If you were going to use the movie Major League to paraphrase the Cleveland Browns' last two performances, then last week versus the Washington Redskins, you would have used the quote, “These guys ain’t too (expletive) good.”
But with the way the Browns’ season has been going, is it any surprise that this week, versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, “Who the (expletive) are these guys,” was more fitting, as the Browns looked like a major-league football team while defeating the Jaguars, 23-17, to improve to 3-4.
It was interesting to see how the game would unfold after the tumultuous week for the Browns, as they dealt with the Kellen Winslow saga that unfolded after last week’s loss. Winslow ripped the team for asking him to not disclose that he had a staph infection that occurred during the Browns’ bye week and kept him out of the Week Six game versus the New York Giants.
The Browns suspended him without pay for a week for conduct detrimental to the team, saying that they were only following Winslow’s request for privacy, and that he unprofessionally went out of his way to bad mouth the organization.
However, late Saturday night, the Browns lifted the suspension, but enforced a $25,000 fine for Winslow’s comments, when it was discovered that someone in the Browns’ Public Relation Department had texted him, asking to not disclose his illness. But with Winslow in San Diego and unable to practice all week, he was inactive for Sunday’s game.
On their first series, it appeared that the Browns that have been around in most of their losses this season were making another appearance. On 3rd-and-1 from their own 34, Derek Anderson ran into Lawrence Vickers while handing off, and Vickers was stuffed for no gain. The Browns were forced to punt.
Jacksonville faced a 3rd-and-9 from their own 12-yard line on their first series of the game and an old friend reared his ugly head. Dennis Northcutt, former Brown and noted scissors-hands, converted the third down on a 13-yard catch out of the hand from David Garrard.
The Jaguars converted another third down when Maurice Jones-Drew swept the right side for three yards on 3rd-and-2. But the Browns’ defense stiffened and forced a Jacksonville punt.
With the ball back in their hands, the Browns' offense awoke, as Anderson took control and drove the team down the field. The Browns got creative, as Vickers rumbled with a flat pass for 13 yards. Jamal Lewis then burst up the middle for 19 yards, and Vickers followed up with a 10-yard run of his own.
Anderson then hit Braylon Edwards and Steve Heiden, starting for Winslow, to put the ball on the Jaguars’ five-yard line. On 3rd-and-goal, Anderson found Donte Stallworth in the end zone for a 7-0 advantage.
Jacksonville answered on the very next series, behind the legs of Garrard and the hands of Matt Jones. On a 3rd-and-10 from the Jaguars’ 37, Garrard busted the pocket for a 24-yard scramble after D’Qwell Jackson whiffed on an easy sack. This after Garrard had already converted a 3rd-and-2 earlier in the drive.
Jones caught two passes on the drive and would end the afternoon with eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. That put Garrard into position to find Reggie Williams in the end zone for the tying score after a 13 play, 74-yard drive.
But the Browns would not roll over. They showed some intestinal fortitude. After being stopped short on 3rd-and-2 from their own 46, the Browns faced a 4th-and-1. Romeo Crennel roll the dice and won, as Derek Anderson faked a hand-off and rolled right and found a wide open Heiden.
Heiden rumbled 51 yards down to the Jaguars’ two-yard line, and then Jamal Lewis rammed the ball in for a touchdown and 14-7 Browns lead.
The Jaguars faced a 4th-and-1 of their own on the ensuing possession, but Shaun Rogers (nine tackles, all solo, one sack, one blocked FG) stuffed Greg Jones and the Browns took possession at their own 37. Anderson hit Edwards for 43 yards, but the drive stalled, and Cleveland had to settle for a Phil Dawson 32-yard field goal and a 17-7 halftime lead.
Garrard and the Jaguars wasted no time in the second half, as they passed the ball effortlessly on the opening drive. Williams, Matt Jones, and Marcedes Lewis all got in on the action, as Jacksonville drove to the Browns’ 10 when they faced a 4th-and-1.
Jones-Drew took the pitch swept right and converted as he outran the Cleveland defense. Garrard hit Jones from eight yards out on the next play to cut the margin to 17-14.
Jacksonville looked poised to tie the score at 17 when Josh Scobee trotted out to attempt a 38-yard chip shot field goal. But Rodgers busted through the line, blocked the kick, and recovered the football, keeping the Browns' lead at three. But it was short lived, as on their next possession, Scobee connected on a 53-yard field goal to knot the game at 17.
The Browns then pounded Jamal Lewis four straight times for two first downs but faced a 3rd-and-7 from their own 46-yard line. Anderson hit Syndric Steptoe on a perfectly timed crossing pattern and it was off to the races. With the help of a Braylon Edwards block, Steptoe jetted 53 yards down the sideline, only to be forced out at the one by Reggie Nelson.
It looked as if the Browns’ lost a golden opportunity, as they were unable to score a touchdown and had to settle for a 20 yard Dawson field goal and a 20-17 lead. But on the ensuing kickoff, rookie Beau Bell forced Brian Witherspoon to fumble and Josh Cribbs recovered on the Jacksonville 25. But the Browns were unable to gain a single yard on the drive. Dawson added a 42-yard field goal to push the lead to six, 23-17.
Both teams then traded three and outs before the Jaguars took over at their own 30, with 1:51 remaining with no timeouts. Garrard hit Northcutt for 12 yards, but Browns safety Brodney Pool answered with a sack on the next play. Jacksonville converted a 4th-and-3 with 27 seconds left but were pushed back 15 yards after a late hit by tackle Tony Pashos.
Matt Jones hauled in a pass in the middle of the field in Jaguars territory but broke a tackle and ran 35 yards, dragging two Cleveland defenders with him, and got out of bounds at the Browns’ 26 with 16 seconds left. Garrard misfired to Jerry Porter before lofting a pass to Matt Jones in the back, left corner of the end zone.
It bounced off his hands twice, and Nick Sorenson came in to apply the hit and the ball bounced off his helmet, incomplete, with one second remaining. One second and one incompletion later, the Browns found themselves sitting at 3-4 with a 23-17 victory.
The Browns won for the third time in the last four games and did not commit a turnover for the third consecutive game. Add to that the fact that they only had one accepted penalty for 15 yards and held Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor to 29 and 24 yards, respectively, and there were a lot of positives to take from the game.
Jacksonville outgained the Browns 380 to 327 and also held the ball for 35:05 to the Browns’ 24:55. The Jaguars ran 71 plays to the Browns' 51, had 23 first downs to the Browns’ 15, and they converted 11-20 third downs compared to 3-12 for Cleveland. But in the end, the Browns led 23-17 on the scoreboard, and that is all that matters.
The Browns head home for a stretch of four homes games in five weeks. They start that off with a rematch with the hated Baltimore Ravens (4-3), fresh off a 29-10 thumping of the hapless Oakland Raiders. It is a prime opportunity for Cleveland to make up some ground in the AFC North, as the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) fell to the New York Giants today.
The Ravens beat the Browns, 28-10, in Week Three at Baltimore, and the Browns would love nothing more than to even the score. But with the way this Browns season continues to unfold, who knows what to expect next Sunday on the shore of Lake Erie.