"A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits." -Richard M. Nixon
I've recently been reading a book about President Nixon. Our 37th President was a fascinating man who tends to be presented to my generation in a one-dimensional fashion, fairly or unfairly. A brilliant man, Nixon was haunted by personal demons that ultimately led to his demise. He was also a veritable gold mine for tremendous quotes.
That quote that we led off with summarizes that Monday nighter in the City of Brotherly Love better than I ever could: these Browns have finally failed in earnest, for they have officially quit. Sure, there are a handful of guys who are still giving it their all, but they are overshadowed by the vast majority of the roster who have clearly resigned themselves to phoning in the last three games so they can lick their wounds after the finale on December 28th. The Eagles out-gained the Browns 418 yards to 196. Shakespeare himself could not have penned a story more tragic than that of the 2008 Cleveland Browns.
This Week's Zeroes
Five Demerits: Ken Dorsey
In Tennessee, Dorsey was something of a non-factor. That doesn't cut it at the quarterback position, particularly on a team that's already mediocre on its best day. But in Philadelphia, Dorsey stunk up the joint worse than a week-old cheese steak. KD threw a pair of interceptions, including a pick-six to Asante Samuel that was reminiscent of Derek Anderson's screen pass to Terrell Suggs back on November 2nd.
It would be interesting to hear Rob Chudzinski talk about why Josh Cribbs isn't being used more at quarterback, because there's really no reason to have Dorsey under center. Dorsey can't stretch the field, he isn't a threat to run, and he's not particularly accurate. We know he's a bright guy; when his Miami Hurricanes lost to Ohio State in the 2001 BCS title game, Dorsey and OSU quarterback Craig Krenzel had enough degrees between the two of them to start their own school. But if you don't have at least some degree of NFL talent, brains alone don't make you good enough to play on Sunday. There are plenty of smart guys who know their football forwards and backwards but don't strap on a helmet, and we call these gentlemen "coaches."That's probably the title Dorsey ought to be given.
Four Demerits: Darnell Dinkins
Darnell Dinkins is a serviceable special teams player, but he's not a starting tight end. While he's fairly jacked and can lay out a solid block, the guy simply does not have great hands. Dinkins gave us yet another example of this when he dropped a potential touchdown in the first quarter that could have stopped the offense's "no TDs" streak.
Dinkins is a good blocker in more ways than one, as his presence is keeping Martin Rucker off the field. God only knows why this is the case, but Romeo Crennel works in mysterious ways. As long as Dinkins is upright, he'll probably continue to steal valuable reps from the rookie tight end.
Three Demerits: Mel Tucker
Prior to this contest, Tucker deserved some credit for keeping the defense from quitting entirely. Sure, they would get worn down and eventually break like in the Titans game, but at least the effort was there. This time around, not even the effort was present.
Philadelphia marched down the field on the game's opening drive, and deflated any morale that the Browns had left. But hey, if I were in their position, watching the offense reduced to three-and-outs or turnovers, I might be inclined to pack it in, too.
Two Demerits: Phil Savage
My gut is starting to tell me that Phil Savage will join Romeo Crennel in the unemployment line. It's been four years, and this season's conclusion is playing out in an eerily similar fashion to its 2004 counterpart, right before the Savage era began. While the roster is more talented than it was in '04, the franchise doesn't have any direction and they certainly haven't taken a quantum leap forward from a personnel perspective.
Even the first round of the draft, where you simply have to get production, has been spotty for Savage. Kamerion Wimbley is dangerously close to bust status. Braylon Edwards, though talented, has been extremely inconsistent and also a headache off the field. Joe Thomas is a cornerstone player, and the jury's still out on Brady Quinn. Certainly, you could do worse, and we lived with such stupidity for a number of years. But unless we're judging Savage's draft record strictly against his predecessors, it simply isn't very impressive.
Add to the discussion that Savage's administrative performance as a general manager has been even poorer, and Randy Lerner will have to strongly consider sacking Savage. Savage just doesn't seem to have the people skills or the political savvy to be a general manager, and he's shown it time and again by how he deals with his colleagues in the front office, the media, players, and even fans. The guy is a good scout, and probably nothing more.
These soul-crushing losses are doing nothing to help Savage's case, and if I were in charge, I'd show him the door. Gun to my head, I think Lerner gives Savage his walking papers.
One Demerit: ESPN/MNF
After barely missing the playoffs and exhibiting an explosive offense the Browns were identified as one of the league's "sexy" teams, and the schedule reflects that. By scheduling the Browns for five prime time games, including three on Monday night, the NFL showed that they were expecting big things from the Browns. They couldn't have been more wrong.
Although the Browns won two of their three Monday night games, they were so bad early on that they had little chance of making the playoffs by the time October rolled around. That, combined with the fact that they just haven't been very entertaining to watch equals bad news for the networks who had to broadcast them nationally.
It's been obvious for a few years now that ESPN got the short end of the stick in the prime time television deal because they don't have the option to schedule "flex games" late in the season like NBC. Instead, ESPN is stuck watching the Jaguars roll over against the Texans, or seeing the Browns get slaughtered in Philly. It's so hard to predict what's going to happen over the course of an NFL season that a game which looks intriguing when the schedule's released could very well be a real clunker come November or December.
