Holy Otto Graham, Batman! Browns playoff-bound game balls go to …

By Os Davis  |   Sunday, December 16, 2007  |  Comments( 1 )

Cleveland Browns
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Wow, who would have thought that not only would the Cleveland Browns-Buffalo Bills game be greatly relevant to the playoff picture in Week 15, but it would actually be one of the best on the Sunday slate? Truly was this slugfest a unique event in our lifetime; after all, these two teams haven't been good at the same time since the likes of Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar were under center.

And the weather made it better. This was football of the good old days (and by "old days," I mean pre-global warming), maybe with the AAFC Browns of seven-time titleist Otto Graham versus the mid-1960s AFL Bills.

In any case, congratulations go out to the Cleveland Browns for a well-played game; we would congratulate them on a fascinatingly successful 2007 except that, unbelievably, Cleveland's games 15 and 16 are also significant thanks to the Steelers' loss and the Tennessee's win.

All in all, whoa. Trippy.

Game balls from the all-important 8-0 win go to ...

Special teams. DAW-SON! DAW-SON! DAW-SON! I'll admit it. As the Brownies lined up for a 49-yarder with just enough time in the half remaining for Buffalo to stack up a handful of hands and close the gap to two points with a field goal, this observer said aloud to his TV screen, "You guys are crazy." Holder Dave Zastudil was clearing a spot for the hold with both hands in the handwarmer, looking exactly like someone whose last wish is to hold a freezing cold lump of pigskin by one finger.

Yours truly figured this was the kiss of death from hitherto inferior head coach Romeo Crennel. I mean, there's no way he's been coaching this well all season, right? Something's gonna come back and bite him in the gluteus maximus and break the Dawg Pound's hearts again, right?

Wrong. In the end, Phil Dawson did what the Browns have been doing for Crennel all season: saving his bacon and making the former Patriot mind look good. Dawson muscled the ball through the gale, the kick sneaked over the crossbar and Cleveland had what would be the game-icing -- so to speak -- score of 8-0. Game ball. (Personally handed to him by the grateful, gainfully employed coach.)

Defense. Sometimes the best defense is offensive meteorological event. Buoyed by Mister Freeze, the 'D,' which going into the game was ranked dead last in yards, recorded its first shutout since Week 11 of 2005. Though the unit surely gave its fans multiple cardiac arrest when the Bills went into two-minute drill mode in the fourth, Buffalo was forced to rely on a plan of pass-pass-pass-pass because Cleveland's 'D' had finally knuckled under on Marshawn Lynch enough to allow exactly zero yards on two carries in the final frame.

In the end, the Cleveland 'D' bagged zero sacks, zero picks and zero turnovers induced. Leigh Bodden, already sporting a career high in interceptions this season, led with six tackles from the secondary in the Nordically hellish weather, so toss him a game ball; Andra Davis picked up a half-dozen as well and found enviable reserve in the fourth to remain a force behind the line. But the truth is every defensive player should probably get a game ball - preferably served up with some celebratory bubbly.

Offense. From the myriad of sportsworld clich├ęs, one of the few which actually still manages to convey true meaning is "to give up the body." Nothing like playing in the Arctic Circle to remind enthusiasts of the fact; in such an atmosphere, the mental and psychological aspects of the game tend to mutate into overemphasis while that elusive quality quantified in Madden video football as "awareness" can gain incredible influence.

Case in point: Joe Jurevicius' excellent heads-up catch on the first-quarter pass that bounced off Braylon Edwards. On a busted play, Jurevicius turned a flub into 25 yards, the game's longest passing gain and set up the day's first field goal. Is one play (even a freakshow highlight clip like this one) worth a game ball? In a Snow Bowl like this, you bet!

Meanwhile, for 33 plays - and particularly the 15th, which pushed him over 1,000 yards for the season - a game ball goes to Jamal Lewis. Ah, power football: This is why Crennel & Co. picked up the tough guy in the offseason. Reuben who?

Last but utterly not least are the guys on the offensive line, the "secret" to Cleveland's success all year long. How did these guys go from the NFL's 30th-ranked 'O' in 2006 to a top-five unit this season? Check out the line, particularly - this week at least - that awesome right side of Ryan Tucker and Kevin Shaffer.

Game balls for both. Why? Check out the clips. Cleveland ran just about two-thirds of its plays (40 of a total 62) to the right side; pass or run, the offense continually looked to Tucker and Shaffer to hold the blocks and hold them they did. Amid ridiculous weather, these guys (Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach, Hank Fraley and subs, too, to be sure) put on a virtual clinic in line play. While footing was nonexistent on the field and everything was so futile-looking, Steinbach, Thomas and the rest played as though the surface were turf and the mercury was registering dome temperature. Game balls.

It may have been a cold one in Cleveland on Sunday, but these game ballers - the entire squad, really - can be contented with the warm memories of clutch play and some excellent hard-nosed football. Kudos to the Browns.

Watching the surreal season of the Cleveland Browns and the 31 others all year-round at RealFootball365.com
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About Os Davis

Os Davis has taken a twisted route to get to RealFootball365.com in his nearly 17 years in professional writing, working in any number of capacities in the sportswriting, news reporting and film criticism worlds. In print media, Os has served as editor at a few publications, including Albuquerque's...
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