Cleveland Browns Owner Randy Lerner Should Apologize, Not Derek Anderson
Pretty much business as usual for one of the most hopeless organizations in the NFL.
Anderson's wrath and subsequent apology (stating Browns fans are ruthless and don't deserve a winner) stemmed from a November 2008 game against the Indianapolis Colts where Browns fans cheered as he limped off the field after tearing his MCL, ending his season.
Browns fans were heavily criticized for this, and already have a spotty record when it comes to exemplary behavior. They famously cheered when Tim Couch departed a game with a concussion (for which he later broke down in tears), and they threw hundreds of plastic beer bottles onto the field during a 2001 game which caused both teams and the officiating crew to evacuate.
But I don’t blame Browns fans for cheering after Anderson was injured. On top of that, I don’t blame Anderson for lashing out at the fans after he was let go. Both were bi-products of frustration at a greater ordeal out of anyone’s control.
Generally, Derek Anderson’s career as a Brown and the pain of Cleveland fans can be summed up by looking back at only two of his passes in the November 2, 2008 game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns.
SETTING THE SCENE
The Browns were coming off a 10-6 season with a resounding thud. Derek Anderson was the starter entering this game on thin ice at 3-4. The Browns were down to the season’s last gasp, everything pretty much blowing up all around them.
Yet a win against the hated Ravens at home is always good for the soul. Like a victory over the Steelers, a win over Baltimore (the former Browns) always means more.
Browns fans and the media had been calling for Brady Quinn to start for weeks leading up to the game. Anderson’s grasp on the starting job was tenuous to say the least.
The Ravens had already defeated the Browns and Anderson in Week Three. They were on the rise at 4-3, lead by a resurgent defense and a rookie quarterback who was about to have his breakout NFL game.
The Browns came out determined, taking a 27-13 into the third quarter. But Ravens QB Joe Flacco was able to bring them all the way back with his first impressive game as pro, directing two late big play scoring drives to tie the score at 27-27 entering the final quarter.
Blown leads against division rivals fuel bitterness.
The first pass came as Derek Anderson took over the field to start the fourth quarter. The Browns had no momentum after surrendering a 14-point lead Anderson built. The Ravens’ relentless pressure had started to get to him, and these were the moments you feared most: When the Ravens know you are throwing, and the blitz is on.
With 10 minutes to go on 3rd down and 10, Anderson, under pressure, leans into a collapsing pocket for a desperation heave down the field. Except this desperation heave may well have been the best ball he had thrown his whole career: A 40-yard bomb on the money to a receiver with just a half a step on his man, that could have regained control of the game.
Too bad for Derek this receiver was Braylon Edwards, and the best pass he had ever thrown was dropped wide open in the middle of field.
Had Edwards secured the catch, he stood a chance to outrun his defender for the miraculous go ahead touchdown. If anything he would have been tackled immediately in field goal range and given the Browns a shot to take the lead.
Instead, he dropped the ball and Anderson’s career with it.
The second pass came with just over two minutes left in the game, after the Browns had surrendered their lead and were down three. Anderson was again under duress, now in an even more desperate fourth and long situation, only this time he threw the crucial interception the Ravens had been waiting for.
Terrell Suggs anticipated his Hail Mary screen pass, picked it easy, and galloped away for a back breaking touchdown that gave the Ravens a 10-point lead. Suggs later spiked the ball into the Dawg Pound wall, and taunted the fans standing in disbelief with a dance.
Instead of drawing even with the Ravens at 4-4, the Browns fell out of contention at 3-5, while the Ravens surged on from 5-3 to make the playoffs and eventually the AFC Championship game. Baltimore rookie head coach John Harbaugh salted Browns’ wounds deeper by dedicating the win in Cleveland to locally despised Ravens owner Art Modell in his post game press conference.
The next day Browns GM Phil Savage announced that Derek Anderson would be benched in favor of Brady Quinn to quell the fan outrage now surrounding the team. Brady Quinn started the next three games in Anderson’s place until he was injured and lost for the year. Anderson punched his IR card one game later, against the Colts.
The Browns finished the season with three quarterbacks on IR, and a six-game losing streak; the two so often go hand in hand.
Derek was berated for throwing such an ugly and costly interception in that game and paid the price for it. Yet sadly he had thrown the ball of his life just twenty minutes earlier.
What did Browns fans want from him? Probably what they want from everyone: To hold 14 point leads, beat the Ravens, and if not to win, to not stink.
This is symbolic of Anderson’s career in Cleveland. He was just never good enough to overcome the small margin of error the team afforded him. He played great at times, and he played awful at times, and when he needed to lean on the Browns they let him down.
In the end he was inconsistent, and the Browns were inconsistent. That doesn’t lead to greatness, it leads to cheering for change.
So thanks for your apology Derek, but it’s not necessary. The Browns organization is as much to blame for your failures as you are. A more appropriate apology should be made formally and publicly from team owner Randy Lerner, to Derek and Browns fans in general.
His mismanagement of crisis and his inability to control the team is what has led to the downfall of all. While it’s not Lerner’s fault that the Browns were taken from Cleveland and packaged up as the Baltimore Ravens, the whole organizational mess that followed is.
The reason Anderson’s Browns career spiraled out of control is the same reason Browns fans have no remorse or class left: Lerner’s lack of stability and control.
It has left the fans bitter, inconsolable, and irrational, and has allowed no player to leave on good terms, not even home-town heroes Joe Jurevicius or Brady Quinn (coming soon).
The players are damaged by the train wreck just as much as the fans, which maybe is why one turns on another. Cannibalizing each other is a defensive mechanism.
All Browns fans know is to be sucked down a continuous spiral of failure and frustration. All Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson, and countless other Browns players know is to not succeed, lose their jobs, and get booed off the stage.
How different would their careers be had they played on a different team, or had the Browns displayed the slightest semblance of control?
How different would DA be if Braylon had just caught that ball?
Control is all Browns fans can hope from this new Mike Holmgren regime. As a fan all I need is to believe the organization running my team knows more than I do, and has a plan in place to make things work. Even if it takes ten years, I need to believe they aren’t just running blindly into a forest fire.
We are constantly led to believe football is so complicated that only the coaches can truly know what’s going on. So we are asked to trust them.
The players need this reassurance too.
So nobody should blame Derek Anderson for lashing out at Cleveland fans, and nobody should blame a crowd for cheering after he was injured. Both are understandable, albeit dark, human responses to an adverse environment.
Ownership has their new front men in place to right the ship. It's time Randy Lerner takes accountability for putting the Browns in a position where their players and fans are at each others’ throats.
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