Browns Bounce-Back

I wanted to write about the Browns’ improbable — in fact, impossible — come-from-behind overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens today as soon as the game ended, but I was so stunned by the result that my fingers refused to function.

Let’s face it — no one expected the Browns to beat the Ravens in Baltimore.  The last time it happened, George W. Bush was President.  And for the Browns, it was probably 1,000 head coaches and 1,000 starting quarterbacks ago.  But today, they did it.

Russell informs me that the Browns defense has the highest payroll in the NFL.  You couldn’t tell that by today’s game, when the Browns got gashed on the ground and made Joe Flacco and his second-string receivers look like studs.  But the Ravens inexplicably became conservative when they had the chance to score the clinching touchdown in regulation, the Browns D made a stop to get the game to overtime, and then it forced a three-and-out to get the offense the ball and a chance for the winning field goal.  I’ve never seen a defense so soft against the run and so incapable of sacking the quarterback or forcing turnovers — but the Browns won, anyway.

And how about Browns’ quarterback Josh McCown (or, as UJ has called him in moments of weakness, “McClown”)?  He’s put up big numbers in the past three games, he threw for more than 400 yards today, he led the offense on several key drives, he didn’t throw an interception, and he spreads the ball around to skill players who can actually make plays.  The notion that the Browns would score more than 30 against the vaunted Ravens defense is absurd — but with McCown at the helm they did so, anyway.

Of course, Browns fans everywhere are pumped about the victory and are looking forward to more offensive fireworks to come.  I’m going up to the game next weekend, for a matchup against Denver that is perfectly set up to be a horrible disappointment.  Don’t blame me for my pessimisn . . . I’m just a world-weary Browns fan who’s seen the little sparks of hope in seasons past die horrible, soul-crushing deaths before.

So I’m not even going to think about next week’s game.  For now, I’m just going to enjoy the ride.

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Curse Of The Enablers

Ray Rice’s wife has issued a statement deploring the coverage of his suspension and suggesting that it’s somehow been cooked up to increase ratings.  She’s the woman who was knocked cold in a Las Vegas casino elevator and then dragged out of the elevator by Rice.  When the video of the incident was finally released, Rice was released by his team, the Baltimore Ravens, and then indefinitely suspended by the National Football League.

In her statement on her Instagram account, Janay Rice says:  “No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted options from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific.”

“THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!”

Sad, isn’t it, that the woman who was the victim would try to excuse the behavior?  She’s apparently an enabler who just can’t recognize the reality of her own situation.  She may decide to stay with a guy who punched her out — some battered women inexplicably do — but she shouldn’t be excusing his conduct or trying to blame his current predicament on others.  When a professional athlete slugs a woman and drags her out of a public elevator, that’s not some private incident, it’s assault and battery.  The NFL has every right to demand that it’s players aren’t thugs and abusers.

Ray Rice has no one to blame for his problems but himself.  His wife, of all people, should recognize that.  It’s very sad that she doesn’t.

Winning The Must-Win Game

This afternoon the Cleveland Browns had to beat the Baltimore Ravens to stay in contention for a playoff spot.  Somehow, someway, they did it.

This Cleveland Browns team is not pretty.  In fact, they’re about as far from pretty as you can get. It’s a blue-collar team that managed to win today in a blue-collar way — with tough defense, quarterback pressures, and big plays on offense when it counted.

IMG_5321I don’t think Baltimore is very good, but that’s part of the reason why today’s game was crucial.  If you can’t beat the crummy teams, you don’t have a future in the NFL.  Jason Campbell isn’t an all-pro quarterback, but he can make plays that Brandon Weedon can’t, and today it was just good enough.  As long as the offense doesn’t give up turnovers, this Browns defense should be good enough to keep the team in a lot of games.

When it comes to the Browns, my needs are few.  They’ve sucked for years; I don’t expect a sudden conversion to a Super Bowl team.  What I do expect is a team that plays tough defense, doesn’t give the ball away on offense, and makes a few big plays to put some points on the board.  Today, the Browns met those limited goals, and as of week 9 they are still in the hunt.

When you consider that the Browns often have been out of the playoffs by week 9, what this Browns team has delivered is good enough for me.

That Lofty Season Ticket Holder Status

When I saw the FedEx box this afternoon I suspected, and when I looked at the return address of 100 Alfred Lerner Way, Cleveland, Ohio  44114, I knew.  Russell’s and my 2013 Cleveland Browns season tickets had arrived.

