Squaring off against lowly Detroit, the Browns grabbed two terrific interceptions, threw for 300 yards, notched a safety, and ran up points like the 1999 Rams. How in the name of Hank Fraley's Mohawk did they manage to lose this game? Seriously, that is not a rhetorical question. I just finished watching the game a second time and I still can't figure it out.
Right now I am not sure if the last second defeat hurts more or less due to being 1-9 on the year. Sure, it was the best offensive game the Browns have played since… since… well, a really long time. But still, the phrase "step in the right direction" produces dry heaves in even the staunchest of optimists after a last second, pass interference sucker punch to the gonads like the one on Sunday.
Ok, enough wallowing in self pity, let's get back on track here. And speaking of getting back on track (Segue! Yes, smooth, I know.), how about that offense? Coming off the bye week, the Browns hit an all time low against the Ravens with an infuriatingly stubborn offensive game plan predicated on enough five yard passes to give my tv a repetitive stress injury. Then against Detroit, suddenly it was bombs away.
If anyone was more surprised than me by the Browns long ball attack against the Lions, it had to be the Lions themselves. Lion corners, despite no safety help, were so convinced that the Browns would only throw short that they did everything but get out folding chairs to sit on the five yard slant. When the slant and go appeared, they looked almost bewildered as the ball sailed over their heads. Wait, I thought we were playing the Browns today. What the hell?
I don't know if I agree with a strategy dependant on a solid two months of ineptitude just to setup the Lions for the big payoff, but it certainly worked. In all seriousness, I just hope this is the beginning of Mangini trusting Quinn enough to let him run the whole offense and not just one game plan against a bad defense. Sure, against a better team Quinn might turn the ball over occasionally if he airs it out, but as Stafford proved on Sunday, you can still win taking some risks if a few of them pay off.
Speaking of Quinn, wow. Sure, he had a couple errant throws but we Browns fans have spent so much time overanalyzing horrific quarterback play that it can be easy to forget that even the best signal callers have a couple bad tosses per game. Really, Quinn played even better than his 300 yards and 4 touchdowns indicate. He threw a perfect ball to Jennings that should have gone for another score and one to Massaquoi inside the five yard line that the receiver didn't adjust to even though Quinn threw away from the closing safety.
Don't misinterpret that statement as being overly critical of Mo Mass. He has shown a lot of promise and he did some great things Sunday, but an experienced receiver scores on that play. Furthermore, I'm not sure he ran the correct route on that key third down play with two minutes left. It's hard to say for sure, but it appeared that Quinn read the inside coverage you would expect the Lions to play with little time left and immediately fired the quick out. Mo Mass stopped for an apparent hitch route and the Browns were forced into that fateful punt.
Maybe that misstep is on Quinn, maybe on Massaquoi but at the end of the day, it means little in the scope of this lost season. What does mean something is allowing these young players to keep running the whole offense so eventually those plays do click. At this point, I am honestly not even concerned with whether Daboll or Mangini keep their jobs beyond this season. I just want them to be smart enough with the rest of this year that whoever is running things next season does not have to start from scratch. Sunday was the first real sign that might be possible, and begrudgingly, I would even call it a step in the right direction.
As a quick side note, two one win teams fought to the bitter end Sunday, refusing to quit. One team did mail it in however: the television broadcast team. They had Kaluka Maiva making tackles for the Lions, and Matt Stafford throwing passes to Mohamed Massaquoi. On more than one occasion they referred to the game as a beauty contest no one wanted to win. Huh? Even if someone could actually make sense of that "metaphor," would it really need repeating?
The final lick of the postage stamp came with nearly ten minutes to play and the Browns trailing. It was at that point that Randy Cross praised Chris Jennings for cutting up field to keep the clock running. Apparently, he believed the best thing the Browns could do trailing by two was run out the clock. I get it, you don't want to be here, but you do this for a living right? Like they pay you and everything? Maybe the commentators have seen enough of this team, but if the Browns move the ball like they did Sunday, I will keep tuning in… even if no one pays me.