Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Keeping the Streaks Alive

Sure, there were streaks to consider. Could the Cleveland Browns be the first team to win three times on Monday night in one season? No. Would the Browns go another game without a touchdown? No, but only technically. Might head coach Romeo Crennel have double digit losses for the third time in four seasons? Yes. But for most of the nation about the only intrigue Monday night’s Browns game against the Philadelphia Eagles held was whether or not Eagles fans would boo Santa Claus. They didn’t.

As it turns out, Santa was a no show. His time obviously was better spent elsewhere. For those whose wasn’t, they saw the Browns lose for the sixth time in seven games, this time 30-10, to an Eagles team that made enough mistakes that a decent team would have exploited. But this Browns team is not all that or much else and thus could get no closer than the 20-point margin. It easily could have been far worse.

As games go, it wasn’t much of one. Sure, the Browns broke their touchdown-less streak with 9:12 remaining in the fourth quarter. That shot hear ‘round the world ended a 245 minutes and 48 seconds drought without any sort of touchdown, a franchise record. Of course the streak wasn’t broken by the offense. That dubious achievement is nearly 17 quarters strong. This touchdown came courtesy of Brandon McDonald, who returned a Kevin Kolb pass 24 yards for the score. Kolb was only in the game because Eagles’ head coach Andy Reid didn’t have the good sense to keep him on the bench where he belonged. Somewhere some gamblers are still complaining.

It was a rather interesting night for McDonald, actually. He almost had the Browns’ first touchdown in four games at the end of the first half. With just 9 seconds remaining and the ball sitting on the Cleveland 1-yard line, McNabb attempted a fade pass to receiver Hank Baskett. McDonald, however, got a great break on the pass and intercepted it four yards in the end zone. With virtually no one in front of him, McDonald sprinted down the sideline but was tracked down by Brian Westbrook. McDonald was able to escape Westbrook but was eventually hauled down by Baskett at the Eagles 7-yard line as time expired. Officially it was a 97-yard interception return with no happy ending. If you were thinking it had to be some sort of record, it is, at least for the regular season. And for the moment, given the abject futility of that moment, things looked like they couldn’t possibly get worse.

Those fireworks aside, no one expected the game to be competitive and it wasn’t at any particular point except early and that was only because it was, well, early. But that, too, ended soon enough. And despite the relatively close score, relatively being a relative word, it was only that close due to several Eagles missteps inside the Browns’ 10-yard line. As a result, a game that should have been a laugher was merely a huge guffaw instead.

Predictably, the Eagles scored a touchdown on their opening drive. They passed, they ran and 8 plays and 64 yards later they had a quick 7-0 lead thanks to a 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Donovan McNabb to receiver Kevin Curtis.

Predictably, the Browns didn’t score a touchdown on their opening drive. After all, doing so would have resulted in simultaneously breaking two of their more dubious streaks—20+ games without a first-drive touchdown and three+ games without a touchdown. As it turned out, when the drive died at the Eagles 19-yard line, the only time the offense penetrated inside the Eagles’ 20-yard line, and they settled for a 26-yard Phil Dawson field goal, they kept in tact a trifecta of sorts of futility, adding to it another red zone failure. Using that as a measure of success, the Browns were off to a good start.

Things got slightly better for the Browns on the Eagles’ second drive, but saying that is an acknowledgement that progress is measured in the least exactly standards possible. McNabb moved the Eagles down the field rather easily, again, but was stifled when his pass on third down from the Cleveland 6-yard line sailed over the head of tight end L.J. Smith, forcing the Eagles to settle for a 24-yard field goal from David Akers near the end of the first quarter. If the rout wasn’t quite yet on, it was undeniably germinating.

It would have been in full bloom on the Eagles next drive but for an ill-advised call by someone wearing an Eagles head set, likely Reid. After again methodically moving downfield and facing a 3rd-and-goal from the Browns’ 7-yard line, the Eagles decided a wrinkle was necessary because the other stuff was working too well apparently. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson lined up as the quarterback in the shotgun formation. With the option to pass apparently his, Jackson did just that, poorly, in the direction of Baskett. Safety Sean Jones made a nice grab in the end zone instead to end that drive.

