secondary is so thin." Well, it still is. If we need to start Terry Cousin or Travis Daniels, we're probably in trouble. With the starters we have now, even minus one starting safety, we are making things happen. Wright baited Eli Manning into a quick throw late in the game, when the Giants were marching to try and cut the lead to six. Wright picked off Manning's throw, and then just barely got by him for a clear path 94-yard touchdown return. Ballgame. Being at the game, this was by far the loudest the crowd had gotten all night -- first when Manning was picked off, and then quickly taken over by Wright passing up Manning on his way back.
- Rob Chudzinski: Here's one for the coach (offensive coordinator). The personnel packages he inserted reminded me of last season, begging the question -- why wasn't he calling these things for the first several weeks? I'm talking about using guys like Joshua Cribbs under center, Jerome Harrison having plays designed for him, and Syndric Steptoe in the slot. (see continuation of this discussion, as I answer my own question in the general notes section below)
- Ryan Tucker: First game back? Domination. Before the game, I still favored having Kevin Shaffer at right tackle and Ryan Tucker at guard. Now, I want Tucker to stay at right tackle the rest of the year. What do we do with Shaffer then? He can spell Tucker and help in goal line situations, where we can use three tackles (instead of always shifting Joe Thomas to the right).
- Braylon Edwards: 5 catches, 154 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 two-point conversion. The first thing I thought? Fantasy points! Seriously, it was the breakout game Edwards needed to get him back in the right direction. I think it was more critical that he had this type of a performance in front of a home crowd too.
WR Braylon Edwards can celebrate now: he finally looked like the Pro Bowl receiver he was last season.
General Thoughts (Random Tidbits on the Game)
The Underrated Stallworth: I asked earlier why Rob Chudzinski's playbook suddenly expanded, and I truly believe that it all points to having Donte Stallworth in the lineup for the first time this season. Without him in there, everybody else was "out of place". Steptoe was starting, when he's a barely a slot receiver. Kellen Winslow was kept in the game more often to try and make up for Stallworth's absence, taking away the thought of having the "hidden" elements of Steve Heiden or Darnell Dinkins in the game. Stallworth only had two catches, but he was targeted a lot more, and from the stands, you could definitely tell that the defense was giving him respect on any given down. When the defense treats the No. 2 receiver seriously, everything else just...opens up.
- Just Wait...: ...until we get Joe Jurevicius back now.
Running Tough: He didn't have over 100 yards rushing, but that's not what defines success for Jamal Lewis. Anyone who watched the game against the Giants saw that he was just as significant of a contributor as everyone else was. Even at first contact, he was fighting for that extra inch every single time. He also had a sick cutback move on his second-quarter touchdown.
- Take a Seat: Brandon Jacobs is a beast -- the power he showed when plowing into Mike Adams for a 7-yard touchdown was impressive. There is a very ironic statistic though: remember how Corey Williams discussed how to stop Jacobs? Jacobs ran for 67 yards against the Packers last postseason. He ran for 67 yards against the Browns' defense Monday.
No Punts: I was bummed that I didn't get to see Dave Zastudil punt the ball in-person. Who am I kidding -- that was a tremendous feat for the offense, showing how well we controlled the clock and executed our gameplan.
- Dawson Misses: Dawson missed a field goal attempt just over 51 yards. In pregame, from that side of the stadium, Dawson was having some problems. If the kick had been on the other side though, he would've had a crack at a 60-yarder. You could probably infer that on television by the fact that his kickoffs were going way out of the end zone on that side too.
- The Bad: Besides the atrocious announcing by the Monday Night Football guys (we have to hear them two more times this year, ugh), the penalties were again a problem for the Browns. Sure, we ended up somehow going 117 yards for a touchdown on a second-half drive, but that type of execution following mistakes is a rarity. When we made mistakes on our first drive of the game, we were held to a field goal. Rex Hadnot deserves some of the blame, as I heard his number called a few times.
- Annoying Lady: I just have to get this one off my chest -- some lady in a bright red leather jacket kept was sitting in the middle of our row of seats (I was on the end). I'm not joking here -- she got up and went by us literally 15-18 times during the game, with several of the occurrences happening as the Browns were running a play. Most of the time, she was on her cellular phone. Why the hell would you keep coming back to the middle of a row if you're just going to get up and leave again two minutes later? Had to vent a little there.
Bad Eli: I was very surprised by the performance of Eli Manning. Sure, he's human, but his interceptions, while great plays by our secondary, involved questionable decisions that I just didn't expect to see from him. After the two deep throws, I thought..."Really? That's happening to another team and not us? Sweet!" The Giants, towards the end of the game, would've been better off sticking with the draw plays down by the goal line, instead of having Manning throw a pass that Wright could jump.
- Heiden Open: I'm not sure if it was seen on television or not, but in the second half, Anderson threw a route towards the sideline to Darnell Dinkins, but the pass was incomplete as Dinkins went to the ground to try to get it. On the play though, fans groaned a little as Anderson missed seeing a wide open Heiden down the field on a post route. Heiden's man was fooled, and he probably would've walked in for a long touchdown.
- Love the Double Reverse I loved the double reverse to Jerome Harrison. The defense completely soled out on the first handoff and never saw the second one coming. I'm fairly convinced that Harrison got the maximum possible yardage on the play, but on replay, I do wonder if there was a chance he could've taken it the distance if he had just continued running straight as opposed to trying to fake out an oncoming defender.
Why Review the Play?: I'm still unclear as to why the referees were reviewing the play before the end of the first half where Eli Manning fumbled. Because illegal contact was called on the Browns and the Giants accepted the penalty, what was under review? Does anybody know? I know everyone in the stands around me sounded confused too.
Brownies: Again, major props to Brodney Pool and Brandon McDonald. Amani Toomer was held without a catch, and the "feared" Domenik Hixon only caught one pass...Phil Dawson's first kickoff attempt was perfectly executed -- we almost got there in time to recover the kick ourselves... chalk up another sack for Alex Hall -- and that was hilarious seeing Manning in the middle of that huge takedown pile...dating back to last season, we're 2-0 in impressive fashion when wearing our "throwback uniforms" at home...we need some more production out of LB Andra Davis.
QB Derek Anderson has silenced critics for another week.
Against the Bengals, I closed the recap by saying the following:
"A win is a win. The next step is looking good in victory. You can't expect that to happen against the New York Giants, but you can certainly prepare for it to happen. With several players slated to return from injury, if this Browns football team is in sync in all aspects of the game, there is no reason we can't be in the game until the final whistle."
We didn't expect it to happen, but based on what everyone across the country saw, we certainly prepared for it. It paid off.