The Browns are 2-11 this season. Even by the rock-bottom standards of Cleveland football, that's downright embarrassing. With two wins, they're bad enough that low-lying owner Randy Lerner met with a pair of season ticket holders to discuss the state of things. Hell, they're bad enough that Rolling Stone has noticed. Hells bells, they're bad enough that they lost to the Detroit Lions. The Lions! Truly, there is little to be proud of in a season that was over almost as soon as it began.
One of the cool things about the NFL, though--if you win, you get a week to bask in it. If it's a Thursday night game, you get nearly a week and a half. I intend to savor the hell out of this one.
Thursday night's line reads like this: Browns 13, Steelers 6. The win spared us all the ignominy of setting the team record for losses in a season. Also, goddam it all, the gut wrenching 12 game losing streak to the Steelers is over. The last Cleveland quarterback to beat the Steelers? Tim Couch, who after 5 seasons of unrelenting punishment as a Cleveland QB had to retire with the body of a 97-year-old and a throwing shoulder that no amount of surgery could ever repair. That 33-13 drubbing was back 2003.
Beating the Steelers in a season like this is NOT like winning the Super Bowl, as some would claim (as if I would know), but it is pretty damned sweet. If they don't win again this year, the Browns beat the Steelers! As usual, the best player on the field wearing orange and brown was Josh Cribbs.
For five seasons, the undrafted Kent State graduate has been the best, and often only, reason to watch the Browns each week. Even in that "good" 10-6 year, when Derek Anderson, Kellen Winslow, Braylon Edwards and Jamal Lewis were piling up stats and scoring in bunches, the most exciting moment in any given game was when the ball was kicked toward Josh Cribbs.
The same holds true today, and if you flip things around a bit, Cribbs has also been the best special teams tackler, hawking the opponent's return man as if he can't bear to be outdone. He plays all out at all times. He plays hurt. He is as tough as any Brown I've ever seen and certainly the greatest Brown of the modern era. He's never been much of a receiver, but more and more he's proving his value (pay the guy already!) running the ball in the offense.
But returns--that's where he's all world. In the open field, he is perhaps the most dangerous runner in the NFL. He finds seams, and if he sniffs a bit of breathing room, forget it. In five seasons, he has scored more touchdowns on kick returns than any Brown in history. This year, he has twice as many touchdowns on kick returns (2) as the Browns have rushing (1). He has never been better than he was on Thursday, when it was cold enough to shatter teeth, when the Steelers HAD to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, when the Browns may as well have mailed it in. Instead, Josh Cribbs had 200 all-purpose yards. He was all over the place, running the ball out of the wildcat and making the Steelers pay for kicking to him with returns of 55 and 32 yards to set up scores. For the fans who braved the conditions, they were treated to a great show.
So, here's to the Browns hiring a GM who can actually find some good players, and a coach* who can lead them. Josh Cribbs deserves better than whatever the Browns record will be this year. So do all the guys on this list:
The complete list of Browns players who are good
*That the Browns are still hustling tells me that they haven't quit on "hated" coach Mangini. I maintain that he will be back next season.