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Monday, January 9, 2012

Ten Plays That Defined the Browns Season

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2012 at 1:15 PM

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A special submission from Browns fan and Scene reader P. Rogie. (Aka: Brian Cuglewski.)

With yet another morbid season of football behind us, Cleveland Browns fans once again receive the gift of hindsight this time of the year.

The lesson: things change quickly. Or, more aptly, things return back to normal.

Despite playing for a squad that ranked 30th out of 32 teams in points scored and lost nine of its last ten games, cornerback Sheldon Brown doesn’t feel the Browns are that far away. After the season finale, he told reporters, “We were one or two plays in each game away (from winning).”

Should the trainers be checking Sheldon for concussion symptoms?

After watching playoff football all weekend, this article is composed with two observations in mind. First, professional football is a lot more fun to watch when there are talented players all over the field. And second, Sheldon Brown is right — if you really think about each game played this weekend, you can find one or two plays to clearly separate the winners from the losers.

Texans Defensive End J.J. Watt intercepted an Andy Dalton pass just before halftime to break a 10-10 tie. Sean Payton elected to keep his offense on the field in the fourth quarter, and Darren Sproles converted a 4th and 2 to keep alive a 14-play scoring drive. Atlanta, with all those weapons, are apparently still a 1st round draft pick away from being able to pick up two 4th-and-less-than-a-yard plays. And finally, Tim Tebow might do a lot of things wrong, but he sure comes up big when he needs to make something happen.

Just a couple of plays here or there and those games become a lot different. So Sheldon Brown is right.

You can argue all you want about who the Browns have or who the Browns need to get to make those plays happen in our favor, but that’s what the next four months are all about. We need a ground floor to start from, so it is necessary to look back at the ten plays that most perfectly defined this past season. Some are good, some are bad, but all of them demonstrate how the Browns really are just “one or two plays away.”

Week 1: Bengals Game-winning touchdown pass with the defense shifting.

The lockout took a lot of time away from teams who needed to learn new systems and packages. No one play from Week One of the NFL more exemplified the lockout’s impact than this one.

Week 3: Cribbs’ touchdown catch on McCoy’s scrambling heave.

There is no one player on the Browns who wants to do whatever it takes to win more than Josh Cribbs. Holmgren and Heckert need to add more players like Cribbs in this year’s draft.

Week 6: Raiders Faking Field Goals for Touchdowns

Remember when we used to run fake punts against the Saints and random Phil Dawson onside kicks? The Special Teams unit, a strength of this team two years ago, were anything but “special” this season.

Week 10: The Snap

Only in Cleveland can you have a Pro Bowl Long Snapper go through a “slump.”

Week 11: Jacksonville Goal Line Stand

The Defense has some talent… (continued in Week 13)

Week 12: A.J. Green catch over the middle to set up winning FG

Playmakers make plays. Green wanted that ball more than anyone else on that field and he got it. Without that play, the Bengals don’t make the playoffs.

Week 13: “Encroachment. #98.”

… but it is young and is going to make some mistakes. Taylor and Sheard have had successful rookie seasons and will be foundations to build on. So give the guy a break. Seriously, do you honestly think the Browns offense was going to march down the field in less than two minutes and score a touchdown? Child, please!

Week 14: Ben Rothlisberger sacked by Paxson

While it’s always good to see the Browns rough up the Steelers Quarterback (I still remember how warm I felt inside on that frigid eight-sack night in 2009), just look at how one play can affect a season. Big Ben lost his ability to run that night, and his team couldn’t survive.

Week 14: Colt McCoy Concussion Interception

Seneca Wallace just throws a perfect strike when it is most needed and Colt checks back in after not being checked out. If you want to know the rest of the story, ask Brad McCoy.

Week 17: 4th Quarter Punt from the Steelers 34

I know there were 10 minutes still to go. But this play shows the difference between teams that are losers (Browns) and those who are winners (Saints). Winners make plays. Losers wait for plays.

Without a couple of these plays (or a few more) do the Browns make the playoffs? Sheldon Brown says so, because big plays can sway momentum in a heartbeat.

Phil Dawson has provided his fair share of big plays since the team came back in 1999. Captain Clutch’s take: “I think you either show up on the 16 Sundays you're privileged to wear a NFL helmet and perform, or you don't. Either you get the job done on those 16 Sundays or you don't, and it's really that simple.”

If that’s the case, hindsight suggests the Browns better start looking forward really closely if they want to be in the playoffs instead of again saying how close they were to getting there.

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