Tuesday, September 18

The Browns through the 2000's

Our staff has already written about and ranked the teams from the past decade for the Cavs, Indians, and Buckeyes, and with football season fast approaching, it's time to do the same for the Browns. This is not for the faint of heart.

10) 2008
Record: 4-12
4th Place, AFC North
vs. Pittsburgh: 0-2
Memorable Win: 35-14 vs. Giants
Crushing Defeat: 31-0 at Steelers
First Round Pick: None, traded for rights to draft Brady Quinn
Team MVP: Shaun Rogers

The 2008 Browns were not the worst we’ve seen since the team returned, as that distinction lays with either the 1999 or 2000 squad. However, the team was burdened with the loftiest expectations of any Browns club since the Belichick era. Many fans and media members expected the Browns to build on their 10-win 2007 season, and Phil Savage aggressively parlayed the team’s second and third round draft choices into Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers, respectively (Leigh Bodden was also sent to Detroit in the Rogers deal).

Both trades came with a high degree of risk because Savage had to give both linemen expensive new contracts upon acquiring them. In Rogers’ case, Savage’s faith was rewarded. Unfortunately, injuries and problems shifting into the 3-4 scheme made the Corey Williams trade an awful failure. At any rate, neither trade made Derek Anderson any more accurate, nor did they improve the lackluster bunch of linebackers. Savage also added Donte Stallworth, who didn’t see the field much due to injuries and his well-documented suspension for vehicle manslaughter and DUI.

The high expectations (remember fans chanting “Super Bowl” at the first training camp?) didn’t prove to be justified, as 0-4 exhibition record proved a harbinger of things to come. The Browns fell to 0-3 when an opening day loss to the Cowboys was coupled with tough divisional losses to the Steelers and Ravens, which put them in a hole from which they never truly recovered. As much as things went right for the Browns in 2007 with regards to a favorable schedule, staying relatively healthy, and Derek Anderson completing passes, that luck didn’t hold in 2008.

A Monday night win against the defending champion Giants provided just about the only highlight of what truly proved to be a lost season. Andy was there and it was AMAZING. Nick picked the Giants, saying it was "all over but the crying." Oh ye of little faith. Brady Quinn eventually replaced Derek Anderson, but Anderson returned after Quinn suffered a season-ending hand injury. Anderson soon suffered a season-ending injury of his own, leaving the Browns with a quarterback combo of Ken Dorsey and Bruce Gradkowski.

The Browns didn’t even have the heart to limp to the finish line – they died mid-race. The season ended with a final insult, as Gradkowski “quarterbacked” the Browns to a 31-0 beating at Ketchup Field in Pittsburgh. Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage were ousted soon thereafter.

9) 2000
Record: 3-13
4th Place, AFC North
Vs. Pittsburgh: 1-1
Memorable Win: 23-20 vs. Steelers
Crushing Defeat: 44-7 at Ravens
First Round Pick: Courtney Brown
Team MVP: Chris Gardocki

Anytime the writing staff (perhaps correctly) deems a team's punter to be their MVP, well...that's not a particularly good sign for your club. It should be pointed out, however, that this was the year he gave the steelers the finger, and frankly that should count for something.

This team was truly awful: dead last among the 31 teams in scoring, 27th in defense. They somehow got off to a 2-1 start, but reality set in and they won just one of their final 13 contests, including a two-week stretch where they were outscored 92-7. Also in the "not a good sign" category is when you follow up the season's "crushing defeat" with a 48-0 loss.

But hey, guess what: the Browns beat the steelers this year, 23-20, when Courtney Brown sacked ex-Buckeye Kent Graham on the game's final play to seal the win. That was fun, right? It was. I still recall listening to that on the radio when I lived in Pittsburgh and was working on the student newspaper. One person in that newsroom was ecstatic, the others not so much.

8) 2006
Record: 4-12
4th Place, AFC North
Vs. Pittsburgh: 0-2
Memorable Win: 31-28 vs. Chiefs
Crushing Defeat: 24-20 vs. Steelers
First Round Pick: Kamerion Wimbley
Team MVP: Kamerion Wimbley

You know, it's bad enough that I'm doing this at 5 am while I'm at work babysitting a huge piece of equipment, but now I have to go through a season where some sort of awful quarterbacking torch was passed from Chuck Frye to Derek Anderson? Nope, I'm skipping down to the '07 campaign, I'll be back.

Alright, I'm back. Has this season gotten less depressing yet? It has all the elements of a desultory Browns campaign - QB change halfway through, two losses to both the steelers and Ravens, Opening Day loss, wins over the Raiders and Jets that I bet you don't remember, and 220 carries for a guy named "Reuben."

