Most fans didn't expect the Browns to beat the Cowboys last Sunday. They didn't expect to see the Clevelanders get embarrassed, either. The final score of 28-10 isn't at all indicative of the total thrashing the Browns absorbed. Make no mistake: the Cowboys took the Brownies out behind the woodshed, and it's a beating the home club will not soon forget.
In hindsight, the exhibition season now seems like it was an excellent barometer of the team's progress. The loss served as further evidence that the linebackers and secondary are not up to snuff, that the first team offense needs more reps together in order to gel, and that the Browns aren't yet ready to break into the upper echelon of the league. If this team needed a wake up call, this was it.
This Week's "Zeroes"
Five Demerits: Braylon Edwards
You shouldn't expect too much criticism to go Edwards' this season, but he deserves some serious heat for his performance last week. Edwards, who racked up 16 touchdowns and nearly 1,300 yards last season, was held to just 2 catches for 14 yards. That's not the way to start a bid for your second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance.
While that meager total almost made Braylon a complete non-factor, we must also consider that he was targeted nine times and had somewhere in the neighborhood of four drops. And the drops were at crucial junctures, short-circuiting some early drives that could have kept the Browns in the game. Allen Iverson was wrong - practice does matter, and Edwards hardly practiced at all in the last month or so, due to the deep cut on his foot that he suffered while running barefoot during a practice in early August.
Sure, Donte Stallworth stepped on Edwards' foot, but if Braylon wants to play the blame game he needs to look in the mirror. Running around barefoot when dozens of other guys are wearing cleats is an awful idea, especially when the bad mojo of Donte Stallworth, random injury generator, is in the house. The time that Edwards missed compromised the terrific chemistry that he had with Derek Anderson last season, and here's hoping that the pair can restore the magic before the Stillers roll into town.
Four Demerits: LeBron James
We all remember when LBJ wore his Bankees hat to The Jake during the playoffs last season. LeBron probably thought he was being cute, but all he managed to do was annoy a good number of the folks who pay to watch him play. But hey, the guy didn't grow up a Cleveland fan, and when you pull for the Bulls, Cowboys, and Yankees, you're hardly a "die hard," so most Cavs fans were willing to grant him a mulligan.
Then this happened. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME, LEBRON? Cowboys shirt? Check. Yankees hat? Check. On the Dallas sideline hugging Terrell Owens and Ms. Pacman? Check, check.
During the MLB playoffs last year, I was the first one to shrug off the Yankees cap and admit that I'd let it all go when LeBron's playing basketball again, but this was just plain bush league. (And for the record, when the Cavs are playing again in two months I'll probably let it all go, again.)
Dude, wearing the gear is one thing, but hugging guys on the Dallas sideline? That's going too far. It's tough to read that as anything but blatant disrespect for the Browns, their fans, and the whole city, and that's not cool. LeBron, maybe you are a Cowboys fan, but wouldn't it bug you a little bit if Braylon Edwards and Joe Thomas showed up at The Q decked out in Celtics paraphernalia? It probably would. C'mon LBJ, the fans love you here, try to be a little smarter when you head out to support the local teams. You can start by, you know, actually supporting the local teams.
There isn't much to be said about Romeo that hasn't already been said, but I'll give it a shot. Why do Crennel's Browns consistently get their clocks cleaned by good teams? Browns fans are usually realistic, and we don't expect a win every Sunday. What we do expect is something that resembles preparation, and we don't expect to be totally embarrassed. This was Crennel's fourth straight kickoff Sunday at home, and his team has lost all four games, including three by double-digits. Somebody send coach Walrus the memo: whatever he's doing, it ain't workin'.
The Browns didn't look like a team that believed they could beat the Cowboys. Both Troy Aikman and Tony Grossi commented that the Browns seemed to be treating this game as a fifth exhibition game, a game that they didn't have any business winning. Not to get too deep into psycho-babble, but when you believe you're going to lose, more often than not...you lose. The coach should be held accountable for the attitude in that locker room, and he needs to get those guys thinking like winners. If the Browns go into this Sunday's clash with their rust belt rivals with the same outlook, expect a repeat performance of the Dallas game.
And about that field goal in the fourth quarter... With a little more than 10:00 left in the game and his team down 21 points, Romeo Crennel chose to kick a field goal from the Dallas 17-yard line instead of going the first down on 4th-and-3. This was tantamount to a white flag, and it prompted thousands of Browns fans to simultaneously throw their remote controls across their living rooms.
Seriously Romeo, what were you thinking? Does 28-10 really look that much different than 28-7? Did you have money on both teams going over 35? I could understand the call if the Browns had a rookie kicker or long snapper and wanted to get those guys some work, but Pontbriand and Dawson are vets. The word on the street is that owner Randy Lerner flipped out when Romeo elected to kick, and you can't blame him. When later asked about the field goal, Crennel said he'd do it all over again. That, Browns fans, is troubling.
Two Demerits: Donte Stallworth
Stallworth was a late scratch after "tweaking" his groin in warm ups. There is a rumor circulating that Stallworth was actually hurt on Saturday, but the Browns waited a day to disclose the injury to force the Cowboys to game plan for him. Regardless, Stallworth is now on the injury report with a quadriceps problem, and he didn't practice on Wednesday. It's unclear whether or not Stallworth will make his Browns debut this week against the Steelers.
This is exactly why the Stallworth signing made me nervous, especially given the Browns' lack of quality depth at wide receiver. If there was an NFL player who's on the injury report more than Larry Hughes, this might be the guy. Stallworth has only missed 12 games in his 6 year career, but he's one of those guys that always seems to be injured, and always leaves you guessing as to whether or not he'll play. If last week is any indication, the Browns really need him on the field to direct some of the defense's attention away from Braylon Edwards.
This loss wasn't Derek Anderson's fault, not even close. But Anderson turned his excellent start into a very mediocre overall showing, once again struggling with the short passes that plagued him last season. DA started 7-for-9, but finished just 11-of-24 for 114 yards.
Anderson went almost 30 minutes without a completion. As I mentioned above, part of that was Braylon Edwards' is fault, but going nearly two quarters without a complete pass just isn't getting it done. DA also developed some happy feet in the second half, which is strange for a guy who isn't particularly fleet of foot. He should not make that a habit. I still think that Anderson can have a big year, and that he might be the Browns' long-term solution at quarterback, but this game was clearly not the start he envisioned for the '08 season.
This Week's "Heroes"
What a difference a year makes. Before last season Jamal Lewis looked like a worn out retread, and now he looks like a stud. And what a difference new clothes can make. Lewis was once one of the most hated athletes in Cleveland, and now he's a fan favorite. Jamal is an easy guy to root for; he's a hard worker, he leads by example, he plays with a ton of heart, and many in the national media are still counting him out by assuming that he's simply too old to be effective. As skeptical as I was about Lewis last summer, I'm now one of his biggest fans.
Lewis was one of the few Browns who showed up with the intention of playing football last week, and he picked up 62 yards on just 13 carries against a tough Dallas defense. That included an inspired 24-yard run on the final play of the third quarter. While most of the Browns were thinking about the showers, Lewis was concentrating on giving the Cowboys' defenders a few more bruises to wake up to on Monday morning. Jamal, you've earned my respect, and I look forward to another season of watching you bulldoze defenders.
Four Gold Stars: Shaun Rogers
Three Gold Stars: Kellen Winslow
Two Gold Stars: Offensive Line
One Gold Star: Mel Tucker