T.J. Ward was fined $15,000 for his big hit on Bengals receiver Jordan Shipley in the Browns win on Sunday. The money serves as a warning to the hard-hitting safety, but in the eyes of Browns fans, the rewards of that hit far outweigh the consequences.
Nobody was happy to see Shipley receive a concussion or the resulting penalty flag that extended the Bengals drive and allowed them to score a touchdown on the ensuing play.
What Browns fans are rejoicing about is that Ward’s hit represented significant progress from the Browns of the last 11 seasons. The defense that usually looked more suited for pillow fights than a football game has finally started to show an edge, and the second-rounder out of Oregon has played a key role in that change of attitude.
How many times since 1999 have Browns defenders watched helplessly as that same touchdown grab is made? Ward’s hit was a message to the Bengals and the NFL that it’s not going to be that easy anymore. I’m not preaching that the Browns need to throw cheap shots just to intimidate opponents. It’s just nice to see a defense that is not going down without a fight.
Ward’s fine-worthy hit and play throughout the young season has reminded fans of the late Eric Turner, a two-time Pro Bowl safety who played for the Browns from 1991-95. Turner probably delivered that same hit hundreds of times in his career without a penalty flag being thrown. In Turner’s day, those hits were considered good, tough football. In today’s NFL, you might get flagged for so much as tapping a teammate’s helmet in celebration of a big play.
Ward is exciting because he flies to the football and has been a sure tackler who can also make the big hit. Ward’s hit had the unfortunate consequence of knocking out Shipley, but sent a message to the rest of the NFL. For once a receiver might think twice before making that catch over the middle.
Far too many times, Browns fans have watched overrated early-round defensive prospects flame out due to injury or ineffectiveness. Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren quickly come to mind.
In the 2010 draft, most Browns fans wanted safety Eric Berry out of Tennessee. However, the Chiefs swooped in and grabbed him two picks ahead of Cleveland, and the Browns selected Florida cornerback Joe Haden. Haden made some big plays on Sunday, including his outstanding coverage of Ochocinco on a crucial fourth quarter play that resulted in a disastrous pass interference call on Cincinnati. Watching Haden and Ward play so far this season has to give the Browns defense some hope.
It’s fun to watch a couple of defensive backs who might emerge into playmakers. That’s a word that hasn’t been said about many Browns players in recent years. T.J. Ward’s hit may result in a fine, but there is definitely a payoff in the eyes of Browns fans. A trace of a real NFL defense may be surfacing in Cleveland.