Really the only exciting game of the year was Derek Anderson's breakout performance, relieving an injured Charlie Frye and leading the Browns to a 31-28 comeback win over the Chiefs. I enjoyed that one, even if my Browns Backers club in Albany had basically given up on the season by that point. The Browns rewarded that view by dropping their final four contests, which at least put them in position to draft Mr. Joe Thomas the following April. So...there's that. Sean Jones and Daven Holly (yes, THE Daven Holly) had five picks each, and Kam Wimbley had 11 sacks in the one year before everyone figured out his one move.

I'm sorry, that's all I got. Dawson and Cribbs were good, too. What would you have said about this team? I mean, seriously, they lost 30-0 to the Bengals.

7) 2004
Record: 4-12
4th Place, AFC North
Vs. Pittsburgh: 0-2
Memorable Win: 20-3 vs. Ravens
Crushing Defeat: 58-48 at Bengals
First Round Pick: Kellen Winslow II
Team MVP: Lee Suggs
Honorable Mention: Dennis Northcutt

Let me lay it out there how miserable the Browns franchise has been over this decade of football. This was the season where Butch Davis simply quit on the team, Terry Robiskie took over and mused aloud that he didn't know if they'd win another game (they had six left)...and it's STILL only the 4th-worst of the 10. Amazing.

We had Luke McCown start a game. Someone named "Adimchinobe Echemandu" apparently threw a pass for us. Frisman Jackson threw a pass, which is great because he had boasted that "no one throws like the Fris" (Jackson could toss one like 70 yards) and my buddy Dan thought that was hilarious and the one game we watched together was one where the Fris let a Hail Mary rip.

You're not goign to believe this, but the Browns actually...I'm not kidding...this is for real now...won their season opener. Yep, the only time since the return. And it was a convincing win, a 20-3 drubbing of a Ravens team that finished 9-7 that year. The Browns actually managed a 3-3 start in Jeff Garcia's first season under center, before absolutely free-falling to 3-12 before winning their customary meaningless game against the Texans at the end to cost them a draft spot and end up in a position to draft my least favorite Brown ever, Braylon Edwards. Good times.

A few other miscellany before I move on...Garcia to Andre Davis for the Browns' lone 99-yard play since the return...a loss to Cincinnati in a game where the teams combined for 106 points...a game where they lost, in snow, 21-0, to a team from Southern California. Surely, things would be much better the next year.

6) 2005
Record: 6-10
3rd Place (Tie), AFC North
Vs. Pittsburgh: 0-2
Memorable Win: 26-24 at Packers
Crushing Defeat: 41-0 at Pittsburgh
First Round Pick: Braylon Edwards
Team MVP: Reuben Droughns
Honorable Mention: Antonio Bryant

Nope, only slightly better. This year we were treated to Trent Dilfer at QB, at least until Charlier Frye took his job and Dilfer seemed to be the only guy who didn't realize that he wasn't Cleveland's long-term answer. Between the two of them, they piloted the league's worst scoring offense.

This happened to be the fall where Nick and Andy became acquainted, through the Pittsburgh Browns Backers, and sweet Jebus did we ever watch some stultifying football at The Bridge. I still remember sitting listlessly (as did the Browns) through losses to Baltimore, Detroit, and Houston that dropped the Browns to 2-5. The main scores from that year of PBB were the one guy who yelled "BRAYLON EDWARDS" apropo of nothing from time to time, and the emergence of one Bob Cobb.

The highlights of the season were the win over Green Bay, as well as a 22-0 win over Miami that is the club's last shutout to date. I once won a beer from Hanford Dixon for knowing that. I told him the answer and he was all suspicious of me, actually said "how did you know that?" I said, "I watched the game on TV." What else would I say? I even remembered the team and the score. Another time, I drunkenly told Hanford that I had a posted of him when I was a kid, and of course he had that same poster right next to him at the time. Classic.

Overall, a tedious year, though I definitely thought at one point that Frye was going to be a viable NFL quarterback. I was incorrect.

5) 2009
Record: 5-11
4th Place, AFC North
Vs. Pittsburgh: 1-1
Memorable Win: 13-6 vs. Steelers
Crushing Defeat: 34-3 at Ravens
First Round Pick: Alex Mack
Team MVP: Josh Cribbs
Honorable Mentions: Joe Thomas, Alex Mack

Halfway through their season, the ’09 squad looked like a lock to finish dead last on this list. Of course, that’s back when they were setting new highs for embarrassment week after week. Eric Mangini and George "I'm really an NFL GM" Kokinis were clearly way over their heads after Randy Lerner handed them the keys to an NFL franchise, and a questionable draft combined with a draconian training camp left him with a roster largely devoid of talent, and a good portion of the locker room hating his guts.

