With more twists than an episode of Lost , Sunday's overtime thriller provided the kind of tense emotion that Browns fans haven't felt for years…if not decades. In most respects, Sunday's loss represented about four games worth of dizzying heights and crashing lows – and culminated in the kind of finish that left a familiar feeling in the stomachs of Browns fans.
Within the game, there were about a dozen significant stories, from Colt McCoy's further ascension towards becoming a quality NFL QB to the realization that these Browns – despite a 3-6 record – have forged an identity as one of the league's toughest teams.
In between, there was the tortured final ten minutes of the game, as Chanci Stuckey's shot at redemption was continually dangled in front of him, as an exasperated Browns' defense did all they could to survive.
And while the following does not do any justice towards the brilliant effort given by all members of the Browns today, it's worth taking a look at a few game-changing moments.
- Early on in the first quarter, the Browns ran a seemingly innocuous play. McCoy faked a reverse to Josh Cribbs, then handed off to Peyton Hillis for a short gain. Nothing special, but the Jets' defense were reminded of Cribbs' presence. A drive later, Cribbs gave a similar pre-snap route, which further loosened up the Jets' early defense. The payoff to these plays came throughout the first half, as the Browns were able to spring Hillis to the outside.
- Colt McCoy's movement within and around the pocket in the first half was nothing short of brilliant. Call it necessity, considering the unpredictability of the Jets' defensive scheme, but McCoy managed to keep the Jets' defense off balance early on. The early results led to some effective play-action passing and outside running. Then, in the second half, the Jets adjusted their pressure, which literally squeezed McCoy's pocket – rendering the Browns' offense obsolete.
- The onside kick that wasn't was the first time in the last month that the Browns' bag of tricks didn't result in a big play. Unless the goal was to surprise their own special teams' unit, the kick contributed to the Browns' horrible first half field position.
- Speaking of more kicking, it was obvious from the beginning of the game that today wasn't an exceptional performance by the Jets' field goal unit. Nick Folk's troubles began early in the game, as the Jets' Tanner Purdum continually launched snaps at holder Steve Weatherford's ankles. These errant snaps upset the timing of Folk's kicks, which of course later contributed to a miss that ultimately forced overtime, and the one that kept the Browns alive in the extra period.
- Although there were about 30 other examples that I could illustrate, the hit that Sheldon Brown put on Braylon Edwards in the first half seemed to represent the kind of physical play that ruled the afternoon. And while the Browns are clearly one of the league's most physical teams, the battle was lost here as Brown was knocked out of action. In the second half, Brown's absence was apparent as the Jets' further established their running game. Of course, it's also worth wondering how different the final play of the game would have turned out with Brown on the field instead of Eric Wright.
- One of McCoy's first half scrambles led to a short completion to Chanci Stuckey. The angle of McCoy's release and Stuckey's body position allowed Stuckey to put a spin move on his defender and run for extra yards. The play itself was emblematic of Stuckey's terrific effort throughout the afternoon. However, if we flash ahead to overtime, we see a similar play occur – only this time Stuckey was stripped of the ball after tight roping down the sideline.
- There are no uglier words in a football lexicon than "three and out." However, that's just what the Browns' offense delivered after the defense had been on the field for ten minutes during the Jets' first second-half drive. In terms of momentum and precious field position, each was squandered as the offense stumbled.
- In a nod to this week's Gameballs and Goats, Abe Elam's dropped interception was a backbreaker. Instead of getting the ball with a chance to take the lead, the Browns instead were forced to drive for a game-tying touchdown.
- Speaking of which, perhaps we should be a bit thankful for Elam's drop. After all, the later result was comprised of McCoy's coming out party as a two-minute quarterback. Although he had a couple close calls during the drive, McCoy showed the kind of poise he was known for in college. Particularly, McCoy's tight third down spiral to Ben Watson and later toss to Evan Moore put the Browns in position to send the game into overtime.
- In overtime, the defense's inability to wrap up Mark Sanchez eventually cost the Browns the game. Perhaps the most crippling play of the afternoon came when Sanchez squirmed out of Shaun Rogers' grasp and completed a key pass. A sack at this point in the game would have delivered the Browns prime field position to drive for a game-winning field goal.
- After another missed field goal by the Jets, the Browns were given yet another opportunity to close out the game. However, on a key third down, McCoy chose to float a downfield pass to Mohammed Massaquoi, as opposed to running for a first down gain. A play later, the Browns were again forced to punt.
- While the instant analysis national media will lament Eric Mangini's decision to not "run out the clock" late in overtime, the situation was not that easy. Pinned to their own goalline – and realizing the Jets had two timeouts – the decision was to make an effort to drive the ball, or at least wind down the clock in the process. However, the first down decision was ineffective, as McCoy sailed a pass over the middle – which put the Jets in perfect position to control the clock.
- Moving ahead two plays, the Jets' continued emphasis on squeezing the pocket nearly led to a safety. In this case, Joe Thomas was beaten inside by Jason Taylor, which led to McCoy taking a sack.
Of course, there's one more key play that requires some attention. On this note, let's just take some small comfort that Santonio Holmes scored the winning touchdown and not the mercurial former Browns' wideout who largely disappeared in the second half.
And if we're truly analyzing the finer moments of a game, let's extend the comparison to the season as a whole. In the past month, the Browns have now hung with the Steelers, beaten both the Saints and Patriots and nearly stole one away from yet another Super Bowl contender. While 3-6 is not exactly pretty, the overall momentum of this team and franchise is on a definite upswing.