“It felt like we won the Super Bowl, honestly.” — Joe Haden
“Words cannot even explain right now how I feel.” — Trent Richardson
“Sunday’s victory felt like maybe they finally got this party started.” — Mary Kay Cabot
“The joy of winning relieves whatever.” — Pat Shurmur
Slaughter the fatted calf. The Cleveland Browns are 1-5.
Pat Shurmur matched wits with Marvin Lewis for four quarters yesterday, and from a cascade of turnovers and three-and-outs the orange helmets without stripes emerged with their first win of the season, their first in twelve games, and first since November 20, 2011.
On the second play of the second quarter yesterday, and for the second time in as many weeks, Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon made the opposing defense pay for guarding the rookie receiver with a linebacker, this time with a 71-yard touchdown pass. For the rest of the first three quarters, the Browns offense was typically unwatchable, and actually historically bad.
The Browns went three-and-out on seven drives yesterday, which, according to ESPN Stats and Information, ties them for the most by any team in a single game this season and the most the Browns have had in a single game in the last 10 years. And the seven three-and-outs doesn’t count the two “three-and-kick” drives that ended in Phil Dawson field goals after starting deep in Bengals territory thanks to a Joe Haden interception and long Josh Cribbs punt return, respectively. Those two field goals happened in a stretch of seven consecutive drives in the second and third quarter in which the Browns didn’t make a single first down.
To the credit of the defense, playing without stalwart defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, the Bengals offense couldn’t make much of the Browns historic offensive lull, consistently failing to sustain drives themselves despite outgaining their counterparts by more than 100 yards on the day. By about half-way through the fourth quarter, the Bengals started to crack under the pressure of knowing they’d let the Browns hang around for too long in a game that they had to have. Montario Hardesty started to find room in the defense to help give the Browns a ten-point lead, and Sheldon Brown jumped an Andy Dalton slant to return an interception for a touchdown that looked to put the game on ice.
But a 57-yard A.J. Green touchdown and another Browns three-and-out later, the Bengals took a twenty-yard punt return and six plays to get to the Browns 9-yard line, looking to close within a field goal with two-and-a-half minutes left to play. It looked like a meltdown was inevitable, but then Emmanuel Stephens made a play, stripping Dalton for a fumble that was recovered by Billy Winn to seal the game for good.
Of course, when you’re 0-5, any win is a big win. When you can avoid setting a new franchise record for futility just two days before the new owner takes over, a big win is even bigger. Or at least it will feel that way.
But before any kind of legitimate “party” gets under way, the Browns will have to establish themselves to be at least as much as a consistent mediocrity first. Pulling to 1-5 with a win over the stumbling Bengals doesn’t get them there, or really even close. According to ESPN’s advanced Total QBR metric, Brandon Weeden has been the worst quarterback in the NFL this season by a country mile, even with consistently good protection from his offensive line. And our resident quarterback gurus needed two long kick returns and three turnovers from the defense to survive yesterday’s three-and-out fest.
The Cleveland Browns are 1-5, and it’s probably best to keep the champagne corked for now. Colts next week, and we’ll see about a winning streak.