Eric Mangini did nothing to reassure an already skeptical fan base, as the Browns stumbled to 0-3 out of the gate, losing by an average margin of 22 points. After a week four loss to the Bengals Braylon Edwards got into a scuffle outside of a Cleveland nightclub and was traded to the New York Jets. The Browns notched their first win 6-3 over the equally inept Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium, in what was truly a case of "Who wants it least?"

Losses by wide margins to the Steelers (27-14), Packers (31-3), Bears (30-6), and Ravens (16-0) left the Browns at 1-8. Just when it looked like the team had hit rock bottom, they lost a 38-37 shootout to the hapless Detroit Lions. A pair of losses to the Bengals (16-7) and Chargers (30-23) dropped the Browns to 1-11, and with a Thursday night date with the rival Steelers on the docket, Browns fans braced for the worst.

The Browns hadn't defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers since October 5, 2003, and although the Steelers were treading water at 6-6, they were still the defending Super Bowl champions and still had talent on both sides of the ball that was vastly superior (as were most teams, I suppose) to that of the Browns. But extremely cold and windy conditions leveled the playing field as the Browns displayed remarkable heart and discipline, defeating their rivals 13-6 in one of the season's biggest upsets. I've never been more proud of a Browns performance than I was on that snowy December evening.

Editor's note: Nick wrote this, but Andy was totally at this game. I have literally never been colder in my entire life. I got a beer at the game, just to prove that I could, and the last ounce or two froze in my cup. It was awesome.

4) 2003
Record: 5-11
4th Place, AFC North
Vs. Pittsburgh: 1-1
Memorable Win: 33-13 at Steelers
Crushing Defeat: 35-0 vs. Ravens
First Round Pick: Jeff Faine
Team MVP: Dennis Northcutt

Funny we should arrive here, because I just remarked the other day that I can't remember anything I did or that happened to me in 2003. Maybe another boring Browns season will jog my memory. I hate to keep flogging this deceased equine, but this is now the 4th-best campaign of the decade, and the club's record was 5-11.

Oh, right, this was the year Kelly Holcomb won the QB competition over Tim Couch, good times. The Browns promptly started 0-2 and were in considerable danger of dropping to 0-3 until Holcomb rallied them, throwing two TD passes in the final 11 minutes and one with less than a minute to go, on a broken leg, to steal one from the 49ers in Candlestick.

Two weeks later, the Browns claimed one of the most satisfying wins in the expansion era. Holcomb was ruled out for the Sunday night game against the steelers (I briefly appeared on ESPN when they filmed PBB for a timeout shot) and Couch was named the starter. I still remember Pittsburgh radio DJs and fans mocking Couch all day long...and then Couch simply obliterated Pittsburgh in a 33-13 laugher, hitting on a surgical 20-25 for 208 yards, 2 TD's, and even rushing for a score. Does anyone have a tape of this that I can watch?

I just discovered that the steelers play(ed) on something called "dessograss," which, fuck you steelers, what the fuck is that. This list is making me furious!

The Browns pulled to 3-3 before executing their customary fade, dropping 8 of 9 at one point before an utterly useless win over Cincy in the season finale that made them give up a bunch to draft K2, who immediately got hurt for like two full seasons. Wow is it ever hard to root for this organization.

3) 2001
Record: 7-9
4th Place, AFC Central
Vs. Pittsburgh: 0-2
Memorable Win: 24-14 vs. Ravens
Crushing Defeat: 27-21 at Bears
First Round Pick: Gerard Warren
Team MVP: Jamir Miller
Honorable Mentions: Tim Couch, Anthony Henry

First round pick: Gerard Warren. This article is quickly turning into George Costanza talking about his life to that apartment board, making pretty much every other sports team's fans look like the Andrea Doria guy. I haven't embellished these season recaps because they need no embellishment.

On the bright side, '01 was actually a decent year. The record wasn't all there, but it was a huge thing psychologically because they actually seemed like a real team and not a bunch of expansion patsies. You felt like they had a legitimate chance to win most weeks, and you weren't going through the motions as a fan just out of habit, but because the games were genuinely exciting. Sure, they dropped the opener, like always, but then they rattled off three straight wins (THREE!) including a really solid home win over the Chargers that for me, really said: this team is back, baby. Cleveland also placed their first representative on a Pro Bowl team in Jamir Miller, who immediately went and got hurt in the preseason the next year and missed all of the '02 campaign.

