The Browns won last Thursday against the Cincinnati Bengals and coupled with the Steelers loss against the lowly Jets meant that for the first time in 19 years the Browns are in sole possession of 1st place in the AFC North. NINETEEN YEARS!!! Last time the Browns were head of the division Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise was top of the charts, Browns GM Ray Farmer was playing safety for Duke and I wouldn’t be born for another two years. Ironically it is almost 19 years to the day since Art Modell decided to betray Cleveland and for the first time since the Browns truly are back.
Desmond Bryant sacks Andy Dalton on back to back plays Thursday
We have had some teams that have gotten hot and over performed before flaming out(2007) and other teams that gave false hope (2002) but this one is different. With two 1st round picks in next year’s draft and with All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon still to come back I don’t see why this cant last. I remember being skeptical back in August when Ray Farmer referenced the Seahawks winning the Super Bowl with no Pro bowl receivers as to why he didn’t pick a receiver in the draft and down right laughing at Mike Pettine’s mantra to “Play like a Brown” but it turns out his idea of it was quite different to mine. While I thought of a team that won only one of their last nine games and just collapsed horrifically under Brandon Weeden and Norv Turner/Ray Horton’s defence not playing on 3rd down, he thought of the Browns teams of the Jim Brown era, who’d punch it up middle and control the game with their dominance in the trenches. It ain’t too pretty and looks like something from the 1970’s but with 6 wins in 9 games when I only predicted them to win 6 games all season. Last year the Browns led the league in pass attempts due to the combination of nobody at Running Back(Fozzy Whitaker? Willis McGahee?) and Norv Turner calling his pass heavy Air Raid offense. This year could well end up being last due to the a completely new rushing attack and a new philosophy under Kyle Shanahan. I must say when I heard Kyle Shanahan was the new OC of the Browns I wasn’t too pleased as I thought it was too pleased as I thought it was to help Johnny Manziel adjust into the starting line up after his success with Robert Griffin III in his Rookie season. Instead he has returned more to his Texan’s playbook that he used to lead them to a top 10 offense with Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and Andre Johnson. Another big reason for the Browns improvement has been the Free Agents signings with leaders like Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby, Andrew Hawkins and Ben Tate coming from winning orgainisations and hepling to change the culture of the Browns as well as making big plays on the field as well.
With a manageable series of games down the stretch with only three games against teams with winning records and All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon due back to practiced in Berea on Monday there is plenty of buzz around the city and the NFL in general about a potential playoff push after a dominating the Bengals on Thursday Night Football(TNF). A win that was all but wrapped up by the second quarter when Billy Cundiff hit a 32 yard field goal, the Bengals had no answers for a Browns offense whose game-plan was to run it down your throat until you forced them to change which they didn’t although it must noted that despite the rest of the teams never leaving the locker room DT Geno Atkins did make some big plays including one where tackled Brian Hoyer to the ground before he could hand it off on a run up the middle. For Cincinnati the “Red Rifle” that is Andy Dalton was horrific and I tried not to be overcritical as a Browns fan as after watching Brandon Weeden I’m grading form a pretty low base but even then his numbers were horrific and for a “Franchise Quarterback” or at least someone who is being like it this just isn’t an acceptable performance. 2.0 that’s his QB rating. Pause for a minute and let that sink in. He threw 3 INTs and was lucky not to have a fourth one after Tashaun Gipson dropped one that was straight to his chest and only had a completion rate of 30%. on the outside All-Pro Joe Haden did a great job covering AJ Green and forcing the action to the other side of the field and allowed Buster Skrine to pick of Dalton twice.
Leah Stills on the pitch Thursday night after presenting a cheque for $1.3 million
Although the Browns won big it really a game about more than football. The main event in Paul Brown stadium was the daughter of Devon Stills who stole the show and hearts of crowds during pregame. Leah, the four year old daughter of Stills who is battling cancer was able to see her father play for the first time and in the break between the first and second quarter she was on the pitch with her grandmother to present a cheque of more than $1.3 million for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for research into pediatric cancer. This money was raised by the sale of her father number 75 jerseys(11th best selling this season) from which all proceeds went to charity.
With three straights games against teams who aren’t above .500 there still plenty optimism about the Browns this year. Arguably the most important of those games is the match in Orchard Park against Buffalo as they are not only AFC rivals for a playoff spot but also a win over the Bills would worth twice as much as usual with another victory in the win total and would also make Buffalo’s 1st round pick(which belongs to the Browns from Sammy Watkins trade) more valuable. With want to jinx anything I still don’t see why the Browns cant win at least 4 more games and finish 10-6 and go to the playoffs.