Looking To Get Back On Track

The Browns travel to Jacksonville today to play the Jaguars, looking to bounce back from last week’s heart-breaking overtime loss to the Jets.  It will be one of those crucial games that will determine whether, for the rest of the season, the Browns are playing for a playoff spot or playing out the string.

Nine games into the season, the Browns stand 3-6, three games behind AFC North Division leaders Baltimore and Pittsburgh.  If they win today, they remain in the hunt.  If they lose, they will effectively be eliminated from the race for the playoffs.  With seven losses, the Browns probably would have to win out to even have a chance — and even then it is unlikely that a 9-7 record gets them into the playoffs.

The Browns go into this game banged up, with Josh Cribbs out on offense and Scott Fujita out on defense.  In Jacksonville, the Browns will be facing a very unpredictable opponent.  The Jaguars are 5-4, but have lost the four games by more than 20 points each.  The Jags have a hot quarterback, a good running back, and a good corps of wide receivers; they will test the Browns’ very creative defense.  The Jaguars’ defense has given up a lot of points and their secondary is particularly questionable — but the Browns don’t exactly have a bunch of stud receivers.  Although Colt McCoy has played very well since he took over the starting job at quarterback, I don’t expect to see a pass-happy Browns offense today.  I think we’ll still see lots of Peyton Hillis running the ball, mixed in with short passes to tight end Ben Watson and an occasional long ball.

The Browns need to figure out a way to win this game.

Passing A Character Test

Sometimes things just don’t go your way on the football field.  Your normally sure-handed receivers drop catchable balls that could break the game open.  You rack up penalties and the other team doesn’t.  An off-target pass gets batted into the air and intercepted rather than falling to the ground.  You’re playing in enemy territory, on the opponent’s Senior Night, before a bunch of screaming fans, against a determined opponent that is hoping to salvage a disappointing season with a win.

When you are faced with such adversity, a football game can become a test of character.  Many teams fold under the pressure and experience the bitterness of defeat.  Good teams find a way to dig deep, overcome such obstacles, and win.

So it was with Ohio State last night.  The Buckeyes entered the fourth quarter tied with Iowa after some tough, hard-nosed football and lots of missed opportunities.  After an errant Terrelle Pryor pass caromed into the hands of a Hawkeye defender, Iowa got a quick score to lead 17-10, with only 12:10 to go in the game.  The Hawkeyes and their home town fans were fired up, and the Buckeyes had their backs to the wall.

Yet Ohio State found a way to answer.  It took the ensuing kickoff, marched down the field, and Devin Barclay kicked a 48-yard field goal to pull the Buckeyes within four.  Then the defense came up big, forcing a three-and-out by the Hawkeyes.  Ohio State got the ball back on their own 24 and again moved the ball downfield with a mix of runs and passes.  On third-and-ten at the 50, Terrelle Pryor threw a perfect strike to a wide-open DeVier Posey in the end zone — and Posey inexplicably dropped it.  Many teams would have given up at that point, but not the Buckeyes.  Pryor made a great, game-saving run on fourth-and-ten, and Ohio State was back in business.  A short pass, a run for first down, and a great Dane Sanzenbacher catch later, the Buckeyes were two yards away from the promised land.  Two gritty runs by Boom Herron got the TD, the Buckeyes’ defense stuffed Iowa again, and the Buckeyes ran out the clock for a crucial road win.

Many Ohio State fans think the team should win every game by 30 points — but that’s just not the way big-time college football works.  Iowa clearly is one of the best teams in the conference, and when you play at Kinnick Stadium you can’t expect a blowout — you just play for a victory.  Ohio State got that victory, and the Buckeyes now stand at 10-1 overall and 6-1 and tied for the lead with Wisconsin and Michigan State in the Big Ten with one game to go.  That sounds pretty good to me.