Monday, December 27, 2004

Suggs' big night not enough

By Zac Jackson, Staff Writer, from Cleveland
Olindo Mare’s 51-yard field goal in the closing seconds gave the Dolphins a 10-7 win over the Browns Sunday night at Pro Player Stadium.

Lee Suggs ran for 143 yards on a franchise-record 38 carries, but it wasn’t enough to keep the hard-luck Browns from dropping their ninth straight game.

“He hit one left; he hit one right,” Browns coach Terry Robiskie said. “The more we gave it to him, the more he found his creases.

“We believed if we were going to win the game, Lee would have to win it for us.”

The Dolphins defense stayed strong – the Browns didn’t advance past the Miami 25 in the second half – and Miami created just enough offense to win its second straight game and improve to 4-11.

The Browns slip to 3-12.

Sammy Morris’ 13-yard run to the Browns’ 38 in the final minute was the key play of the Dolphins’ eight-play, 40-yard game-winning drive. Mare’s kick was the 10th game-winner of his career.

The flow of the game was befitting of the Browns’ season: Excitement early, just enough drama in the middle to keep things interesting, and a gut-wrenching ending.

Missed opportunities haunted the Browns. Suggs fumbled at the goal line in the second quarter – the Browns turned the ball over four times in all – and Phil Dawson missed a 43-yard field goal in the third quarter.

Dawson said his kick hit the knob on top of the upright, causing the ball to bounce back into the field of play instead of putting the Browns up by three points.

“It’s a cruel game sometimes,” Dawson said.

The teams traded scores in the first quarter, but no one got on the board again until Mare kicked the game-winner with seven seconds left. The nationally-televised matchup of the Browns’ 28th ranked offense against the Dolphins 30th ranked offense was everything ESPN hoped it wouldn’t but certainly thought it might be.

That’s not to diminish the efforts of Suggs, who carried the full load - literally. William Green didn't play.

“(The carries record) is a great accomplishment,” Suggs said. “But it’s a team game. We didn’t win.”

Jim Brown set the previous franchise record of 37 carries on Oct. 10, 1959, at the Chicago Cardinals. Suggs’ 38 carries also tied the NFL season high, set by Ruben Droughns of the Broncos against the Raiders on Oct. 17.

Suggs ran 13 times for 56 yards in the first quarter and 21 times for 80 yards in the first half. Suggs has now posted back-to-back 100-yard rushing games for the first time in his two-year career; he ran for 105 yards last week against San Diego.

The Dolphins scored first as A.J. Feeley threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Derrius Thompson. The Browns answered with a 58-yard scoring pass from Luke McCown to Dennis Northcutt.

McCown rolled left to avoid Jason Taylor and found Northcutt, who came across the field and made the catch at the 22. He ran untouched into the endzone to complete the play. It was the longest scoring play of McCown’s short career and equaled Northcutt’s previous long.

The Browns converted a pair of third downs – one on a pass to Northcutt and another by penalty – on their final drive, but a sack by David Bowens forced Cleveland to punt at the two-minute warning.

“It was a defensive struggle,” Dolphins coach Jim Bates said. “We gave up too much rushing yardage, but they didn’t have the long run. Their longest run was 13 yards.

“And in the fourth quarter, the defense really came alive.”

Sunday, December 12, 2004

A Dismal Season Grows More Dismal

By Pat McManamon, Editor, from
You watch Cleveland Browns games these days and you wonder: What in the world can the Browns do?

I mean, they try and they play and they come up with little plays here and there, but things have deteriorated so bad this dismal season that there's little they can do.

Some teams have luck. The Browns wind up with the officials that can't spot the ball right after a replay.

Three games are left in the season, and you'd kind of wish there were a 10-loss rule like the 10-run rule in kids baseball. Team loses 10 more games than it wins, season's over.

Terry Robiskie admitted that at times in Sunday's 37-7 loss to Buffalo it was "men against boys."

He admitted his team is beaten and whipped.

"Coaches, players, front office," Robiskie said. "We are a beaten group. We are. We are a whipped group.

"But we won't quit fighting."

Robiskie may be criticized for his words, but he's just being honest. This is a drawn-and-quartered team that is severely outmanned. It tries and gives its all, but only has so much to give.

While Ross Verba said he wouldn't be beaten, at least one player agreed with Robiskie.

"We got a lot of room to make excuses," safety Robert Griffith said. "We are definitely a beaten, battered team right now. But what do you do? We got three games left. We can cry all we want to, but come next Sunday guess what we're going to be doing."

