DA DejectedBrowns Turnover Control Of Their Own Destiny To Tennessee

What’s the operative word of the day to describe this game? Debacle? Choke-job? Disgraceful? Unfocused? Unprepared? Lackadaisical? Pretty much any of these words, and any similar ones you might think of pretty much sums up the pathetic performance the Browns put forth against the Bengals in Cincinnati yesterday, falling 19-14. More importantly, the Browns surrendered control of their own destiny. It rendered this week’s game against San Francisco completely meaningless, as now the Browns simply need Tennessee to lose to the Colts. Titans win, they’re in…Colts win, Browns are in. Peyton Manning just picked up a lot of new fans for a week.

Going back to this Bengals game, you often hear teams say their opponents didn’t beat them, that they beat themselves. Normally, I think that’s a bunch of junk. But in this case, you can kind of understand it. The Bengals showed why they’re having such a down year, being unable to score any 2nd half points to cushion their 19-0 halftime lead. In the last 2 minutes of the 1st half, Derek Anderson threw 2 interceptions (1 because his intended receiver, Jason Wright, decided to duck out of the way of the ball rather than catch it…the other because of an absolutely terrible throw in which DA tried to do too much to make up for his earlier turnover), both of which the Bengals were able to capitalize on and score TDs to push the midway lead from 6-0 to 19-0. That was the difference in the game.

The Browns would make a run at it in the 2nd half, despite 2 more redzone interceptions by Derek Anderson. On 2 other occasions, DA would find Braylon Edwards for a TD, bringing the score to 19-14. Then, on the final Browns possession, DA found Braylon right away for a quick 40 yard gain into Cincinnati territory…….only to have it called on a phantom offensive pass interference call. I’m not sure what, exactly, the refs saw on that play, but I suppose they just assumed since Braylon was so open at such a critical moment in the game, that he MUST have pushed off or something. That’s the only thing I can figure at this point. After having that play called back, the Browns tried to move the ball down the field by making a series of 10 yard passes into the middle of the field, killing the clock and taking their jolly time along the way. It was one of the worst 2 minute offense executions I have ever seen. In the end, it left the Browns with one chance to lob the ball into the end zone, and even then DA could only muster a half hearted throw in the general vicinity of K2. All in all, it was a miserable game in which the Browns looked overwhelmingly tight with the pressure of what was riding on this game.

The positives of this game were few and far between. Jamal Lewis had a decent game, going for 92 yards on 21 carries for a 4.4 yards/carry average. Had the Browns not found themselves in a 19 point hole, Lewis obviously would have had another big game against the Bengals. K2 and Braylon each had nice games. Not great games, but nice games. The Browns 2nd half defense played excellent, coming up with big turnovers in huge moments when the team needed them the most. They made Carson Palmer look pretty pedestrian for 99% of the game (Palmer still made an amazing throw on TJ Whosyomomma’s TD).

The negatives….You have to start with Derek Anderson.  You can’t help but feel like had DA thrown JUST three interceptions instead of four, the Browns would have won this game. It’s just too hard to overcome the damage of 4 interceptions, especially when the defense quickly allows 2 of them to turn into 13 points in the span of 30 seconds. Which brings us to negative #2, the Browns’ first half defense, in particular the rush defense. This unit was totally ineffective at stopping the run, allowing Kenny Watson to put up 99 yards rushing in the first half alone. Furthermore, even in the 4th quarter when the Browns needed the ball back and they knew full well the Bengals would be running the ball to run out the clock, the Browns showed no ability to stop them at all, no matter how many guys were loaded into the box. Only a fortunate fumble allowed the Browns to get the ball back without the Bengals putting any more points on the board. Finally, negative #3 from this game, the coaching. It was bad enough that the team came out looking this flat and this uninspired and this overwhelmed. But the worst coaching decision of the day, in my opinion, was the decision to go for it on 4th and a long 1 from the Bengals’ 19 yard line in the first half after a Leigh Bodden interception. The Browns got stopped for no gain on the play and had to turnover the ball. I understand that it was windy and that they had already botched their first field goal hold, but if you can go for a 49 yard field goal in the midst of a blinding blizzard last week, I fail to see why you can’t attempt a 36 yard field goal yesterday. Phil Dawson has come up huge for this team time and again all season, and had he made that field goal, who knows how differently the game might have turned out with the Browns only needing a FG on the last possession to tie the game (I’m going to go ahead and assume the Bengals would have kicked the PAT rather than go for 2 if the score was 19-3 rather than 19-0). Although, in retrospect, I suppose it doesn’t really matter if Romeo Crennel is scared to kick a 36 yard FG, who knows how close the Browns would have had to have gotten before Romeo would have allowed them to try to tie the game.

At the end of the day, this was just a poor effort on the Browns’ part. Kudos to the Bengals, they won, but that was not a football team that scares anyone. Had the Browns played the way they have the last few weeks (not stellar, but average), you can’t help but feel like they would have walked out of Paul Brown Stadium (ugh) a winner. So now, we sit through this Christmas season waiting and hoping for a belated Christmas present in the form of a Browns playoff spot.

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Jamal LewisJamal Lewis having big season, but does this warrant big money over big years?

Jamal Lewis has been everything the Browns were hoping he could be, and then some. The questions over what Jamal had left in the tank coming into this season were fair. After all, despite being young in years, he was old in experience. In an offensive system in Baltimore that never featured a QB capable of being anything more than a game manager, Jamal was heavily used in Baltimore, and with no threat of a passing game, opposing defenses ganged up on Jamal. When you add this to Jamal’s natural bruising, overpowering running style, it adds up to a lot of hard mileage. It’s like the difference between a car with 50,000 highway miles and a car with 50,000 inner city stop and go miles.

