Boy do I feel thankful today. How can you not be at least somewhat thankful the morning after a seven point win over a hated rival that no longer considers games against you a rivalry matchup? How can you not be thankful knowing how many of those Steelers fans infiltrated Cleveland Browns stadium in order to wave their snot rags and watch their team win again? Being a Browns fan is tough every year of late, but a victory over the Steelers raises the season a tiny notch no matter what.
I know a lot of you are already lamenting this victory for a variety of reasons. Some are annoyed that the Browns are actually ruining their draft position. I don’t get this one at all. I know it is nice to have first choice in theory because you get exactly who you want. Well, unless you are the San Diego Chargers and you wanted Eli Manning, but that is neither here nor there. I don’t buy into that logic anyway. First, it is cumbersome to have the most expensive pick in the NFL draft, especially in the year before the whole rookie wage scale might change forever. Second, if you do want to trade down, you can do so successfully after the first pick, but not usually with the first pick. My real point is that I don’t care about the draft right now. The draft is a complex sport in and of itself and the Browns will have plenty of opportunity to react and maneuver no matter where they are in that top five at the end of the season. Beating the Steelers is much better than protecting a higher draft pick for me.
I know some others are lamenting the Browns win because of the potential Mangini implications. I know a lot of people were thinking that this game was one that would have Mangini coaching for his future employment. So, I think many of you think this win will guarantee Mangini gets another year. It makes for a nice storyline so people care to watch the game, but ultimately, I don’t think it matters that much. It does help Mangini’s case a tiny bit, but when we truly look back on this game we will see a hobbled Steelers team in the midst of a horrendous streak. The Browns should be proud of themselves today, but they didn’t beat the same team that won the Super Bowl last year. Ultimately (hopefully) whoever gets hired to run the show in Berea will be able to make an educated decision on Mangini and his coordinators for himself.
As for the game itself, the highlights of the night were almost exclusively provided by the Browns’ defense. Eric Wright had a monster game. He blew up receiver screens. He stuck with guys in coverage. Corey Williams had a monster game with two sacks. Some guy named Brian Schaefering had a monster game with 1.5 sacks. Marcus Benard had a great game with two sacks. I won’t say he had a great game, but Hank Poteat even got a QB sack last night. In all, the Browns amassed eight quarterback sacks last night. Of course the Steelers offensive line had a bad game, but the Browns and Rob Ryan’s scheming took advantage of it all night long. It was beautiful to watch the Browns drag Roethlisberger down time after time after time.
Brady Quinn didn’t have a good game, but he kept his nose clean by not committing any turnovers. Quinn was only 6 – 19 on the night passing. When you consider the kinds of catches that Mohamed Massoquai and Evan Moore made on two of those passes, it could have been even worse. To Quinn’s credit though, he ran the no-huddle effectively, didn’t commit a turnover. His two big hookups exploited the defense. Massaquoi’s 37 yard reception was on a much maligned Ike Taylor. Evan Moore’s reception was on a linebacking corps that hasn’t had to respect a Brown threat in the middle since Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius.
Chris Jennings had a very solid game. It would be easy to call this a great game based on comparisons to Browns’ running performances in the past few years. Chris Jennings carried the ball 20 times for 73 yards and he tight-roped the sidelines for a Browns rushing touchdown by a running back so stupid announces can stop talking about streaks of ineptitude. I try not to be the “I told you so!” guy very often, but I feel so ridiculously vindicated in my Jamal Lewis opinion right now. Jerome Harrison appeared to be running pretty well too, but he was reportedly quite sick and didn’t play much in the second half.
Did I mention that Chris Jennings had a rushing touchdown? Of course Matt Millen seemed to think that it wouldn’t count because the ball crossed the plane out of bounds even though Jennings’ feet touched the dirt in the endzone before ever hitting out of bounds. I know people have seemed impressed with Matt Millen this year, but I was not. If he told us one more time that “this is the time where a champion has to act like a champion.” We get it Matt. Did you write that for yourself in the hotel room and just assume it was pure gold? OOF.
What, did you think I forgot about Josh Cribbs? Of course not. I was saving the best for last. Josh Cribbs is easily and clearly the MVP of this game. Cribbs’ returns were key. The big one was a 55 yard punt return that set up a Browns field goal. Cribbs’ wildcat runs were also giant. His longest, a 37 yarder, set up the Chris Jennings touchdown run. In all, Cribbs had 87 yards on 8 carries out of the wildcat. Cribbs had one catch for 9 yards. He had two punt returns for 61 yards and two kick returns for 43 yards. The way he ran through tackles and got outside on the Steelers defense was fabulous to watch.
Speaking of which I need to take a second to talk about John St. Clair. I couldn’t have been harsher than I was early on this year at the play of Browns right tackle John St. Clair. Credit where credit is due. St. Clair has kept his name out of these articles for a very very long time, hasn’t he? There was one play in particular that I have to bring up. On Josh Cribbs’ longest run that set up the Jennings touchdown, St. Clair was in the picture five yards in front of Cribbs PANCAKING a Pittsburgh Steeler at least 40 yards down field.
Plays like that told the story of the night to me. This Browns team didn’t play their best game on offense, but they were alright and avoided the big mistake. The special teams and defense played possessed. There was a sense watching every phase of the game that the Browns were truly battling though. They played with intensity and played over their heads for a night of great team football. The fact that we could see this team come out so geeked to play at 1-11 speaks to each and every one of those players who could have easily packed it in. It speaks to Rob Ryan and Bryan Cox for whipping those inexperienced boys into shape. And unfortunately for a lot of you it speaks to Eric Mangini. This team hasn’t quit on him. In fact it is the exact opposite. And for a night it gave us Browns fans quite a spectacle to watch on TV.
A victory over the Steelers in 2009. Reset the clock, boys and girls. If the Browns can win the next one, it might start to resemble a rivalry again. Maybe someday the stands at Heinz field will be peppered in orange and brown. That thought makes me happy.