Nobody really knew what to expect from the Cleveland Browns yesterday, least of all from their offense. They had a new quarterback starting, and although they had better athletes at the skill positions than the team has had since they were reborn in 1999, the O-line looked to be just decent, and not deep. And of the defense, the conventional wisdom was that the less said the better. We had a bunch of overpaid high draft choices on the line, and nobody behind those guys knew how to tackle. On paper it looked like another Ravens win.
But as Kenny Mayne of ESPN says, "everybody knows that the games aren't played on paper...they're played inside of television sets."
What we ended up seeing was an offense that had a tough time doing much of anything against the Ravens for more than half the game, and a defense that apparently was just sick and tired of hearing about the 500 yards that Ravens tailback Jamaal Lewis gained against them last year. So after the defense stuffed Lewis a few times, and punter Derrick Frost stuffed the Ravens in bad field position a few times, and Brian Billick made a few boneheaded calls on 3rd and short to stop Ravens' drives, Garcia and his mates finally manufactured enough big plays on offense to put the Ravens away.
In his Morning After column today, ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli said that nobody needed a win more than Butch Davis:
The plummet to 5-11 in 2003, a year after making the playoffs as a wild-card entry, only heightened the talk that Davis wasn't a Mensa candidate when it came to X's and O's, nor the straightest shooter when it came to dealing with people. Owner Randy Lerner, who inherited the club from his late father and then bought out Policy's stock holdings, stated publicly (and rather ominously, one might suggest, for Davis) that the Browns would never again post a 5-11 record. And if they did, he noted, he might consider a more viable investment.
But, wow, what one opening-game victory can do, huh, toward altering perceptions?
In an interview after the game, Davis gave some of the credit for the team's performance to the presence of the NFL Champion Cleveland Browns of 1964, who were in town all week and were honored before the game. Whatever rift existed between the new Browns organization and the former Browns players during the first five seasons under Carmen Policy has been healed by owner Randy Lerner, with the encouragement of Davis. Jim Brown and Randy Lerner are joined at the hip these days, and Brown is clearly relishing his new roles as cheerleader, advisor, and player confidant.
The crowd showed up ready to go nuts, and the place was as loud as I can remember it being since '99. I have maligned my fellow Browns fans (the ones who buy tickets these days) as a group not nearly as passionate, loyal or knowledgeable as the old Cleveland Stadium group, and far more fickle and cynical, and I still feel that way. But everybody was jazzed for the opener, and getting off to a solid if unexplosive start fed the frenzy. And after all, it was Baltimore. The Baltimore of Modell and The Murderer. You know, easy to hate.
Random thoughts on the game and the NFL: (you thought that's what you had been reading up until now...well, it gets even more random..)
- Kennard Lang got the headlines by dominating Jonathan Ogden's replacement, but Courtney Brown also played extremely well at the other end, stringing out the wide running game and turning Lewis back inside.
- Warrick Holdman had a good game both on defense and on kick coverage. Leigh Bodden looked great covering kicks. Gerard "don't call me Big Money anymore" Warren pulled a pectoral muscle early, and sat this one out.
- Anthony Henry had an interception that made SportsCenter, and his play seemed solid throughout. With McCutcheon at the other corner we're at least respectable at that position.
- Kellen Winslow is still kicking himself for that one drop on a big 3rd down play. I'd predict we don't see another one like that from him for maybe a season or two. He had 40 yards of open field in front of him. He must have been checking it out.
- Garcia is a tough guy who seems just elusive enough to avoid getting crunched like Couch used to do with regularity. There were at least two plays yesterday on which Garcia squirted away from what would have been sacks of Couch or Holcomb in recent years.
- Willian Green earned his 65 yards by taking everything that Ray "The Murderer" Lewis could dish out. And fullback Terrell Smith and center Jeff Faine put their hats on Lewis enough times that I think he'll remember us until at least Thursday of this week. He wasn't barking and strutting and posing quite as much with the Ravens down by 10 or so.
- During the exhibition season Winslow had several near misses at blocking punts, lining up on the outside and coming around the corner. Sunday he lined up in the middle of the line on the early Ravens punts, and on one of them he completely juked the man supposed to block him and came clean with a real shot at the block. I have no idea how he missed it, but I'd bet his rookie season won't be half over before he blocks one.
- How are the Cowboys 4 1/2 point favorites over the Browns on Sunday after getting pasted by the Vikings yesterday?
- Won my first Fantasy Football matchup by the skin of my teeth tonight. Carolina kicker Kasay could have beaten me with a six point game. All he got was two extra points. Tom Brady (31) and Shaun Alexander (24) scored 55 of my 67 points. I need some receivers! Plaxico Burress and Reggie Wayne did diddly.
- The story of the week? Butch Davis returns to Dallas. Okay, slow week.
- Will this be the only game of the year in which Garcia will be the younger of the starters at QB? I haven't given this a whole lot of thought with the schedule in front of me.
- A couple of former Buckeyes were surprise rookie starters in the NFL this week. Alex Stepanovich has won the starting center position for the Arizona Cardinals, and 7th round pick Shane Olivea is starting at right tackle for the San Diego Chargers. As expected, Chris Gamble is a starter for Carolina at corner. QB Craig Krenzel made the Bears roster. I must admit I thought he'd be in med school by now.