Orbiting Cleveland: These Browns are “Different”


I have to apologize.

-4154519ddafc2467Today’s column will deviate from my norm.

There will be no in-depth statistics.

No player analysis.

No future forecast of what’s to come.

Rather, I ask that you join me as I try to make sense out of what the hell I witnessed yesterday.

As everyone knows now, the Cleveland Browns defeated the Tennessee Titans 29-28 yesterday to move to 2-2 on the young season. Am I alone in thinking that something is different? These are not the Cleveland Browns that I have come to know.

Everything about the game reeked of a typical Browns’ loss.

Twenty-eight first-half points allowed.

A 25-point deficit.

Two failed fourth down conversions.

Yet, somehow, someway, the Browns pulled out the victory — the biggest comeback in the team’s history, the third biggest comeback in NFL history and the largest comeback by a road team in NFL history.

Again, I ask you, what in the hell did I just witness?

If something feels different about this team, that’s because something is different.

It starts with head coach Mike Pettine, whose no-nonsense attitude is something this team and town have needed for quite some time.

After the week-three loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Pettine said the following:

“For the bulk of it, the players played well enough to have a victory. I put this one on me. We didn’t coach well enough to win today. I’m not going to get into too much of the specifics until I get a chance to go through it. The list is long.”

There were no excuses about players’ performances.

No blame placed on the offense.

None placed on the defense.

Instead, Pettine stepped up and accepted all responsibility. What does that say about him as a coach? What’s that say about him as a man?

That’s the type of person that anyone would love to play for, and it’s clearly shown.

I know I said I was not going to dive too much into statistics, but here are some for you.

Two hundred and twenty-eight. That’s the number of Browns’ games I’ve watched since the team returned to the NFL in 1999. Not a single one of them has ever resonated with me like yesterday’s win did.

5-2. That’s Brian Hoyer’s record as the Browns’ starting quarterback. So much for all that Johnny Manziel noise, right?

71.4. That’s Hoyer’s winning percentage as the Browns’ starting quarterback. It’s the highest number that any quarterback has had for the team since they returned to the NFL.

Six. That’s how many games are left until wide receiver Josh Gordon returns from his suspension. If the Browns can somehow hang around until then, which seems more and more likely, they will be in for a huge boost.

Eight. That’s the number of different receivers Hoyer completed a pass to yesterday. While the team may lack that one, true go-to option, it’s not yet been a problem for Hoyer, whose rapport with them seems to grow by the day.

5’9¾’’. That’s the average height of the Browns receiving core, which consists of Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin, Miles Austin and Taylor Gabriel. Many of them are small in stature and relatively inexperienced, but they continue to make big plays every week.

Five. That’s the combined number of points the Browns’ two losses have come by.

Three. That’s the combined number of points the Browns’ two wins have come by.

1969. That’s the last time the Browns have scored at least 21 points in their first four games.

Feel different to you, too?

Just think about yesterday. On paper, Browns seemed destined to lose.

The defense looked worn and tired.

The 25-point deficit seemed insurmountable.

In any other season, the Browns would have lost this game.

Yet, instead, this team fought back and never gave up. Let’s also not discount the luck that seemed to factor into this.

For years, the Browns have always been the on the opposite side of lady luck, but for once, it was on their side.

Ask yourself, how improbable was it Titans’ starting quarterback Jake Locker would leave the game with an injury, then be reinserted, only to get injured again and leave for a second time?

Ask yourself, how improbable was it that both a Hoyer interception and a muffed punt by Travis Benjamin were called back due to Tennessee penalties?

Ask yourself, how improbable is it that the Browns went for it twice on fourth down, failed both times, but still won this game?

Ask yourself, how improbable was it that the Browns have not recorded a safety for what seems like years, yet the team recorded one at a pivotal moment in this contest?

Ask yourself, how improbable was it that Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt seemed to defiantly not run the ball late in the second half when it could have iced the win for Tennessee?

The truth is that no one has the answers to these questions. You will drive yourself nuts if you even attempt to answer them.

However, make no mistake about it, something is different about this Browns team.

When have you ever remembered the first four weeks of an NFL season being this fun?

Since the start of the Super Bowl era (1966), only four teams have ever had their first four games decided by three points or fewer: the 2005 Redskins, the 2003 Redskins, the 1989 Packers and, you guessed it, the 2014 Browns.

Yes, this is different. For the first time in years, this is different.

Perhaps it’s serendipity. Perhaps it’s the football gods recognizing that the Browns deserve some good fortune because it has now been 50 years since any Cleveland team won a world championship (1964 Browns). Or perhaps the Browns have finally just got it right with hire of Pettine.

Whatever it may be, does it even really matter?

Football, and more importantly, Cleveland football is fun again. It’s been far too long since any of us could say that.

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