Monday, November 05, 2007

There's No Quit in Them

I took my sons to the Browns game yesterday, and boy, am I ever glad I did. They've been to several games over the years since the Browns returned, but I think you know what I'm talking about when I say that yesterday, they saw the Cleveland Browns for the first time.

There were so many moments of greatness yesterday that it's almost pointless to recount them all, but what made that game so great, and what made it so reminiscent of the Browns we fell in love with, was every player's stubborn refusal to quit under circumstances where the last several editions of this team almost certainly would have.

Chances abounded for this team to throw in the towel. First, there was Nate Burleson's 94 yard punt return in which no fewer than seven Browns missed tackles. That play put the Browns in a 21-6 hole late in the second quarter, but the Browns knuckled down and put together a scoring drive with less than 2:00 left in the first half.

Of course, they could've thrown in the towel when that drive stalled and they had to settle for a field goal after having the ball first and goal from the two yard line, but they didn't. Instead, they took the first possession of the second half and promptly went 69 yards in 11 plays. When Jamal Lewis scored on a one yard run, they closed the gap to 21-16.

When Seattle responded to that drive with one of its own, and increased its lead to 24-16, you could almost hear the ghost of Butch Davis warming up one of his "I'm tellin' ya what, these guys played their guts out today" speeches. Instead, the Browns actually did play their guts out, and after swapping punts with Seattle, drove 54 yards on the backs of Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards. After Anderson hit Winslow for a 13 yard gain on 4th and 1 from the Seattle 15, Jamal Lewis punched -- and I do mean punched -- the ball in from the two yard line, and the Browns just needed a two point conversion to tie the game.

They didn't get it, as Anderson's pass to Edwards was knocked away. So, with less than 13 minutes left to play, the Browns found themselves down by two points to the defending Western Division champs, who promptly went on a 64 yard drive that culminated in a field goal. That gave the Seahawks a 27-22 lead with 7:55 left to play.

Josh Cribbs returned the ensuing kickoff to the 35, but a holding penalty on Darnell Dinkins pinned them back on their own 11 yard line. Historically, that would have been the signal for them to engage in three ill-conceived pass plays, at least one of which involved a sack, followed by a punt and a game ending drive for the Seahawks. Not this time, and not this team.

Instead, the Browns got to work, and moved the ball 89 yards in 14 plays. Like most of the drives that the Browns put together yesterday, they rode Derek Anderson's arm and Winslow, Edwards and Jurevicius's hands almost all the way. But when it came time to pound out the last yard or so, they turned to Jamal Lewis, and he once again didn't let them down. Lewis's fourth rushing touchdown of the afternoon gave the Browns their first lead of the day, and Joe Jurevicius's two-point conversion made sure that a field goal wouldn't beat them.

That turned out to be a crucial play, because the Seahawks drove 67 yards to set up a game tying field goal, which they kicked just as regulation ended. That meant that it was time for the Browns to roll the boulder up the hill again, and that hill looked mighty steep when Seattle won the toss and got the ball to start overtime.

Oh well, a valiant effort, but we know how it plays out from here, right? Wrong.

The Seahawks appeared to be on a roll when Bobby Engram made his 12,oooth catch of the afternoon for a 17 yard gain, which moved the ball to the Seattle 47 yard line. But then a short completion to Engram was followed up by an incomplete pass, and the Seahawks faced 3rd and 8 from midfield. That's when things got interesting. The Browns actually got some pressure on Hasselbeck as he dropped back to pass, and he tucked the ball in and ran up the middle for an apparent first down. Fortunately, the replay rule worked the way it was supposed to, and it was determined that Hasselbeck was actually half a yard short.

By the way, Mike Holgren can whine all he wants about that play being overturned; it was clearly the correct decision.

In any event, that brought up the pivotal play of the game -- 4th down and about 18 inches to go. Fourth and short hasn't been an area of strength for the Browns' defense over the years, but they came up huge yesterday. The Seahawks tried a running play, but Sean Jones shot in from the back side and made the initial hit on Maurice Morris in the backfield, and aided by a tremendous line surge and a nice tackling by Andre Davis, the Browns shut the Seahawks down, and took over on their own 43 yard line.

Now, if you weren't at Cleveland Browns Stadium yesterday, let me tell you that the crowd had been on the edge of its seats pretty much the entire second half, but the Browns' 4th down stop in overtime whipped us into a complete frenzy. You could feel it. This was no longer about gallant efforts or playing their guts out or showing improvement -- these guys were going to win the damn game!

And they went out and did just that, thanks to a brilliant screen pass call by Rob Chudzinski that was executed to perfection by Jamal Lewis and the entire offensive unit. That play went for 34 yards, and together with a 10 yard run by Derek "Twinkletoes" Anderson, set up Phil Dawson's game winning 25 yard field goal. Dawson kicked it cleanly, and it split the uprights.

In keeping with the whole tenor of the game, there looked to be another bit of adversity for the Browns to overcome. As the ball split the uprights, penalty flags flew everywhere. The Seahawks signaled that the call was on the Browns, but it turned out that Seattle had 12 men on the field. The game was finally over, and the Cleveland Browns -- our Cleveland Browns-- were 5-3.

As I watched the exhausted, banged-up and, most importantly, victorious Browns walk off the field, I was reminded of what the Duke of Wellington said at the height of the Battle of Waterloo: "Hard pounding, this, gentlemen. Let's see who pounds the longest." Last night, it was the Cleveland Browns who took everything that Seattle had to throw at them, but kept right on pounding. Kellen Winslow summed it up when he said "I'm proud of us, man. We fought as a team...We deserve this."

The fans are proud of you too, and you do deserve this. This is a team that's easy to love. Sure, there are holes in the defense, but the Browns are exciting, they're fun, and as the entire team showed yesterday, there's no quit in any of them.

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