The Ravens were doubtful enough of Jamal’s skills that they moved on to Plan B and brought in Willis McGahee and let Jamal Lewis walk out the door. The Browns, desperate for a feature back, decided to sign Jamal to a one year deal and let him prove that there was still life in him. The move has paid major dividends for both the Browns and Jamal. The Browns have been able to ride Jamal’s late season resurgance into a  possible playoff run. Jamal, meanwhile, has been able to prove that he can still be an integral part of a playoff caliber team.

Jamal has proven to be an old school hard nosed RB in the mold of the great RBs in Browns history. He has endeared himself to the fans, and the fans have endeared themselves to Jamal. Of the Browns fans, Jamal has said,

“I love the fans here. They’re totally different [than in Baltimore].”

“Just due to the history they have here with the Browns. The history goes way back and you can tell. They are louder, but just the fan support period. Being on the road, you see a lot of Browns jerseys in the stands. We need that support.

“It translates [to the field] because we want to go out and play hard and win. It’s great. That’s what we owe our home record to.”

This Browns-Jamal marriage is starting to look like a perfect match. But the real question is, should the Browns sign Jamal to a long term deal after this season? Phil Savage has his work cut out on this one.

Jamal has said recently that he’s be perfectly content signing a string of 1 year deals to keep playing for the Browns. The Plain Dealer’s Bud Shaw, though, isn’t so sure he really would, writing:

“Negotiations with Jamal Lewis can’t be as easy as he made them sound recently when he suggested coming to terms was no more complicated than a page out of a children’s book.

See Jamal run. See Jamal sign.

Quoth the ex-Raven: “Hey, I’ll do one-year deals all day long.”

If this were true, of course, Phil Savage would tell Lewis to pick a day, any day.

Today’s not good for you, Jamal? Then how about tomorrow?

Morning. Noon. Night. Three a.m. Just call ahead.

Savage would send a car. All he’d ask is for Lewis to tell the driver to step on it and don’t stop if Lewis’ agent stands in front of the limo like that protester in Tiananmen Square.

Lewis says he isn’t necessarily looking for a one-year deal. No one would. But he wouldn’t flat reject it. All in all, he trusts his agent will put him in the best position.

There’s always that catch.”

I’m not so sure it’s quite that simple. Sure, if Jamal wants a one year deal, the Browns would give it to him. But part of the GM’s job is also to look at the team’s future. The Browns can’t afford to be caught with their pants down if Jamal were to suffer a serious injury or if he were to no longer be productive next season.

No matter how you look at it, Jamal is having a big year. In terms of RB Score (after Week 14), Jamal ranks 11th in the NFL in RB Score per game. Using Football Outsiders’ metric DPAR (defense-adjusted points above replacement), Jamal ranks a surprisingly low 19th in the NFL. But if you go by the only stat that really matters, rushing yards, Jamal is 7th in the NFL with 1,084 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He is on pace to finish with 1,239 yards, making this his best season since his Herculean 2003 season in which he rushed for an astounding 2,066 yards.

Some legit questions remain, though. Perhaps his low DPAR ranking is telling us something. If you look further, prior to rushing for over 100 yards in 3 of his last 4 games, Jamal had only topped the century mark once, Week 2 against the Bengals. Another concern with signing Jamal to a long term deal is his high number of career rushing attempts. Despite being only 28 years old, Jamal is already 28th in NFL history in attempts with 2,073 carries, just ahead of Roger Craig, Gerald Riggs, and Herschel Walker. Granted, LaDainian Tomlinson is ahead of him in carries and shows no sign of slowing down, but the only other active RBs with more carries are all guys well past their prime (Edgerrin James, Warrick Dunn, Fred Taylor, and Shaun Alexander). The active RBs just behind are also mostly guys past their prime (Ahman Green, Ricky Williams, Clinton Portis, Thomas Jones, Travis Henry, Rudi Johnson, Deuce McAllister, Michael Pittman). The fact of the matter is, rushing attempts are historically a pretty good way to gauge how much a RB has left, and Jamal is in the company of guys who are running out of gas.

Of course, if the Browns are really going to even think about not re-signing Jamal, there needs to be a replacement in mind. With no first round draft pick and the need to draft defensive players anyway, the Browns would need to turn to the Unrestricted Free Agent market (because the Browns do not have a 1st round pick, they cannot sign a Restricted Free Agent as they lack the required compensation). The top UFA’s next year will be Michael Turner, Julius Jones, Fred Taylor, Justin Fargas, and Chris Brown. The question is, which of those guys would you rather have than Jamal Lewis next year?

The only RBs that I think the Browns would consider would be Fred Taylor and Michael Turner. First off, Taylor probably isn’t going anywhere. It’s hard to fathom Jacksonville not hanging onto him for another year (despite the emergence of Maurice Jones-Drew). Michael Turner is going to be the desired prize of every team in the free agent market. He is going to carry a heavy price tag, despite the fact he has not proven he can be a feature back and carry the load by himself.

Ultimately, with no sure fire alternatives, I would expect the Browns to try to sign Jamal to a 2 year deal with a team option for a 3rd year. This will give the Browns a relatively affordable option at RB who will give the team some stability while they look for the long term solution at that position. There’s no real reason not to bring Jamal back at least for one more year. The Browns will almost certainly talk to Michael Turner and see what kind of deal it will take to sign him, but with such a shallow RB pool, I think his price tag will be too high for the Browns. The bottom line is, I expect to see Jamal as the Brown’s starting RB next season.

