Let’s get this out of the way from the beginning. This is going to be a bit more flowery, happy writing than you may be accustomed to from me. I can’t help it. The Browns got me excited in their 17-6 win over the Bengals. Not just because it was a win. Not just because it was their second solid win in a row. Not just because it put them in to a 3 way tie for 1st place in the AFC North. They got me excited because for once, what my eyes saw translated into a victory.
Watching that game, I couldn’t help but get that feeling in my guy that nags all Cleveland sports fans. That feeling that even though they had statistically dominated all day, that at some point they were going to blow it. A pick six. A boneheaded turnover. An injury to someone important. Brian Hoyer gets a hang nail and can’t throw the ball straight. Willis McGahee has a heart attack (sorry, last old joke). SOMETHING. MUST. GO. WRONG.
But it didn’t. It didn’t. Actually, as that feeling hit its apex, we got the ball on our 5 yard line. This is it I thought. A safety. An interception. Nope. Brian Hoyer led the team on a sensational drive to score the touchdown that I knew would put the game out of reach. And then, on the following Bengals possession, Buster Skrine picked off a ball that DQ tipped to seal the game. My mind was on overload. So many things were running through my mind. The Cleveland Browns, the team that has let me down more than perhaps anything else over the course of my life, just gave me one. A quarterback that I can’t help but believe in. A defense that I trust to hold. A defense that’s fun and tough and exciting to watch. Receivers who make big plays (Gordon and Cameron), and a guy who is as sure handed in the middle of the field as the Browns have ever had (Bess). Those daggone Browns just came through.
So how did this happen? How did the Cleveland Browns finally smack fate in the face and do what they’ve rarely done before? Well, it started a couple weeks ago, in the locker room after the Baltimore game. Brown’s Captain D’Qwell Jackson gave a passionate speech to the team in the locker room post game. Jackson, who has given his all, including two torn pectoral muscles, tough season, got fired up. He said he didn’t use a library voice when he addressed his teammates.
“At the time my mind was on getting my point across,” Jackson said. “I’ve been here longer than anyone on the team, so I know what it means to Cleveland, I know what it means to me. It needed to be said, something that needed to be said. I’ll do it again if I need to… It’s just a culmination of your emotions running wild. It was just something that felt like we were a better team. Don’t go in the tank. Remember our goals. Remember why we do this. If we don’t turn this thing around it can be a long season. I’ve been through that with some pretty bad teams, and this team is not that team.”
Something in that speech got across to this team. You can see it on every down sincr. They are playing like a team who believe in themselves. Like a team that knew it was better than the media and fans were saying.
And then, like the next logical step in the profession, Brian Hoyer gets the call to start for the much maligned Brandon Weeden when he was ruled out against the Vikings. If D’Qwell lit the match to start the fire, Brian Hoyer became the flames made manifest. In two straight games, when it was needed most, he took control of the offense and lead them on game winning fourth quarter drives. The offense clearly believes in Hoyer in a way they never did with Weeden. It’s not hard to see why. Hoyer is a leader. He doesn’t seem to leave the door open for this team to follow him or not.
And when it has mattered most, guys have stepped up. Whether it’s Josh Gordon fighting for a deep ball on the sidelines, or Cameron beating guys over the top, or McGahee beating up a worn down Bengals defense for big chunks of field. Joe Haden shutting down anyone who comes near him, Mingo eating quarterbacks, Phil Taylor dominating runners at the line of scrimmage, even Buster Skrine jarring the ball from receivers with big hits. These guys are playing like a team. It’s not an individual effort, but rather a collection of efforts earning it on every down.
For the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m ready to buy in to a Browns football team. I can see an identity forming here. A tough team that will shut you down on defense and will come up big on offense when needed. I see leaders on both sides of the ball stepping up, Hoyer and Thomas and D’Qwell, Taylor and Kruger. I can see future stars being born in Gordon, Cameron, Mingo and Shears. And so here we are, 4 weeks in to the season, and while I was ready to after the Richardson deal, I can’t quite write this team off. Because they haven’t written themselves off yet. They clearly believe, and I’m finding it harder and harder to not join them.