As I walked into the house, clutching the FedEx box, I moved with a special spring in my step.  There is a certain status in being a Season Ticket Holder.  Sure enough, when I ripped open the box I saw firsthand the benefits of STH status.

IMG_4224There were two genuine orange and brown Cleveland Browns knit scarves.  (Sorry, but it’s 96 degrees in Columbus today, so I’m not going to try one on.)  There was a season ticket holder rewards card that gives a discount at every Browns team store.  There were some buy one, get one free coupons.  There was a season ticket holder information guide that identified my guest relations team by photos, names, telephone numbers, and email addresses.  I hope I never have to bother Rico, Brian, John, and Lisa, but it’s nice to know they are there and I’ve got their numbers if there’s a problem.  There’s a 2013 AFC North Preview.  I don’t need to read it; I’ll hate the Ravens no matter what it says.

And then there are the tickets, which are big and glossy and came in a nifty First Energy Stadium folder.  Each different game ticket has a raised depiction of different Browns players, current and former.  I can envision holding the tickets in a gloved hand as Russell and I enter the Stadium for a late November or December game, ready to cheer on the Brownies as they fight for home field advantage heading into the AFC playoffs.

Hey, I can dream, can’t I?  That’s what getting season tickets is all about.

Hoping The Ravens Get Crushed

When my team isn’t playing in the big game — which, given the Browns’ record of utter futility, means this rule applies to every one of the XLVII Super Bowls ever played — I usually root against one team, rather than for the other.  I pick the team that I despise the most and hope that they suffer a devastating, humiliating loss.  (I realize this makes me appear to be a small, highly negative person, but that’s probably an accurate depiction of my character, anyway.)

This year, the choice of which team to root against is easy.  I’m hoping that San Francisco beats the whey out of the Ravens.  I root against the Ravens because, on a grim, star-crossed day years ago, greed-addled Art Modell decided to follow the dollar signs and move the Browns franchise to Baltimore, thereby carving the beating hearts out of hundreds of thousands of loyal Browns fans.  With that fateful decision, the now-deceased Modell earned the opprobrium of all Browns fans for the rest of eternity.  I hope children born into the families of Browns fans for generations to come are taught to despise the sight and memory of Art Modell.

I also root against the Ravens because I abhor their carefully cultivated, bad boy image.  I loathe Ray Lewis and his histrionics, and it sickens me that he has the chance to end his career with a Super Bowl win — although the stories about his alleged use of deer antler velvet extract have taken some of the shine from Lewis’ time in the spotlight.  I hate the cheap shot tendencies of their defense and their showboating.  The Ravens are one of those teams that, in my book, epitomize just about everything that is wrong with professional sports these days.

I don’t care about the 49ers, or the match-up of the Harbaugh brothers, or any of the other story lines leading to today’s games.  Although I won’t be watching today’s game as a personal protest of the money-drenched, ugly culture of professional sports, I’ll be hoping the 49ers smash the Ravens and win the most lopsided Super Bowl in history.  I’ll be hoping that every 49ers fan shows up at the game wearing a full rack of deer antlers.  I’ll be hoping that Ray Lewis whiffs on countless tackles and gets stiff-armed to the turf a time or two.  I’ll be hoping that, at the end of the game, Ray Lewis and the rest of his thuggish Ravens teammates are shown on the bench, blubbering like babies at having been embarrassed in front of millions of TV viewers.

I need to give 49ers fans fair warning, however — the sports results I root for almost never happen.  This likely means that the Ravens will win tonight, and Ray Lewis will be the toast of sportsdom.  Ugh.

Who Do I Hate The Most?

Surprisingly, the Cleveland Browns won’t be competing in the NFL playoffs this year.  Instead, the other three teams in the Browns’ division — the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Pittsburgh Steelers — will be vying for the coveted division title and playoff spots.  These three teams are division rivals we play twice a year, so we hate all of them.  But a legitimate question for Browns fans is:  which of these teams do I hate the most?  For me, the answer is easy.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn2.sbnation.com/uploads/chorus_image/image/331699/128804917_standard_1349004141_352.jpgIt’s not the Bengals.  Sure, the upstart Cincinnati team shares the same state and stole the Browns’ colors when the Bengals franchise starts more than 40 years ago, but to be honest the Bengals really aren’t worthy of being despised.  For much of their history, the Bengals have been even more inept than the Browns, and that’s saying something.  Sure, the Bengals have been to two Super Bowls and the Browns have never been to even one (sob!), but the Bengals always come across as pass-happy, gimmicky glory boys rather than tough guys willing to slug it out in the AFC’s most rugged division.  The fact that the Bengals fans consist largely of front-runners who don’t bother with going to games when the team stinks makes the Bengals more worthy of contempt than hatred.

