Sunday, December 24, 2006

Tampa Bay is Comin' to Town

While the rest of the world sips egg nog and tracks the Jolly Ol' Elf's progress, I'll be spending my Christmas Eve at Cleveland Browns Stadium, watching the four or five Browns who aren't on injured reserve take on the mighty Tampa Bay Suckaneers. Shapes up to be the merriest Christmas ever, doesn't it? On second thought, I guess it has to be better than last Christmas Eve.

You know, it wasn't always like this. Christmas Eve has a special place in Browns' history. In fact, the Cleveland Browns won their very first NFL championship on December 24, 1950, when Lou Groza kicked a game winning 16 yard field goal with 28 seconds left to beat the Los Angeles Rams 30-28. That game is still regarded as one of the greatest post-season games in NFL history, and put the finishing touches on one of the most remarkable seasons in the history of pro sports.

But anyway, today we get Tampa.

As bad as this season has been for the Browns, it's been even worse for Tampa Bay. The Bucs are 3-11, have lost four games in a row and seven out of their last eight. Whatever you think of Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson, they both still have their spleens. The same can't be said for Tampa's starting QB Chris Simms, who lost his against Carolina last September. Since Simms went down, the Bucs have managed to put together an offense that's among the very worst in the league. Tampa Bay is averaging only 262 yards per game, which means that for the first time since the Browns' faced Oakland, they're actually playing somebody with an offense that's worse than their own.

The Bucs will also play today without their leading rusher, Carnell Williams, who has a bruised foot and didn't make the trip to Cleveland. They're pinning their hopes on QB Tim Rattay, who took over for rookie Bruce Gradkowski last week against the Bears. Rattay did seem to revive the sputtering Tampa offense last week, when he threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the Bucs' 34-31 overtime loss. Rattay will look for help from WR Joey Galloway, who is probably Tampa's biggest offensive threat at this point. Despite the Bucs' offensive woes, Galloway still has a shot at his second straight season with 1,000 yards in receptions.

Tampa Bay's defense is terrible. Not as terrible as Cleveland's defense, which has finally collapsed under the weight of countless injuries, but still pretty pathetic. I'm not going to waste my breath and your time saying anything more about that side of the ball.

Mercifully, today brings the Browns' home campaign to an end, and so the team's having "Thank You Cleveland Day" at the Stadium. They're giving away a truck, Super Bowl tickets and other items of "trinkets and trash." Big whoop. After eight years of this crap, you owe us a lot more than that, guys. If you really want to thank fans appropriately, then pick up our kids' college tuition--and none of this "okay, but only to an in-state school" nonsense.

I guess if you've read this far, you deserve a prediction. Do the Browns come away with a win today? Of course, because as my buddy Vinny suggests, that will hurt them a lot more than a loss. Browns 23, Tampa 17. Merry Christmas.

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