Several Browns Players Unjustly Left Off Pro Bowl Roster

The NFL has announced the Pro Bowl rosters. In typical Cleveland fashion, key members of the 9-5 Browns team were left off the team.

Starting with who DID make it, WR Braylon Edwards is a reserve and KR Josh Cribbs made it. That’s it. Inexplicably left out were Eric Steinbach, Joe Thomas, and Kellen Winslow.  Vic Carucci thinks Derek Anderson should have made it also.

I complained a few weeks ago about the fans’ voting. I never imagined the players and coaches voting would be even more insane. More later once I’ve collected my thoughts on this injustice.

Congrats to Braylon and Josh, though.

It’s snowingDrastic Times Call For Drastic Measures

It’s the biggest game of the year for the Browns, and I haven’t done a live game blog since the ALCS, so I figured it’s about that time. It’s cold there, it’s snowing/sleeting there, it’s warm in my house….but you know what? I wish I was there partying with everyone else. Since I can’t be there to do my part in rooting them on, I’ll do what I can from my place in Columbus and keep a running live game blog. Here we go…

12:56 pm: Gus Johnson is doing this game. Is that the most underrated benefit of having a good football team? You get to actually have the “A” Team announcers rather than the “G” Team announcers. Anyway, you know Gus is gonna be jacked up for this one. Welcome to the club, buddy. “Sylvester for THREEEEEEEEEEEEE…………..YESSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I love Gus Johnson.

1:00 pm: “Great weather, we’ve got a blizzard! Buffalo! Cleveland! It’s the NFL on CBS!!” Have I mentioned how much I love Gus Johnson? Anyway, the field is completely white. Snow is coming down hard. But the crowd is not to be deterred. As the Browns come out of the tunnel, you can hear them going crazy. Have I mentioned I wish I was there?

FIRST QUARTER

1:03 pm: Josh Cribbs just took the opening kickoff back to the……..I have no idea what yard line. You can’t see anything. Gus says it’s the 33 yard line.

1:04 pm: This is like watching a game in slow motion. Quick question, why did the Browns choose to receive the kick? Wouldn’t you rather take it to start the 2nd half when the weather might be better and the field might be more clear?

1:06 pm: 20 yard pass to Braylon on 3rd down for a first down. DA doesn’t mind a little snow.

1:08 pm: On 3rd down, Winslow falls down as he slips on the snow. Browns have to punt. Safe to say this weather right now is going to slow down these offenses. Although the announcers keep trying to tell us that sometimes games in blizzards turn into shootouts. Really? When?

1:12 pm: On 3rd and 4, Davis comes in untouched and forces Edwards to just throw it away. Yeah, this thing’s really looking like a shootout waiting to happen. The good news, though, is Gus Johnson is loving this. “This weather is INCREDIBLE!!!!!! Visibility is problem. You can’t see ANYTHINGGGGGGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!”

1:18 pm: UNBELIEVABLE 3rd down play. DA, with all the time in the world, keeps looking for a receiver, tries to throw to Braylon, who bobbles the ball, before a Bills defender tries to catch it but bobbles it right into Jurevicius’s hands who DOES catch it and picks up a big gain to Buffalo’s 30. 1st down Browns.

1:20 pm: After all the talk about the weather for the Patriots game, they just showed us a highlight clip of that game…and there’s NO SNOW. Meanwhile, the Browns are playing in a blizzard. Makes no sense. Meanwhile, the Titans are up 7-0. Come on Chiefs, step it up.

1:22 pm: After having it first and 10 inside the 2o, a HORRIBLE sequence of plays follows, leading to a Phil Dawson field goal. 3-0 Browns. Kinda nice to score first in a game for a change, isn’t it?

1:24 pm: Correction. It’s just been pointed out to me that the Browns scored first last week, too. My mistake. These are the things that happen when you miss a game.

1:27 pm: Gus: “These Browns fans can FEEL the playoffs coming.” You bet we can.

1:28 pm: 29 yard gain by Lynch. Ouch. Ball is on our 22 yard line. Holding them to a FG attempt in this weather is key.

1:30 pm: Andra Davis just stuffed a Lynch run on 2nd down. Huge game for Davis so far. On 3rd down, Edwards has nothing and throws it away. Now on 4th, the Bills are going for it.

1:31 pm: Incomplete pass, turnover on downs! HUGE early stand for the defense. So far, I feel comfortable with Edwards trying to throw in this snow. He looks totally uncomfortable. Seems to be a good sign. Hope that doesn’t change. 3-0 Browns still.

1:34 pm: What’s the funnier cold weather football tradition……lineman wearing short sleeves or fans wearing no shirt? I would say the fans, but the pneumonia factor probably makes it a toss up.

1:35 pm: Gus: “And Lewis POPS IT!!!!!!!!! HUGE gain!” Nice run by Jamal. 26 yards. He’s close to 50 yards already in the 1st quarter.

1:37 pm: Big Catch Joe catches a huge 3rd down conversion, but there’s an illegal formation penalty. Ridiculous.

1:38 pm: And DA is sacked on 3rd down. Figures. This is followed by some “confusion” on the Browns sideline and Crennel has to waste a time out. Since when does allowing a team to win in spite of your constant game mis-management constitute you as a Coach of the Year candidate?? Anyway, I love wasting a time out so you can punt. Makes sense, doesn’t it? End of the 1st quarter, 3-0 Browns in a shoot-out.

SECOND QUARTER

1:44 pm: Trent Edwards continues to look uncomfortable throwing, blowing an easy pass attempt on 2nd down. It’s 3rd and 10 now.

1:45 pm: On 3rd, Edwards finally completes a pass, an 8 yard pass to Lee Evans, who has to push off to even get open. It’s short of the first down, so the Browns decline. Bills to punt.