As it turned out, the interception was only a minor bump in the road. Six plays later, Browns quarterback Ken Dorsey tossed his own interception, to cornerback Asante Samuel, at the 50-yard line. Samuel then proceeded to take it back for a touchdown. For good measure, an unidentified Eagles player blasted left tackle Joe Thomas during the run back sending him about five yards forward and to the ground. Now it was 17-3 order was restored and dignity officially stripped.

Just when it looked like the Eagles were going to put the game completely out of reach (although it already was, technically speaking) at the end of the first half, McDonald had his remarkable end zone interception and run back. But like everything else this season, it fell short.

Here’s what’s hard to figure, as if there wasn’t enough already. On the Browns’ opening drive in the second half, Dorsey had the Browns sitting at the Eagles’ 35-yard line. It was 3rd-and-9. As the play clock was ticking down, Dorsey called time out to avoid a delay penalty. Then when the third down pass fell short of its intended target by a good 5 yards or so as expected, the Browns were forced to punt. That left punter Dave Zastudil less room to place a punt inside the Eagles’ 10-yard line. Thinking quickly, the Browns tried to correct that error by deliberately taking a delay on 4th down. Of course, the Eagles declined the penalty. Zastudil’s punt, naturally, sailed in the end zone.

The Eagles then took over and for the fifth straight time took the ball deep into Cleveland territory. While the Eagles avoided a turnover this time, they couldn’t avoid their own brand of red zone futility and had to settle for a 34-yard field goal and a 20-3 lead. For the sake of everyone, the Eagles were at least gobbling up huge chunks of the game clock in the process thereby shortening the game considerably as a grateful nation applauded.

It was about at this point that Crennel took off his head set. What exactly was he going to hear that he couldn’t see? The Browns defense was offering token resistance to the Eagles offense and his own offense had just set a franchise record for not scoring a touchdown of any sort. Given how things looked at the moment, it was a total that looked to continue into next week’s game.

Before going on, stop and consider the enormity of that record, even just in recent terms. Since their return in 1999 the Browns have had some of the worst teams imaginable with some of the worst offensive coordinators and quarterbacks imaginable. And yet, it took this team this year to grab that record. No matter what comes next, it’s official. Things could get worse than the McDonald 97-yard interception return. This is worse.

Meanwhile, the Eagles looked to be running some sort of 7-on-7 drill and having fun doing it. They again drove deep into the Browns territory with virtually no resistance but again had to settle for a 34-yard Akers’ field goal that pushed the scored to a deceivingly respectable 23-3. Respectability, though, was thrown out the window shortly thereafter. Following Dorsey’s second interception of the game, this time to linebacker Stewart Bradley, McNabb found Greg Lewis in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown two plays later and just as quickly the score was now 30-3. McDonald finished the scoring with his touchdown a few minutes later as the teams thereafter simply gave up playing and collectively watched the clock countdown to 0:0.

With no sarcasm intended, there actually was one bright spot for the Browns. Receiver Braylon Edwards had 5 catches for 102 yards and absolutely no drops. He is Mr. Monday Night. Unfortunately, given the Browns’ season Edwards isn’t likely to see any Monday night games for awhile, absent a trade. Other than Edwards, there was virtually nothing else of note. The Browns, averaging just over 200 yards offense more or less kept that streak in tact as well, endng the game with 196 total yards. Dorsey was 11-28 for 156 yards and 2 interceptions. That was good for a quarterback rating of 28.27. McNabb, meanwhile, had his way except in the red zone. Facing virtually no pass rush and only an occasional token blitz, he was 26-35 for 290 yards, two touchdowns and the McDonald interception. The Eagles had 136 yards rushing, with Correll Buckhalter getting 55 yards and Brian Westbrook adding 53.

As much as you’d like to think it’s over, the Browns do have two more games. Next week against Cincinnati, that promises to attract CBS’ 8th string announcing crew, and the finale against the Steelers. Even if the Steelers are resting their starters in that game, it still appears as though the Browns’ last best chance to score a touchdown on offense is next week. If not, then the Browns may truly own the football equivalent of Joe DiMaggio’s unbreakable 56-game hitting streak.

1 comment:

m. said...

Could not find "trifecta" in my Collins Gem I've been carrying around for twenty years--you do come up with some interesting words.If you made it up,--all the better. When the chips are down, the good get funny--and no one is better at that than you. Tuesday's post sometimes comes on Wednesday--but today I'm reminded that my goose was probably really cooked when I told you humor was your saving grace. What's a little cooked goose anyway? m.