As I reflect on the game and discuss it with anyone who will listen—Browns fans or otherwise—I find myself frequently using the word "unbelievable" to describe the Browns’ masterful performance.
But there’s a problem.
The Browns’ performance wasn’t unbelievable at all. Was it outstanding? You bet. Inspired? Definitely. Dominating? Perhaps. But unbelievable? No way.
Unbelievable suggests that it was some sort of fluke. This was not Appalachian State over Michigan; not even the Giants over the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
No, this was the type of game that Browns fans actually expected heading into the 2008 season. Thanks to a stellar 10-6 ’07 campaign, complete with explosive offense and some heart-stopping victories, the Browns were poised to take the next step as a franchise.
With virtually their entire roster and coaching staff returning for ’08, along with a few key additions, media and fans alike anointed the Browns as a serious playoff contender. One Cleveland sports talk show host even adopted the mantra “See you at the Super Bowl!”
But when things got bad, the Browns’ bandwagon became a lot less crowded. After an 0-3 start, which featured some downright dismal play, Browns fans felt conned. How could we have been so naïve to think that the Browns could truly get it done?
Soon, there were more critics of the Browns than supporters. Hell, even after the Browns broke through with their first win, scores of fans dismissed the victory as unimpressive, since it was an “ugly” win over an awful team which happened to be missing their star quarterback.
People called for the head coach to be fired. Others demanded that the quarterback be handed a clipboard while the popular backup “got his shot.” Some even wanted the general manager to be removed, since he was responsible for constructing the team in the first place.
But none of these things happened. During the bye week, the GM stood by his coach. The coach stood by his quarterback. Some fans were angry; others were confused. How could the team provide such a high level of support to a coach, quarterback, and team that had underachieved so greatly through four games?
Now, after a dismantling of the defending Super Bowl Champions, it is finally time for Browns fans to admit that maybe—just maybe—the organization and coaching staff know what they’re doing. And, it’s possible that the team really does have playmakers and stars capable of strong performances.
We can finally stop talking about how Brady Quinn should start because Derek Anderson just can’t get it done and isn’t comfortable in the pocket. We can stop talking about how the head coach doesn’t get his team ready to play. We can stop talking about how the GM didn’t put the right pieces together.
In addition to the criticisms of players and coaches, one of the biggest themes over the first four weeks was the team’s shattered confidence. A win like this restores the confidence and swagger that is needed to be successful.
By disposing of the Giants in the way that they did, the Browns justified all of the expectations that we had for the team entering the season.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that one excellent performance makes the Browns favorites for the Lombardi Trophy. But let’s be clear: When the Browns bring their “A” game, they can compete with, if not beat, any team in the NFL.
Make no mistake: This is the type of performance that the Browns need every single week in order to be successful against a brutal remaining schedule. The offense, led by D.A., needs to be consistent and aggressive.
It’s foolish to think that they’ll have zero turnovers, sacks, and punts from here on out. But, with aggressive playcalling, intense preparation, sound execution, and growing confidence, the Browns will continue to put themselves in a position to succeed, much as they did last year.
Defensively, the team needs to keep employing the “bend-don’t-break” philosophy. It seems to be working thus far. The defense has played far, far better than anyone expected. They simply need to make the critical plays at key moments and continue to attack and pressure the quarterback, as they've done over the last several weeks. Everything falls into place from there.
This all might be easier said than done, but isn’t it nice to know that the team is capable of doing it? When was the last time we could really say that?
The win over the Giants was thrilling, to be sure. To be in Cleveland Browns Stadium for the game, feeling the concrete shake beneath my feet, was an experience I’ll not soon forget. And the emotional high that we all felt after the game was second-to-none.
But if the Browns do all of the things we expected them to do all along, these feelings will become commonplace—and totally believable.