Over/under on how many prime time games the Browns get next year: 0.5
Over/under on how many years the Browns are black balled from MNF: 3.5
This Week's Heroes
Five Gold Stars: Brandon McDonald
Brandon McDonald came out of nowhere to contribute in limited action last season, and it's clear now that his success wasn't beginner's luck. McDonald was one of the few bright spots for the Browns on Monday night, as he grabbed two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. B-Mac also notched six solo tackles.
There aren't many players on this defense who are legitimate NFL starters; Eric Wright, Sean Jones, Shaun Rogers, and possibly D'Qwell Jackson and Brodney Pool. McDonald appears to be recovering from his mid-season lull, and he's close to making that list. Ideally, Mac's probably your nickel back (arguably the worst popular rock band of all-time, by the way), but he's passable as a starter. The key for the Browns is to shore up the depth behind McDonald and Wright. In other words, the third and fourth corners for 2009 can't be named Terry Cousin and Travis Daniels.
Four Gold Stars: Shaun Rogers
There are plenty of reasons to dog Phil Savage for the way the team has underperformed, and there are plenty of reasons to fire Phil Savage. Shaun Rogers isn't one of them.
Rogers played another solid game, but he also aggravated his shoulder injury during the game. In a meaningless game this late in the season, it would have been perfectly understandable if Rogers had simply watched the rest of the game from the locker room. But for a guy who came to town with a reputation for taking plays off and quitting on his teammates, Rogers showed tremendous commitment by coming back in and finishing the game.
This also seems like an appropriate time to give Shaun Rogers a tip of the cap for making the 2009 Pro Bowl. The Pro Bowl is probably the most meaningless of all the meaningless all-star games, but it's still nice to see Rogers receive recognition for such a terrific season. Hopefully this accolade will help fuel Rogers' fire and he can carry this momentum into next season.
Three Gold Stars: Browns Fans
How do we put up with this team? Why do we put up with this team? The Browns are like a significant other that cheats on you, stands you up, and yo-yo's with your heart, but for whatever reason you just can't bring yourself to break it off.
Honestly, the level of mediocrity that we've had to deal with since 1999 is only trumped by the Detroit Lions. It's sickening. Even a blind squirrel is supposed to find a nut once in awhile, right? We might as well approach game days as character building sessions, because that's what they really are. If you can sit through all 16 Browns games, you can take an emotional beating with the best of them.
We've suffered through four years of Savage/Crennel, and that team's likely to be disbanded. Randy Lerner needs to get it right this time. In fact, I expect that if this coach/GM combo doesn't work out, we'll see Randy Lerner sell the team. Maybe that's what needs to happen. You can say what you want about the Browns being put behind the eight ball from day one, about the owner's role with the team, about Al Lerner's role in the Browns' move and the Browns' rebirth, or about the Browns' unbelievably bad luck, but the common denominator through all the losing is...the Lerner family. It is what it is.
Two Gold Stars: Donovan McNabb
I'm still not convinced that the Eagles' resurgence is for real, but I'm starting to come around. Getting benched may have been the best thing that ever happened to Donovan; he's looked totally reinvigorated during the last three games. McNabb was 26/35 passing for for 290 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
McNabb's a goofy player, because there are times when he looks like a top five quarterback, and times he looks like he's on his way out. Philadelphia's going to have make some big decisions this off-season, starting with Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid. I know that McNabb's been around for awhile and has yet to win a title in Philadelphia, but considering how rare quality quarterbacks are in this league -- we Browns fans can certainly attest to that-- I'd have a tough time getting rid of a guy who's already proven to be a solid signal caller.
One Gold Star: Phil Dawson
Phil Dawson didn't do anything extraordinary in Philadelphia (FG, XP), but he'll be joining teammates Shaun Rogers, Joe Thomas, and fellow alternate Josh Cribbs in Honolulu this February for the Pro Bowl. Dawson probably would have been voted in as a starter, but he's missed a few awfully questionable field goals in the last month or so. With a career-high 30 field goals this season, Dawson certainly deserves recognition. Ironically, his career year has been fueled by the Browns' offensive struggles, particularly in the red zone.
Although he's always been accurate, Dawson has added 6-8 yards to his range over the last two seasons or so, vaulting him into the ranks of the best kickers in the league. Plus, his incredible field goals against Baltimore (the Dawson Bar Game) and Buffalo (the Snow Game) have granted him a near cult status with Browns fans.
Up Next: 12/21, Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00, Cleveland Browns Stadium
It's what we've all been waiting for: Dorsey/Fitzpatrick in a duel of high-powered offenses! If anyone who isn't a fan of these two clubs gets stuck watching this game, I feel sorry for them. This could be the last win of the Romeo Crennel era, and it would be nice to get to five wins to drop down a couple of draft spots (the money paid in the top five is completely insane). I'd suggest that the Browns win one for Chromeo, but I'm not sure whether the catatonic Crennel ever knows who's winning or losing when he's on the sideline.
Prediction: Browns 19, Bengals 17
Thursday, December 18
"A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits." -Richard M. Nixon