The Browns stumbled with their trademark two losses to Pittsburgh, but actually dispatched the Ravens (who had won their disgusting Super Bowl the previous season) twice, which was some sweet Ratbird revenge. They lost one of the most improbable, disheartening games I've ever seen to the Bears. I bet you didn't even know before that game that a team could be up 14 with 32 seconds left and still lose. That's the Browns. They didn't let it get to them, though, and battled back to hold a 6-4 mark before starting their patented fade and dropping to 7-9 on the year.

The '01 season portended good things to come, but who could have known how weird the following season would be?

2) 2007
Record: 10-6
2nd Place, AFC North
Vs. Pittsburgh: 0-2
Memorable Win: 8-0 vs. Buffalo
Honorable Mention: 33-30 at Baltimore
Crushing Defeat: 19-14 at Cincinnati
First Round Picks: Joe Thomas, Brady Quinn
Team MVP: Joe Thomas
Honorable Mentions: Braylon Edwards, Jamal Lewis, Kellen Winslow

This was a rare fun year for the Browns, even though they achieved the also-rare feat of winning 10 games and yet not qualifying for the postseason. The Brownies were 8th in the league in scoring with 25 points a game (wouldn't you take that from this year's club?), offsetting a mediocre 21st-ranked defense.

The story of the year, though, was Derek Anderson and Braylon Edwards. Today, Anderson is regarded by fans as a journeyman (and it should be noted that in this career apex "Pro Bowl" season his Passer Rating was only 82.5) and Edwards doesn't have a whole lot of friends left here (because he's an idiot). But in '07 the two hooked up for 16 TD passes and the Browns, if never the sturdiest team in the league, at least had an offense one could reasonably call "explosive." Anderson also had sure-handed Joe Jurevicius and sticky-fingered Kellen Winslow Jr at his disposal, with Jamal Lewis rushing for over 1300 yards in support. Joe Thomas made a Pro Bowl at LT in his rookie campaign, and hasn't looked back since.

Josh Cribbs had a huge year on special teams, taking three kicks back for touchdowns, and Phil Dawson was as precise as ever. Brodney Pool, Sean Jones, and Leigh Bodden anchored the secondary with Kam Wimbley and D'Qwell Jackson leading the linebacking corps.

The season started badly, to which I say: what's new, as the Browns are 1-12 in season openers as I type this. But this was really badly, a 34-7 drubbing to the steelers that I watched in San Francisco with steelers fans that would be Charlie Frye's only game of the season with the club. This was the first of our requisite two losses to Pittsburgh seemingly every year.

But things turned around quickly, with Cleveland prevailing in an epic 51-45 shootout with the Bengals. They notched a rare win against the Ravens in week 4 and headed into the bye 3-3 after racing past the Dolphins 41-31. Forty-one points! In one game! The 2011 version failed to crack 30 in a contest, in case you were wondering.

The Browns improved to 7-4 via a couple of remarkable 33-30 overtime wins, including the improbable comeback in Baltimore highlighted by Phil Dawson's crazy long game-tying FG off the back goal support. What a wild game that was, and it never would have happened if Brian Billick had simply stopped kicking the ball to Josh Cribbs. If that wasn't weird enough, one of the craziest games since the Return took place in Browns Stadium on Dec. 16 against the Bills in the snowiest game I've ever seen. Cleveland prevailed 8-0 on two impossible kicks by Phil Dawson and a safety. Would you believe the Browns actually gained over 300 yards in that game? I remember it for the outcome as much as I do the referees' inability to locate yard markers buried under snowdrifts. The Buffaloes actually drove to within the Browns' 10 in the final minute but were held off by the defense as Cleveland moved to 9-5 on the season.

Unfortunately, Derek Anderson's 4 INT performance in Cincy the next week killed the Browns chances, and a win over the 49ers in the final week, their 10th, wasn't enough to valut them past the Titans and into the tournament. They have yet to win more than 5 in a season since then, but 2007 was a fun time.

1) 2002
Record: 9-7
2nd, AFC North
Vs. Pittsburgh: 0-2
Memorable Win: 24-14 vs. Falcons
Crushing Defeat: 36-33 at Pittsburgh, Wild Card Round
First Round Pick: William Green
Team MVP: William Green
Honorable Mentions: Tim Couch, Quincy Morgan


The Browns' lone playoff team since The Return in 1999 took fans on a wild ride of a campaign, eking out just enough wins to qualify for the postseason and making each of them absolutely as difficult and nail-biting as possible. In terms of sheer excitement, you simply can't top this regular season, though as always, the club's hopes and dreams were dashed by a certain squad of inbreds to the southeast of these parts.