Sunday in wintry Buffalo the Browns lost starting center Jeff Faine to an ankle injury, quarterback Jeff Garcia to a knee injury and starting defensive tackle Orpheus Roye to an ankle injury. All were driven off on a cart. Safety Earl Little (hamstring) and tight end Aaron Shea (ankle) were at least able to walk to the somber locker room.

It prompted Robiskie to wonder when all the injuries would end and to say "I don't know" when asked if the Browns could win another game this season.

"I really don't know if we can win another game," he said. "I know we've got a lot of guys that want to. We have a lot of guys that have a lot of heart, a lot of desire. We have a lot of guys that have a lot of fight in them."

What do they say about the size of the fight in the dog? This dog is a tired old hound, and most teams they're playing or have played recently are nasty Dobermans.

Buffalo needed a win to keep its playoff hopes alive. They got one - and ran gadget plays and reverses on punt returns in the second half.

Did the Bills have any feeling for the Browns?

"No," receiver Eric Moulds said. "Because we have been there before."

Men against boys? It showed up in the offense, which totaled 17 yards - the worst in team history. Rookie quarterback Luke McCown had 62 yards passing - but lost 74 yards in sacks. William Green gained five yards on 11 carries and lost a fumble for the second week in a row.

The line gave McCown no protection, and opened few holes for the running game.

It was bad.

"They had Sam Adams in the game, they had London Fletcher in the game, Takeo Spikes, (Jeff) Posey," Robiskie said. "With their group, I just got a sense standing on the sidelines that it was too big for us.

"Me as a coach standing on the sidelines looking, we were running running plays and we couldn't block them on runs. We were running passing plays and we couldn't block them on pass. Third downs we had passes called up and we couldn't pass protect them."

In the third period, Robiskie tried to spark things by putting Jeff Garcia in for McCown. Garcia got sacked and fumbled the ball to the Bills. Garcia and center Jeff Faine both got hurt on the play, when the most experienced lineman on the field - Verba - gave up a sad sack.

It's what the Browns have turned into - the sad sacks of the NFL, and it's tough to watch. Very tough.

That sack Verba gave up - well it shows how when things can go wrong they do. On the play, a pump-and-go, the quarterback is supposed to take a five-step drop. Garcia took a three-step drop. Verba set up for a deeper drop, which allowed Aaron Schobel to cut underneath him and sack Garcia.

That little miscommunication not only led to a sack and fumble and eventually a Buffalo touchdown, but also to injuries to Garcia and Faine.

This three-game stretch has to be close to as low as this franchise - and maybe any franchise - has ever hit. It started with a loss in Cincinnati when the Bengals scored 58 points, continued with a 27-point loss to New England and winds up with a performance in Buffalo that saw the Browns gain 17 yards - worst in team history.

At this point the nice thing to do would be to look forward - except doing that produces very few answers.

The Browns have questions for 2005 at so many positions it's almost mind-boggling. Quarterback, running back, offensive line, offensive line and offensive line are only a few of the areas where decisions are needed. And those come after the decision on the new general manager and coach.

It'll be just a tad busy.

What's starting to come out, though, is lingering bitterness with former coach Butch Davis, who resigned two days after the loss to Cincinnati and walked away with the remaining $12 million due him in his contract.

Safety Earl Little already told the Plain Dealer that Davis quit on the team, and Sunday a few other guys responded to questions by expressing bitterness and frustration at the situation Davis left the coaches and players.

"This is his team," Griffith said. "These are all his guys. You can write whatever you want after that. These are all his guys."

"A coach comes in and tells you not to quit, but it seems like things got rough and he bailed on us," cornerback Daylon McCutcheon said. "I'm not complaining about it because for me I feel like it was a good decision. I don't feel like he was helping us win any more football games.

"I'm glad that we have Terry as our head coach now, but (Davis) didn't leave us in the best situation."

These are not malingerers and malcontents speaking. In fact, Griffith and McCutcheon often were used as examples of the kind of professionals that Davis and the Browns wanted.

Suffice it to say players are angry. Angry at the injuries, angry at the 3-10 record, angry at the lack of depth on the team, angry at the way veterans have been sent packing, angry at the way the team was run and angry at the way things are going in this most dismal of seasons.

Right now, they're playing for each other and for their coaches and for Robiskie, whom they all like and respect, and for their organization.

But what they have is quite simply not good enough.

"Mo-jo is not on our side right not now," Verba said, one of many understatements of this dismal season. "My heart goes out to the fans."

They no doubt appreciate that sentiment.

But come 2005, they'd appreciate some wins more.