The Browns’ season-to-date comes full-circle this Monday night when they take on the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants at Cleveland Browns Stadium. With a disappointing 1-3 start to the 2008 campaign, many Browns fans are troubled with the state of their team, and their uneasiness is intensified thanks to a date with the 4-0 G-Men.
The Giants will bring a fierce defense, a powerful offense, and an eight-game winning streak to the Lakefront.
After a thrilling 2007 season and an equally exciting offseason, Browns fans' optimism was at a fever pitch. But it was against these same Giants on a Monday night nearly eight weeks ago that the Browns were utterly humiliated in a Murphy’s Law kind-of-game that sent the team hurtling into the dark abyss of injuries, poor play, and questionable coaching that has swallowed so many seasons before.
Already trailing 14-3, the Browns gave up 21 points in two minutes after the Giants blocked a punt, returned a kickoff, and recovered a fumble, good for seven points each. Just when it couldn’t get worse—though it always does if you’re a Browns fan—Derek Anderson was TKO’ed by Osi Umenyiora and left the game with a concussion.
Brady Quinn, for his part, replaced DA and led an admirable comeback against the Giants’ backups (who had already mailed it in). After being down 30-3 in the first half, the Browns rallied but fell short, 37-34. And because of this, or maybe because it was “just the preseason,” we marked it under the not-a-big-deal column.
But deep down, under our brown-and-orange blood, we knew there was a slight possibility that the game was a foretaste of the disaster to come. And, as is often the case when it comes to disappointment, well, the Browns seldom fail to disappoint.
Indeed, the Browns entered that abyss, as they went on to lose their next two preseason games and the first three regular season games, looking awful in the process.
And so, coming off a much-needed bye week, the Browns welcome the Giants for their second Monday night affair of the year. The game presents a unique fresh-start opportunity for the Browns to get their season back on track.
First, the Browns are just about as healthy as they’ve been all season. While I’ll still have to see it to believe it, all accounts are that Dante Stallworth will suit up for the first time as Brown. Ryan Tucker is likely to play his first game of the season as well, and various guys with assorted bumps and bruises will be fine.
Even Sean Jones, out of action for several weeks, will return to practice with hopes of playing. Now, with all due respect to Syndric Steptoe, Kevin Shaffer, and Mike Adams, these are significant upgrades to the personnel on the field. Having the starters on the field obviously gives the Browns their best chance to win.
In addition to getting healthy, the Browns have undoubtedly used the two weeks to build on their win against Cincinnati in Week Four and refocus their efforts. The Browns’ confidence was rocked to the core after their 0-3 start. The expectations that surrounded them before the season crumbled with each turnover, penalty, dropped pass, and debatable decision.
While I don’t dare suggest the Browns have hit rock bottom—we’ve been following them long enough to know that it could be worse—I do think the Browns have been humbled. I also tend to believe that the Browns have taken a new approach. Two weeks off gives the Browns a terrific opportunity to concentrate on the details that make football teams successful.
They’ve been able to study film and prepare for the Giants, tie up loose ends in their schemes and techniques, and rededicate themselves to discipline and game management. I do not doubt that the Browns have made the most of this opportunity to get better.
And who have the Giants played? Cincinnati? St. Louis? Seattle? The combined record of those teams is 1-12. Why should the Browns be afraid of them? The Giants easily disposed of those teams, as they should, but they’ve got their own problems.
Plaxico Burress is a malcontent, Umenyiora is out, and they’re facing a team in the Browns that is desperate to play well, especially in front of a home crowd and national-television audience. Meanwhile, the Giants haven’t been tested in weeks and are ripe for the upset.
But most importantly, Browns fans have to admit that there are still several stars on the team with impressive play-making ability. Sure, the opponents weren’t great last year, and yeah, the Browns' opponents have stockpiled film and analysis of the offense. Nonetheless, there’s something in Derek Anderson’s ability that allowed him to have a banner season last year. Charlie Frye never did it; neither did Trent Dilfer or Jeff Garcia. Of course, the Browns have better players now. That’s just the point.
DA can make the throws. Braylon Edwards can catch. The offensive line can block. And the defense can make big plays. It’s not like it’s the ’99 Browns taking the field on Monday—it’s the ‘08 Browns—appearing for the first time this season.