1:45 pm: HOLY COW!!! The snap goes over the punters head, who has to just kick the ball out of the back of the end zone for the safety. 5-0 Browns. For a team from a cold weather city, the Bills do not seem to be handling this snow as well as the Browns are.

1:49 pm: And the Bills kick the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. Gotta love this. Now the refs are trying to find the yard markers so they can know where to put the ball.

1:50 pm: My buddy Matt just called me from the game. He says, “This is everything you could want from a Browns game in December!” I love Browns fans. Most fans would complain about this. Not us. We’re trying to clinch a playoff spot.

1:53 pm: After a 9 yard pass to Braylon on 1st down, Lewis just leaped one defender and bounced off another for a nice gain for the first down. The offense is managing this snow. They’re not playing at 100% obviously, but they seem to be marginally effective, which is more than you can say about the Bills offense.

1:54 pm: On 3rd and 6, the Browns hand off to Wright for a 4 yard gain. I didn’t get it, until I saw they’re going for it on 4th. Come on guys………

1:54 pm: Weak play action flare pass that pretty much gets blown up from the beginning and DA has to throw it away. Not the greatest 4th and 2 play I’ve ever seen, but also not the worst. It just didn’t work out this time. Bills ball, 5-0 Browns.

1:58 pm: Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson are reminding people of Thurman Thomas and Kenneth Davis? Really? Are there many more underrated players in NFL history than Thurman Thomas? The guy was a monster of a RB. Meanwhile, after yet another Edwards incomplete pass on 3rd down, the Bills fake the punt and get the 1st down. Way to be alert guys. Seriously. 1st down Bills.

2:00 pm: Run, run, pass. Wash, rinse, repeat.

2:01 pm: On the 3rd and 8, the Bills convert a screen play for the first. This is looking like one of those drives where the Browns defense lulls themselves to sleep.

2:03 pm: On 2nd down, the Bills try to run a reverse, but Andra Davis is all over it, causing a 5 yard loss. Davis has been huge. 3rd and 16.

2:04 pm: On 3rd down, Edwards stands there forever, looking uncomfortable again, and throws it away just before getting hit. Bills punt it away, where Cribbs decides to try to field it inside the 5, muffs it, recovers it, and is immediately dropped inside the 5. Not his finest moment. Oh well, at least the defense held once again. 5-0 Browns still.

2:08 pm: 12 yard gain by Jamal on 1st down. He’s having a monster game also. 14 carries for 74 yards so far. I love it!

2:09 pm: On a hitch and go play, Braylon leaps up and makes a SENSATIONAL catch. Sorry, Gus is rubbing off on me. Seriously, though, it was a great play and an even better catch. The Browns are doing a nice job of mixing things up so far. Like I’ve been saying. The snow is bothering the offense, but it’s not stopping them. They’re still doing their thing. It’s just hard to sustain for a whole drive.

2:10 pm: Two Minute Warning, and Jamal just went over 1,000 yards for the season. Nicely done, Jamal.

2:13 pm: Big Catch Joe converts yet another 1st down coming out of the warning. I love a good play call coming out of a break. It always amazes me how often teams come out of break and run a dive play. Never makes much sense to me. Time out Browns now, as they’re looking for points. Sure would be nice to have that earlier wasted time out back, huh Romeo?

2:16 pm: Another GREAT catch by Braylon for a first down, leaping to make the grab against the sideline. 6 catches for 65 yards for Braylon.

2:17 pm: 2nd and 10, and K2 drops another pass. Out of the entire offense, K2 is the only one who seems bothered by this weather. Meanwhile, an incomplete pass on 3rd and 10. The Browns are gonna try a tough FG.

2:18 pm: Wow. Kevin Shaffer is late getting on the field for the FG attempt and the Browns have to burn a time out. It’s not that the Browns needed that time out, as much as it’s just the principle of the thing that bothers me. Meanwhile, Tasker is convinced this is a fake. We’ll see.

2:20 pm: “The Browns are gonna kick….line drive…..AND IT’S GOOD……….HOW ABOUT THAT?????!!!?!?!?!” Thank you Gus. Seriously, though, what a kick. 48 yards in this weather. Probably the best kick of Dawson’s career. “Believe-land! The Season of Dreams! The Browns are playing like there’s no tomorrow today!!!” Someone check Gus’s pulse, I’m worried something’s about to blow. 8-0 Browns.

2:22 pm: Funny how the snow and wind stopped just long enough for Dawson’s kick, and now it’s coming down harder than ever for the Bills possession. I’m just saying….

2:23 pm: The Bills just run out the clock, and it’s halftime. 8-0 Browns. What a game so far. With everything on the line, with the weather, the emotions, the longing…….It really doesn’t get much bigger and better than this. It’s like a home playoff game in December. “This is everything you could want from a Browns game in December.” Sorry, it bears repeating.

THIRD QUARTER

2:40 pm: Hey, how about that?….Trent Edwards just converted a 3rd down pass.

2:41 pm: By the way, Tennessee is losing 14-10. Come on Chiefs!

2:42 pm: On 3rd and 8, the Bills run a draw play….stuffed. No chance. They clearly have no confidence in Edwards right now. Bills punt, Browns ball, 8-0 Believe-land.

2:46 pm: Run, run, pass. Wash, rinse, repeat. Because conservative play always wins in the NFL.

2:47 pm: K2 is finally in the box score, catching his first ball and converting the 3rd down in the process. Nice play.

2:48 pm: Gus just says “Jamal picks up 3 the hard way.” Made me wonder what the easy way to gain 3 yards is. Think about it for a second.

