I will still say that there is no such thing as a moral victory in the NFL. There is certainly no moral victory when you lose to a divisional rival like the Steelers 28-10, no matter how much of an underdog your team might be. And so the Browns lose on a day when Browns fans should see a positive first outing from Colt McCoy despite two interceptions. Browns fans can unite in anger at a lack of penalties called against James Harrison. Browns fans should be able to unite in the fact that the Browns again went out and played what felt like a very competent game against one of the very best teams in the league. None of this makes the loss “OK” but it is still nice to see some progress.
First things first, let’s talk about Eric Mangini. I know a lot of you hate him. I even get it to an extent. You never get a second chance to make a first impression and Eric Mangini treated his first impression worse than infants treat diapers. In my mind though, I gave Mangini something of a clean slate when Holmgren decided to keep him around for another year. What am I getting at? Anyone who wants to cast blame at Mangini for Chansi Stuckey fumbling a punt after Mangini accepted two penalties that cause the Steelers to kick it three times is crazy. The Browns were deep in their own territory and Mangini was trying to improve their field position. Chansi Stuckey is the backup punt returner, but so what? The Browns were down 14-3 and Mangini wanted to improve field position.
Just because it doesn’t work out in the end doesn’t make it the wrong decision. Players are expected to play, and it isn’t out of the realm of reasonability to expect Chansi Stuckey to at least execute a fair catch. Hate on Mangini for any number of reasons if you must, but be reasonable. If you want to disagree with Mangini, I think it would have been worth taking a flyer on challenging the first TD pass that Wallace caught from Roethlisberger. I never got to see a super slo-mo version of the play, but it looked enough like a bobble to me that I might have reviewed that play.
Now, let’s talk about James Harrison. Except for the fact that he is a Steeler, I like the guy. I even didn’t hate him after he tackled the drunk Browns fan a few years back. I have openly bemoaned the fact that the Steelers find players like that undrafted when the Browns couldn’t even draft successfully. All that being said, the NFL needs to take stiff action against both Harrison and the referees in the game today. Harrison knocked two of the Browns offensive players out of the game via brutal helmet-to-helmet hits.
Now, just like I said about TJ Ward’s hit on Shipley, I have mixed emotions. On the one hand, I wish that football players could make football plays by hitting guys who have the ball and who could potentially catch the ball. At the same time, I totally understand what the NFL is going for in terms of protecting players. As a result, I will just go by what I understand to be the rules and act accordingly.
What I understand to be the rules indicates to me that James Harrison should have had two 15 yard penalties lobbied against him. Now, that alone doesn’t help the Browns who had to play without Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi in the second half, but at least I wouldn’t feel like the Browns were completely disrespected by the refs who didn’t throw a flag on either play. Also, I will withhold judgement for Goodell and the NFL league office, but their judgements better be swift and harsh considering what TJ Ward and the Browns had to go through in the wake of the Jordan Shipley hit.
Let’s finish this on a positive note. Despite my greatest fears, Colt McCoy played a very nice first game in the NFL. McCoy played confident. He read the defense and tried to direct traffic on multiple occasions when he needed his outlet players to move to space. He used his feet effectively to avoid the rush. He threw the ball well. His first interception was off by inches and might have even caught the receiver’s hands. He utilized his tight ends and outlet passes, but he also hit Chansi Stuckey meaning that he was targeting receivers. This is a stark contrast from the Brady Quinn dump down game that I expected. Of course, anyone would be hampered in the passing game when two receivers (Cribbs, Massaquoi) were already knocked out. Literally.
In the end, the Steelers were just too much for the Browns on this day. Still, considering the Browns lost and had further injury problems via (illegal?) hits by James Harrison, the Browns did pretty well. The defense is still plagued by their over-blitzing. The secondary got beat up again, particularly Eric Wright who got beat in coverage and also failed miserably trying to tackle Hines Ward on his touchdown. We know the Browns still need a lot more players. Even all that said, something about this game seemed like some progress in the end, despite the score.