This article was almost titled “Being Proud of the Cleveland Browns in a Losing Effort” but based on the effort given by the team yesterday that title seemed inappropriate. For a team possibly fighting for a Top 5 pick in the draft giving up on the season, especially on the road against a top flight team, could be expected. Instead the team fought, wholly and completely. While the result did not turn on positive for the Browns, though it did help their draft position, the process leading to the result can be celebrated.
Compare the game film from yesterday’s Browns game to that of the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, who made the playoffs last season and have already traded away their 1st round pick (taking tanking out of the equation), were listless for their head coach. While drama surrounds Mike Shanahan he is still a previous Super Bowl winner whose team seemed to quit on him. The Browns, under rookie head coach Rob Chudzinski, looked like a team fighting for a playoff spot, for their coach and for each other.
Three plays that turned out negative for the Browns are also the plays that we will point to as positives signs for the future of this team:
Unnecessary Roughness on Jordan Poyer
With the Browns up 26-14, Tom Brady led the Patriots on a huge 11 play, 95 yard drive. Brady capped the drive with a 2 yard touchdown completion to Julian Edelman in the back of the endzone. Poyer laid a huge hit on Edelman, replays show he hit mostly shoulder, trying to break up the pass. Poyer was flagged for Unnecessary Roughness and the 15 yards were enforced on the kickoff, which became huge when the onside was recovered.
Poyer, recently signed from the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad, did not give up on the play even as Edelman caught the ball. Instead Poyer competed to the end. Many could of conceded the TD in awe of Brady, instead Poyer and his teammates fought to keep them from scoring on this 3rd down play. Great sign of players playing hard, and being coached right. While the Patriots may have still gotten the TD on their 4th down play, Poyer’s effort shouldn’t be overlooked.
Failed Recovery of the Onside Kick
The Patriots then lined up for an onside kick from the 50 instead of the 35, due to Poyer’s penalty. Kick returner Fozzy Whittaker made an aggressive play for the ball but was unable to corral the ball, leading to a Patriots recovery at their 40 yard line. Whittaker, one of the Browns primary kick returners, showed confidence in himself and didn’t wait for the play to come to him or sit back and wait. Instead he showed the aggressive style that Chud, DC Ray Horton, CEO Joe Banner and owner Jimmy Haslam has declared would be the Browns identity. Whittaker didn’t get scared by the big moment, instead aggressively embraced it. On a warmer, less slick this could of led to a recovery and a win, just not on this day. Still an aggressive play that deserves notice.
Pass Interference on Leon McFadden
On the second play after the onside recovery Brady lofted a pass towards the endzone and Josh Boyce. Boyce was covered by rookie Leon McFadden, who was getting more playing time following season ending injury to Chris Owens. McFadden was aggressive in his play with Boyce even as he seemed to be beat by a step. We will review the actual call later today, but McFadden didn’t give up on the ball and was in position to make a play on Boyce. While his aggression may have led to the flag, deserved or not, his confidence and desire to keep playing was obvious. Similar to Poyer and Whittaker, McFadden has caught on as a rookie what the coaching staff expects of the team and seems to embrace it.
Overall the team didn’t play a perfect game, and their prevent defense in the 4th may have prevented them from winning the game, but the teams’ players’ aggressive and passionate play is a great sign for the future. The more the players embrace the organizations new philosophy the more it shows their level of respect for the coaching staff. Compared to the Redskins debacle against the Kansas City Chiefs the Browns team, players and coaching philosophy seem cohesive and exciting.