2:49 pm: Incomplete pass on a poorly thrown ball towards K2. He never had a chance to catch it, and Browns have to punt. Zastudil UNLEASHES a monster punt, and the ball just DIES at the 2 yard line. Unreal. I’m just saying…

2:52 pm: Listen to this crowd, as the Bills are backed up against their own goal line.

2:53 pm: And like the defense usually does whenever they feel comfortable, they let up. The Bills get a nice run by Lynch, to get out of the shadows.

2:54 pm: Quick side note during this injury time out….Isn’t remarkable how much better the field is holding up than Pittsburgh’s field in incliment weather? I mean, honestly. It’s the NFL. If the Steelers can’t put in a field that can hold up against some bad weather, can we just retract the Steelers from the league? When is the last time Pittsburgh DIDN’T have the worst field in the NFL? /end Steelers rant

2:57 pm: Bills have to burn a time out as they try to get lined up for a 3rd and 4 play from their own 27. Nice to see someone else having to waste meaningful time outs.

2:59 pm: On the 3rd down play, Edwards has all the time in the world, is scared to throw, and takes off and gets the first down on the ground. Where was the D-Line on that one???

3:02 pm: Um, not sure what just happened. On 3rd down, Edwards had all day long in the pocket AGAIN, threw a pass which the ref came out to mark the spot, then called incomplete. Then there’s a penalty on the play. 5 yards against Buffalo. 3rd and 13 now. Hey defense, how about some pressure?

3:03 pm: Horrible throw by Edwards on 3rd and 13. Nowhere near anybody. Davis was applying a little bit of pressure. So the Bills have to punt, and its a miserable punt. Browns will get the ball at about their own 40. Meanwhile, Tennessee got a FG and is now trailing KC 14-13. Always tough to ask Brodie Croyle to help you clinch a playoff spot. Seriously. 8-0 Browns still.

3:05 pm: The nice thing about that last Bills possession was that they ate up a good amount of game clock and only made it to their own 40, before a pathetic 20 yard punt. Gotta love this.

3:06 pm: Tasker: “Look at this playoff situation…..if Cleveland keeps winning, they’re gonna be ok.” Thanks Steve. Wouldn’t have figured that. Meanwhile, Jacksonville is beating Pittsburgh. Keep it in the back of your mind. You know what I’m talking about.

3:08 pm: Not a good possession by the Browns at all, resulting in a quick 3 and out. 1:40 left in the 3rd, Bills ball, Browns lead 8-0.

3:11 pm: One of my favorite things about this game…..whenever they go to a sideline camera, you can hear the field crew blow drying the field. This is December football in Cleveland. Meanwhile, Jax is now up 22-7 over Pittsburgh. Shhhhhhhhh!

3:12 pm: End of the 3rd quarter. 8-0 Cleveland. I’m starting to worry that after blasting Edwards this entire blog he’s going to make a huge play to tie this game up. So let me say something nice about him………..Um……….Well……….For a rookie, he’s managing this game pretty well, and he hasn’t turned the ball over. Not once. Not one lousy turnover. He’s doing a great job protecting the ball. /end jinx attempt

FOURTH QUARTER

3:16 pm: On 3rd down, Edwards stands in the pocket for, oh, about 30 seconds before throwing an incomplete pass on a terrible throw. You know the drill….Bills are punting.

3:18 pm: Rich Rodriguez is the new Michigan coach. *snicker* Can’t wait for the first spotting of the famous Rich “Oh my gosh my team is choking in a big game yet again, whatever should I do?” Rodriguez face. *snicker*

3:20 pm: Jamal Lewis just broke a tackle, and then bowled over another defender for nice first down pickup. By the way, Jamal is now over 100 yards for the day. Meanwhile, Tennessee has just reclaimed the lead over KC. Who didn’t see that coming?

3:22 pm: Oh, look, a penalty against the Browns on a 3rd down conversion, killing another nice drive. Makes me angry.

3:24 pm: A field goal there would have clinched this game. Instead, the Browns had to punt. It’s never easy in the NFL.

3:26 pm: Andra Davis just stuffed Lynch for a loss on 1st down. Defensive Player of the Game thus far is easily Davis.

3:27 pm: 4 yard completion on 2nd down, before an incompletion on 3rd down for Edwards. Has he completed a pass over 4 yards all day today? Bill are punting, 9 minutes left, 8-0 Browns.

3:32 pm: Yawn…..this game has slowly devolved into a battle of 3 and outs. Bills ball.

Still snowing3:35 pm: 22-14 Jax. 23-17 Tennessee.

3:37 pm: 3rd and 8, and the Bills hand it off. Yep. Can you feel the sense of urgency?? Bills finally get a nice punt off and the Browns are backed against their own goal line, at their own 3 yard line. 6:08 to go. 8-0 Browns.

3:39 pm: Jamal just picked up 13 yards on first down, carrying defenders with him. This guy is a beast.

3:39 pm: The next play he goes for 8 more yards. 29 carries for 142 yards on the day.

3:41 pm: Jamal Lewis is taking over this game. After picking up another first down, he picks up “3 the hard way”. Then Wright picks up 10 more yards on the next play to pick up the first down. The O-Line is punishing the Bills’ D-Line right now. 2:47 and counting in the game.

3:42 pm: The Bills just used their 2nd time out. CBS used this time to show us some nice clips of that fateful Browns-Bills playoff games. One of the more pleasant Browns playoff memories.

3:44 pm: Jamal comes back in and picks up a nice gain and Buffalo uses their final time out with 2:24 left in the game. Interesting to say the least. If the Browns can pick up a 1st down here, this game is over.