It’s not the Steelers, either.  You’d think Browns fans would hate the Steelers with every fiber of their being, given the Steelers’ many Super Bowl wins.  Many Browns fans give the pretense of hating the Steelers — but scratch that outward enmity and underneath you’re likely to find a deep reservoir of grudging respect.  It’s hard to hate those whom you’d like to emulate.  Browns fans want the Browns to be the Steelers, because in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s the Browns were the Steelers — they were the stable franchise, well managed and thoughtfully run, that found great players, ran a great scheme, and regularly appeared in championship games and brought banners back to Municipal Stadium.  The Steelers stole that mantle in the ’70s and have kept it since, and the Browns fans want it back.  In the meantime, we’ll secretly root for the Steelers because we all feel that they play football the way it should be played.

http://www.trbimg.com/img-50805de6/turbine/la-sp-sn-baltimore-ravens-ray-lewis-20121018-001/600That leaves the Ravens, and they are truly the team that I hate the most.  I hate them because, of course, they used to be the Browns, before the despicable Art Modell took the team away from the city and the fans that loved it — all for the sake of money.  I hate them because their new name sucks, they’ve had success in Baltimore, and they’ve won a Super Bowl that should rightfully have been Cleveland’s.  I hate their loudmouth, show-boating players who mug for the cameras and have forsaken the quiet classiness that used to define professional athletes.  The Ravens’ consistent winning ways confirms that no benevolent, sports-loving deity intervenes in games to reward goodness or promote fairness; instead, only capricious and mean-spirited gods could possibly favor the awful Ravens.  I despise the Ravens, and I rail at the fates that conspire to put them in the playoffs year after year, while the Browns wallow in seasons of embarrassment, failure, and futility.

Trying To Play The Spoiler

One compelling measure of how far into the abyss the Cleveland Browns franchise has fallen:  fans were encouraged by last week’s 7-6 win at home over a reeling San Diego Chargers team.  An occasional win on a cold, wet field doesn’t really mean much, of course, unless it leads to something.  When a team is down and out at midseason, it must take small steps.  The first step is to play spoiler, and knock off a team that is fighting to stay on the Road to the Super Bowl.  Another step is to put together back-to-back wins.  Today the Browns try to take both of those steps when they play the Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Stadium.

The Ravens have beaten the Browns like a drum for years.  In fact, the Browns haven’t beaten Baltimore during the entirety of the Obama presidency — and I’m not making a subtle pitch for Mitt Romney in mentioning that embarrassing statistic.  It’s just a sign of how one-sided this series has been.  And, true to form, the Ravens beat the Browns earlier this year, 23-16.

Today the Browns will be looking for a better performance from their offense, which has shown some glimmers of hope.  Although banged up, Trent Richardson ran very hard against San Diego; his 122 yards in miserable conditions were the difference-maker in the Browns win.  Rookie quarterback Brandon Weedon seems to be adjusting to the speed of the NFL game and is improving his decision-making; he’s also shown the big arm that caused the Browns to make him a first-round pick.  Neither Richardson nor Weedon played particularly well against the Ravens in the loss earlier this season, and if the Browns hope to win they simply have to make a difference this time around.

The Browns defense, on the other hand, has played better since getting sliced to ribbons by the Giants a month ago.  With tough starting defensive tackle Phil Taylor returning from injury, the Browns D is as close to healthy as they’ve been all season.  This game will provide a meaningful test of how good the Browns defense is when playing in good conditions against a quality NFL offense.

One final point:  if Pat Shurmur wants to keep his job, he’ll play this game to win.  If that means trying a fake punt, or going for it on 4th and 1 inside the Ravens’ 50-yard-line, now is the time to do it.  This teams needs to develop a winning attitude, and taking a few risks and showing confidence in your offensive line is part of that process.  It’s time for Pat Shurmur to let his inner riverboat gambler shine forth.