The season got off on a tame note, with a fairly nondescript game against Kansas City...ha, just kidding. The Browns' opener was (of course) a loss, but not just any loss - it was The Helmet Game. Leading the Chieves by two points with time for just one more play, Cleveland linebacker Dwayne Rudd tossed off his helmet in celebration of what he thought was a game-ending sack...only the play had managed to continue as the clock expired. Never ones to let a penalty that has absolutely nothing to do with the goddamn play go, the refs flagged Rudd for personal foul and KC kicked a bunny with no time on the clock to escape with a win and deliver another classic Browns meltdown.

The Browns righted the ship with a solid 20-7 home win over the Bungles and a thrilling 31-28 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans. Trailing by 14 points in the final frame, Tim Couch delivered touchdown strikes in the final three minutes to Andre Davis and Dennis Northcutt to tie the game with just 0:18 remaining. The Browns won the overtime coin flip and marched straight down for a 33-yard game-winner from Phil Dawson.

Things quickly got not fun, as Cleveland suffered an amazingly avoidable overtime loss to the hated Steelers, followed by losses to Baltimore and eventual Super Bowl champions Tampa Bay to drop them to 2-4. A 34-17 win over Houston (Andy's first-ever Browns game attended in person) got them on track and an insane 24-21 in the Meadowlands against the Jets the week of Al Lerner's death evened their mark at 4-4. The Browns, suckers for a good comeback, trailed 21-3 at one point only to tie the game on a Couch TD pass to Davis and subsequent ridiculous underarm desperation toss of a two-pointer to Northcutt. They eventually prevailed on (what else) a Dawson FG.

Inconsistent play kept the Browns mired at .500 as they faced Jacksonville down in Florida. The Football Gods, perhaps feeling over-the-top even for them about that opener, smiled a bit on the team as Couch connected with Quincy Morgan on a 50-yard Hail Mary as time expired to give the team a 21-20 victory and move them to 7-6. They lost to the Colts before two thrilling wins snuck them into the postseason.

First was a stunning 14-13 win in Baltimore. Couch and the Browns offense had struggled all game to move the ball, and with 2:18 remaining they found themselves with 164 total yards on the afternoon, out of timeouts, down six points, and with 92 yards to travel against the staunch Baltimore defense. As far as degree of difficulty goes, you don't get much tougher than this. Naturally, Couch went 6-7 on the drive and led the Browns to the winning TD on which I almost hit my head on my friend Milkey's low ceiling. I'll never forget him waving sarcastically at the Raven "fans" on his way out the tunnel.

The Browns closed the year with a 24-14 win over Atlanta, the famous "Run, William, Run!" game where Green's 64-yard dash put the Browns up eight but with way too much time on the clock. Fortunately, the Browns' D authored a brilliant goal-line stand, as Earl Holmes stuffed Warrick Dunn on 4th-and-goal from the 1 to preserve the win. A Jets loss later in the afternoon put the Browns in the postseason and yada yada yada hey at least the Buckeyes won that year.

1 comment:

Joe Figgs said...

After reading this and reflecting back on the "Glory Days" of the 2000s, it is impossible to imagine how a single Browns fan could have any optimism about our team. Ever. 8 out of the 10 seasons were under .500. Just painful.
That said, it was nice to reflect on some of those exciting memories. My personal favorite was the Tim Couch explosion Sunday Night 33-13 win over pittsburgh.
(Aside from basically any loss to the steelers) my most painful moment in there was the 32 second collapse against the Bears. I'll never forget going across the hall in my apartment building with a few minutes left and talking shit to my steeler fan neighbors about how we were in 1st place, only to watch some clown named James Allen catch 2 TDs in 32 seconds. After the end in OT, I may or may not have made some drunken death threats against Mike Brown for winning it with that pick six.
There has been nothing close to matching the 2002 campaign though. The Hail Mary, the Helmet Toss, the OT wins. Dennis Northcutt looking like Metcalf that season. William Green actually playing like a 1st round pick. Great memories. It's just sad that our greatest memories of a season since the Return happened in a year where we lost a 1st round playoff game to you know who.
I'm not expecting us to have it as good as Patriot fans, or Packer fans. All I'm asking is to go into a season with a reasonable chance to make the playoffs, and not worry about draft picks until April (instead of November, or sadly, September some times for crying out loud). And to have a season we can remember that has better results than 9-7 with a 1st round playoff loss. (I mean, if Patriot fans did there list, an identical season wouldn't even crack their top 10).
Anyway, good article. Sorry for going on a little rant here, but you brought back all these good memories and I got to reflecting. All of us reading this should feel nice and depressed for the forseeable future. Oh well, I can't wait for Sunday.