3:45 pm: On 3rd and 7, Jamal gets about 5 or 6, leading to a 4th and 1 as we head to the 2-minute warning. 8-0 Browns.

3:46 pm: HOLD ON………after measuring, the Browns are going for it?!?!?

3:47 pm: Well, lets go to the real 2 minute warning first. I wonder if they didn’t just leave DA out there to get to the warning. We’ll see. If the Browns really are going for it, this is one heck of a gutsy call.

3:49 pm: The Browns lined up, tried to draw Buffalo offsides, and then called a time out and are now punting. Probably a good call. Although, does anyone remember the last time Roscoe Parrish returned a punt late in a game against an Ohio team? I sure do. Yikes!

3:50 pm: Bills ball at the 30, no time outs, 1:51 to go in the game. It’s Trent Edwards time, ladies and gentlemen.

3:51 pm: On 1st down, Edwards throws a pass that is tipped and should have been intercepted. Give me a break.

3:52 pm: Oh come on………On 2nd down, Edwards is hit as he throws and the duck somehow finds a wide receiver at midfield. Lame.

3:53 pm: A screen play picks up 15 yards. Bills ball at the 35 with 1:02 left. Gotta love the Browns defense.

3:53 pm: Edwards’ first down deep throw goes out of bounds. Nice throw buddy.

3:54 pm: 2nd down, incomplete. 2 to go.

3:55 pm: 3rd down, incomplete. 1 to go.

3:55 pm: Browns call a time out. I don’t like this at all. Why give Buffalo time to come up with a nifty play? Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has tied the game, and the Chiefs are still losing 26-17. Nothing’s ever easy.

3:57 pm: 4th down, complete. Typical. Bills ball at the 15, 28 seconds left. Here we go.

3:58 pm: Unreal. On 2nd down, the Bills throw a short pass which the Browns should have tackled in bounds, but they miss the tackle and the Bills get out of bounds. 21 seconds left.

3:59 pm: Gus Johnson is going nuts. It’s 4th and 5 at the 10, 15 seconds left.

3:59 pm: Edwards dumps it short, AND HE’S STOPPED FOR NO GAIN. BROWNS BALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4:00 pm: The Browns take the knee, AND THIS ONE’S OVER!!!!!! The Browns are almost certainly on their way to the playoffs. It doesn’t get any better than this. Meanwhile, Jax has taken a 29-22 lead in Pittsburgh on that wreck of a field. What a roller coaster ride this has all been. “This is everything you could want from a Browns game in December!” Ain’t that the truth.

LynchWeek 15
Buffalo Bills vs Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns Stadium
Cleveland, Ohio
1:00 PM

Well, it doesn’t get much bigger than this one, when the 8-5 Cleveland Browns invite the 7-6 Buffalo Bills into Cleveland Browns Stadium this Sunday. Rather than battling for a higher draft pick, this December matchup between 2 of the NFL’s most pleasant surprises will put the winner in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot. If the Bills win, they will be tied with the Browns at 8-6, but will have the edge with the head-to-head win, thus giving them control of their own destiny. If the Browns win, however, the Bills will be knocked out of playoff contention while the Browns will almost certainly be on their way to playing playoff football, needing only a Tennessee loss or one win over either Cincinnati or San Francisco to clinch it. This one is huge, and I couldn’t be happier that this game is in Cleveland.

Injury Reports

Buffalo Bills:

-Copeland Bryan, DE – Out (knee)
-George Wilson, S – Out (ribs)
-Coy Wire, LB – Out (neck)
-Chris Kelsay, DE – Questionable (ankle)

Cleveland Browns:

-Antwan Peek, LB – Doubtful (ankle)
-Joe Jurevicuis, WR – Questionable (knee)
-Orpheus Roye, DE – Probable (knee)
-Kevin Shaffer, OT – Probable (knee)
-Robaire Smith, DE – Probable (back)
-Willie McGinnest, LB – Probable (hip)

Game Outlook

The Buffalo Bills are a tough team to figure out. They don’t bring a very powerful offense (ranked 28th in the NFL) into town, and their defense is only slightly better than the Browns’ defense, as they are ranked 30th in the NFL (compared to the Browns’ 32nd ranked defense).  The Bills started the year 1-4, but have gone 6-2 since. They are team that seems to be hitting their stride as they are careful with the ball and continue to find ways to win games. I believe the Browns are the better team all around, and I believe this is a game the Browns should, and I repeat should, win. A fun matchup to watch will be in the special teams game. The Browns’ Courtney Cribbs leads the NFL in kick return yards per return, while the Bills’ Roscoe Parrish leads the NFL in punt return yards per return. If the incliment weather slows down the Browns offense, it will greatly benefit the Bills’ ball control offense in this game. On the other hand, the Browns’ only home loss this season came in week 1 against the Steelers with Charlie Frye starting that game. The crowd could be a major factor in this one as Browns fans desperate for a playoff appearance should be extremely loud and disruptive in this one (again, assuming weather doesn’t take them out of the game). I’m predicting a 24-17 win for the Browns.

Jamal LewisPower Rankings And A Full Slate Of Analysis

Normally, around this time of year, I am consumed with Christmas anticipation. I’m still looking forward to Christmas this year, but this time around something is different. The smell of NFL playoffs lingers in the cool, crisp Ohio air. The 8-5 Cleveland Browns are gearing up to play in one of the absolute biggest games since the return of the franchise in 1999. This holiday season, this Browns team has been the gift that keeps on giving. Here’s to hoping this continues to be the case this weekend as the Browns take on the 7-6 Buffalo Bills in a fight for the 6th and final spot in the playoffs.

