Monday, October 25

Now THAT was a game

OK, so I wrote this last week:
We're not winning in New Orleans next Sunday, so we'll probably go into the bye week (most hacky sportswriters would have said "limp into the bye week" but I'm a special hack) at 1-6.

I'm regretting my word choice here a bit after the Browns' stunning 30-17 trouncing of the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints, on the road and with our third-string QB, though I did hedge a bit with the "probably" I threw in there. I never give up on the Browns, though I should've been more positive here than I was. But hear me out.

The week before, I told Nick on the phone that I thought we could sneak one out from the steelers. Crazy things happen in football - I referenced a game from several years ago where Pittsburgh outgained the Houston Texans like 400 yards to 20 but lost by like 30 points because of defensive and special teams touchdowns. I thought, hey, maybe the undermanned Browns could get some big, weird plays and edge out a clearly more talented Pittsburgh squad. Turns out I had the right concept, just a week early, as the Browns used a punt return throwback, a fake punt, a running back-to-quarterback pass, and some bizarre defensive alignments to confuse the Saints all day and produce a rather comfortable win.

I should have maintained that perspective for this week, and in my mind I did, though I expressed it poorly here on FCF. Consider also what I wrote about the Browns' post-bye schedule:

Four of them look damn tough: Boston, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. Hard to imagine we win any of those. But I bet we do anyway.

Had I had the benefit of an editor, he likely would have suggested I lump New Orleans into the "Hard to imagine we win, but I bet we do anyway" category. I knew the Browns had an improbable victory in them this year, and there's no reason it couldn't have come this past Sunday, as it indeed did.

Also: I took us (+13) because I was confident we'd at least keep it close. Bucko did not take us +13.

But my goodness, what a game. It was fantastic to hear on the radio - I joked that it seemed more like Donovan and Dieken were playing a game of Madden and announcing that instead of a real Browns game. I love that the Browns pulled out everything they had to win, including the aforementioned special plays. It reminded me of an MNF game from 1990 where Bernie Kosar and the Browns pulled an upset in Denver for one of just three wins they claimed that season. I know it's a worn-out cliche, but the Browns really did play this one to win and not "not to lose." The calls were bold, but the situations were conducive to what they were doing - they clearly saw that the Saints don't guard the backside on punt coverage, leave gigantic holes in the middle on punt returns, and would overpursue Peyton Hillis on his pass to Colt McCoy. You can call them gambles, but they weren't; they were plays that in fact had high percentages for success but were unconventional. I would have applauded any of them even had they not worked, because the logic was sound. They had the right personnel to execute, and each time caught the opponent (and this fan) off-guard, which gives your club a hige advantage.

The best play, by far, was Reggie Hodges' ridiculous fake punt run. Now, I like fake kicks more than probably anyone in the world. I love them. In my mind, they always work - maybe not always, but don't you think they have a high success rate? I pulled into a gas station on I-80 right before the play, and I was actually thinking that I really wanted the Browns to try a fake punt. You know they have one, and this was a game they completely should sell out to win. But knowing how risk-averse NFL coaches are, I never thought they'd do it from their own 23. And that's why it was so brilliant! Fake kicks work because the opponent isn't expecting it, and wow were the Saints ever not expecting that, or either of the lateral plays. Again, I love how well the plays worked, but the real key for me is how well thought out they were and how effectively the coaching staff maximized Cleveland's chance to win the game.

One last thought. A number of commentators talked about how the NFL's game would suffer in light of the increased enforcement on helmet-to-helmet hits. Guess what happened in Week 8? The games were every bit as exciting and competitive, and no one got a concussion. I want everyone who opposed the rule emphasis to admit they were wrong. Too bad the NFL waited so long.

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