It’s Time For The Browns To Win Their Season Opener

Since the Browns came back into the NFL in 1999, their record in the first game of the season has been stunningly awful.

In 12 years, the Browns have won their season opener precisely once — beating Baltimore 20-3 in 2004.  In the other years, they’ve lost in every conceivable way.  They’ve lost to good teams and bad teams.  They’ve gotten creamed and they’ve lost 9-6 defensive battles.  They even lost when Dwayne Rudd was penalized for removing his helmet on the last play of the game.  With astonishing, soul-deadening consistency, the old Browns and new Browns have produced the same result.  The season starts with a dispiriting 0-1 record, the team is in a hole, and they never seem to be able to fully claw their way out of it.  It’s no wonder the team has made the playoffs only once in those 12 years.

This year, the Browns need to find a way to somehow win their first game, against the Cincinnati Bengals.  Beating the Bengals is not an impossible dream.  In fact, if the Browns really are heading in the right direction, the game against the Bengals is a game that they should — really, they must — win.

With Mike Holmgren fully  at the helm of the franchise, a new head coach in Pat Shurmur and a new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes, exciting players like Peyton Hillis, Colt McCoy, and Josh Cribbs, and a roster stocked with younger players, it is time for the Browns to start slaying the ghosts and demons that have tormented this star-crossed franchise since its return to the league.  It can be done.  For years, the Browns could not win at Three Rivers Stadium — until suddenly, under Marty Schottenheimer and Bernie Kosar, they could.  On Sunday, it is time for this Browns team, too, to start turning things around.

Riding The Browns Yo-Yo

On Saturday the Cleveland Browns beat the Green Bay Packers in the teams’ first preseason game.  To hear some fans afterward, you would have thought that the Browns had won a crucial game that qualified them for the playoffs.

This is a problem.  Browns Backers have been wandering in the wilderness for so long, and have seen so many putrid performances, that they seize upon any decent outing and promptly begin to build sandcastles in the air.  Colt McCoy looks sharp for a few series, and suddenly he is the reincarnation of Otto Graham.  Josh Cribbs makes a good catch, and  he becomes the answer to the team’s void at receiver.  A few stops by the defense, and it is the Steel Curtain reborn.  Watch Bruce Drennan’s call-in show, All Bets Are Off, on the Sports Time Ohio channel after a Browns game if you think I’m exaggerating.  And the problem, of course, is that the Browns’ yo-yo always seems to go way down, and stay way down, after every hopeful upward movement.

So, I’m going to remember that the Green Bay game was just a meaningless exhibition.  I’m going to bear in mind that this team finished far out of the running last year and plays in a division that includes two perennial playoff contenders in the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.  And I’m going to remind myself that the Browns have gotten my hopes up before, ripped my guts out, and stomped them in the dust.  I’m not ready to make the necessary deep emotional commitment quite yet.

That said, you have to admit that Colt McCoy did look pretty good Saturday night.


Looking To Stay In The Hunt

Tomorrow the Browns travel to Buffalo to play their Lake Erie neighbors, the Bills.  The Browns, who are 5-7, will be looking to keep alive their long-shot quest for an elusive playoff spot.  The Bills, who stand at 2-10, are playing for pride — but they’ve played a number of teams tough despite their record.

These are two pretty evenly matched teams.  Both feature average offenses.  The Browns are better on the ground, the Bills are better through the air, but neither team is an offensive juggernaut.  Defensively, the Browns have the advantage.  Buffalo has been capable against the pass, but has given up a lot of yardage on the ground and ranks last in the entire league in defending against the run.  And, since the game is outdoors in Buffalo in December, we can expect the weather to play a role.  Tomorrow’s forecast is for a cold rain and high temperatures in the 30s, which are not exactly conditions well-suited to run-and-shoot football.  A few degrees’ change on the temperature scale, and we could be watching a game played in a lake-effect snowstorm.

Last week the Browns offense struggled against Miami, but the defense bailed them out time and again.  Ultimately, the defense forced a turnover that put the Browns in position for Phil Dawson to kick a game-winning field goal as time ran out.  I think the Browns will need the defense to lead the way again tomorrow.  Offensively, the Browns no doubt will try to take advantage of Buffalo’s weak run defense.  I would expect to see lots of Peyton Hillis running the ball — no surprise there — but also some wildcat formations featuring Josh Cribbs.  Cribbs has been a non-factor on offense in recent games, and use of the wildcat formation will at least get him some touches.

At this stage in the season, the Browns need to keep their heads down and focus on doing whatever it takes to win the game in front of them.  If they can win at Buffalo, they can at least stay in the playoff hunt for another week.  Since the Browns came back into the NFL, there haven’t been many years where the games in December have meant anything.  This year, so far at least, they do.