Now, on to the analysis, starting with the assorted power rankings. After a setback last week and a slide in the rankings, the Browns are working on climbing back up. First up, as always, Mr. Matt “ESPN is paying me to talk about the Cowboys nonstop” Mosley’s Hashmark’s Power Rankings. This week Matt has the Browns back in the top 10, at #10 exactly.

Jason Cole and Charles Robinson of Yahoo! Sports have the Browns up 2 spots each in their Power Rankings. Cole has the Browns moving up from #12 to #10. Robinson, who didn’t drop the Browns last week quite as far as many others, has the Browns jumping 2 spots from #9 to #7.

Next up is ESPN.com’s Power Rankings. The ESPN guys have the Browns moving up from #11 to #10. Mike McAllister writes,

“If the Browns don’t make the playoffs, they’ll have only themselves to blame, since they control their own fate with three games left. Beating Buffalo (home), Cincinnati (away) and SF (home) isn’t asking too much.”

Moving on, we get to the CBS SportsLine Power Rankings. Here, Pete Prisco has the Browns going from #10 to #9. He writes,

“Who could have imagined their game with the Bills this week would be so big? If they win, they are probably in the playoffs.”

On to the Fox Sports Power Rankings. Like most of the others, they have the Browns going up 1 spot, from #11 to #10.  Peter Schrager writes,

“Up two points with a little over a minute left, Jamal Lewis had arguably his biggest run of the season, carrying three Jets en route to a game-sealing, 31-yard touchdown. In a game that pitted childhood rivals Derek Anderson and Kellen Clemens, the former came out with the victory. With the win, the Browns improved to 8-5 and took control of the second wild-card spot in the AFC. The Browns haven’t made the playoffs since 2002. A win over Buffalo next week, and they should be on the fast track to a postseason return.”

Now for a look at what the rest of the internet is saying about the Browns.

Zac Jackson for ClevelandBrowns.com takes a look at what’s at stake this Sunday when the Browns and Bills square off, saying,

“If the Browns don’t win this weekend, expect a wild finish. The Bills finish with the Giants at home and at Philadelphia. The Titans finish with the Jets at home and at Indianapolis against a Colts team that’s likely to have clinched a first-round bye.

Potential ties with the Jaguars and/or Titans would be broken first by AFC record and second by record against common opponents.”

Sticking with the ClevelandBrowns.com news room, staff writer Steve Kings takes a look at just how dominating the Browns’ pass protection has been this season. He writes,

“Browns quarterbacks were sacked 54 times in 2006, and Charlie Frye missed three games with a sprained wrist.

When the Browns returned to the field in 1999, Tim Couch set a franchise record when he went down 56 times. Two years later, it was 51.

You get the picture.

But that was then and this is now, and this season, after totally revamping their offensive line in the offseason by bringing in left tackle Joe Thomas and left guard Eric Steinbach, among others, the Browns are protecting their quarterback as well as any team in the NFL with the exception of one.

The Browns have given up just 16 sacks through 13 games heading into Sunday’s visit by the Buffalo Bills to Cleveland Browns Stadium. That ties them with the New England Patriots for second in the NFL behind the New Orleans Saints (11).

And since the middle of the second quarter of the season opener, when Anderson took over for Frye, the total has been just 11. Frye went down five times in 1½ quarters against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Browns are on pace to allow only about 20 sacks, which would tie for the fourth-lowest total in team history (also in 1969 in just a 14-game season). The club record is 14 in 1994. The Browns gave up 16 in 1970 and 19 in ’76, also in 14-game seasons. The NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978.”

ClevelandBrowns.com also reports that the final fan votes for the Pro Bowl have been tallied, and at least one Browns’ player is in good shape to be a starter. Jeff Walcoff writes,

“2008 Pro Bowl voting has come to an end and the Browns finished with one player at the very top of the list at his position.

Garnering 370,862 votes, Eric Steinbach not only was the NFL’s top vote-getter at guard, but he led all offensive linemen in votes received.”

Jeff Schudel of the News-Herald warns that the Browns cannot afford to be satisfied with this season yet. He writes,

“The Bengals made the playoffs only once while Steinbach was with Cincinnati. They were 11-5 in 2005 and got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. They looked like a playoff team through the first three quarters of the 2006 season. In fact, after 13 games the 2006 Bengals had the same record the Browns do now. They were 8-5 and then lost 34-16 in Indianapolis, 24-23 in Denver and 23-17 to the Steelers at home.

An 8-8 record wasn’t enough to put the Bengals in the playoffs last year, and it won’t get the Browns to the playoffs this year.”

In the “sloppy journalism” department, Lesley Visser writes in an article for CBS SportsLine that Romeo, not GM Phil Savage, traded Charlie Frye, writing,

“”I knew Derek could play when I saw him last year against Kansas City,” said Crennel, who traded the team’s only experienced quarterback, Charlie Frye, to start Anderson. “Charlie got hurt and Derek led us to the win in overtime.””

I know, not a huge deal, but still…..Romeo Crennel did not trade any of the Browns players.

Over at the Orange-And-Brown Report, Rich Passan points out something I think a lot of us have been noticing….that the Browns defense has a tendency to fall asleep and lose its aggression. He writes,

“When are the Browns’ defensive coaches going to learn to that passive football generally leads to negative results? The Jets didn’t earn any of their points Sunday. The Browns allowed them to score them. They got away with it against New York. They won’t against the next two opponents, Buffalo and Cincinnati, teams that know how to score and pose serious problems to the Cleveland defense.”

Sean McClelland over at the Dayton Daily News makes his case for Phil Savage as Executive Of The Year. He says,

“Another owner might have panicked, but Lerner continued to support Savage, much as he had late in the 2005 season when he sided with the GM over power-hungry team president John Collins, who was soon sent away.

Keeping Savage in place has been the key. In the first two rounds since he’s been drafting players, the Browns have added Braylon Edwards, Brodney Pool, Kamerion Wimbley, D’Qwell Jackson, Joe Thomas, Brady Quinn and Eric Wright. All but Quinn are starters. Edwards and Thomas are having Pro Bowl seasons.

Other Savage home runs: Stealing quarterback Derek Anderson from the Ravens, hiring Rob Chudzinski as offensive coordinator, bringing in Jamal Lewis, standing behind injured tight end Kellen Winslow and signing guard Eric Steinbach.”

The Chronicle-Telegram’s Scott Petrak tells all of us Browns fans that no matter how bad things have been in the past, it’s ok to get excited about this Browns team, writing,

“I know as well as anyone under the age of 35 the pain Cleveland fans have been through. I can recite the litany of heartbreaks that have scarred Northeast Ohio and left many reluctant to put their hearts on the line again – especially for an imperfect underdog. I understand how the mind involuntarily goes to negative thoughts at the first sign of trouble.

But that’s no way to prepare for a run to the playoffs. The out-of-left-field revival of the Browns is what makes them a wonderful story, one worth embracing whole-heartedly.
The Browns are finally a fun team to watch. They score points and have a likable coach and a roster full of likable players. They have hometown heroes (Joe Jurevicius, Dave Zastudil) and Cinderella stories (Anderson, Joshua Cribbs).

They have a realistic chance to make the playoffs, win a game and be good for years to come. It’s OK to get excited.”

Patrick McManamon of the Akron Beacon-Journal takes an advance look at the Bills matchup to see how the Browns stack up. He writes,

“Take away the New England Patriots games, and the Bills would be 22nd in total defense, 26th in pass defense, 17th in rushing, and most importantly, seventh in scoring defense.

Those rankings aren’t glittering, but they’re sure better than the Browns’.

The flip side is that the Browns have rediscovered the home-field advantage, going 5-1 in Cleveland, and the Bills are starting a rookie quarterback in Trent Edwards and a rookie running back in Marshawn Lynch. Also, the Bills are 0-5 this season against teams with winning records.

If the Browns ever are going to win a big game, this would seem to be the week.”

Todd Porter of the Canton Repository points out the magnitude of this Bills game by writing,

Will Sunday’s game at Browns Stadium be the most meaningful since the franchise returned?

Yes. Sure Cleveland clinched a postseason spot in 2002 with a regular-season finale win against Atlanta. But this organization was at the cusp of chaos a week into this season. The starting quarterback was traded 24 hours after starting the season. Crennel looked like a deer in headlights. In short, the Browns were, again, the laughingstock.

Now look at them. Crennel is being mentioned as a coach of the year candidate. Phil Savage should be a cinch for general manager of the year.

So much has happened so soon for this team.”

Finally, we normally end these things with a bunch of quotes from the ESPN.com user chats with the Scouts Inc analysts. This was a pretty uneventful week, though, and the only quotes we have this week come from Matt Williamson’s chat.

JT (Toronto, Canada): Who will be the starting Offensive Tackles for the AFC in the Pro Bowl this year? Who beats out Jason Peters?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Peters is really good, but I would put him just behind Joe Thomas as the best AFC LT. Not sure if they pick LT and RT or just OT. If so, both will start. However, don’t be surprised if they get overlooked more than they should. the Pro Bowl is brutal on OLinemen. Dumb.

Mike(Cleveland): Matt, any chance the bears offer a big contract to derek anderson in the off season and the browns do not match?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Could happen. He would fit well there. Big arm to cut the wind. Spend draft picks and other resources on OLinemen who can pass block-as he has in Clev. I might let him go if I were in Clev’s shoes if Chi offers him a giant contract and Clev would get their 1st and 3rd in return. BIG investment for Chicago.

Nathan (Columbus, OH): After Adrian Peterson’s soft performance last week, does Joe Thomas have a realistic chance for Rookie of Year?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: I don’t think so. Peterson is still amongst the rushing leaders after that performance and missing two games. Thomas is great and might even deserve it, but it wont’ happen.

Mike (Cleveland): So I guess you aren’t doing any predicting today. Is Joe Thomas going to the Pro-bowl. I know Steinbach is going but Thomas is real good.

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Both are going. Thomas is a lock. Might be the best LT in the league already. Superstar.”

Take a minute and let that last sentence sink in for a bit. What a difference a year makes, and what a draft pick Joe Thomas turned out to be. Maybe it really was a sign when he chose to go fishing with his dad on draft day rather than go to NYC and go through all the press and dinners and exposure. Maybe we should have known right then how special of a player he would be. Regardless, he’s here, and he’s a major reason why the Browns are where they are today.

Brady QuinnBrady Quinn Draft Day Deal Still The Right Thing To Do

ESPN.com held their first Mock Draft already today. If the season ended today, the Browns would have the 21st overall pick, which would go to Dallas to complete the Brady Quinn deal.

To this day the deal still looks brilliant to me. I’m not sure even Phil Savage ever dreamed the Browns would be in this position so soon. Essentially, though, as of now, the Browns traded a #21 pick for a #22 pick, only with the added advantage of having Quinn sitting and learning all year long.

Anyway, ESPN.com has the Cowboys taking Texas WR Limas Sweed with the Browns’ pick. So, Limas Sweed for Brady Quinn, huh? I think that’s a deal I would make, wouldn’t you? The only two picks that stand out for me after Sweed is taken are Vernon Gholston and Felix Jones. I think either one would help the Browns an awful lot. But even with those guys, I still think I would have made the Brady Quinn deal.