The Browns went from being the bruisers to being the bruised against the Falcons, losing by a score of 20-10. Despite playing well in the first half particularly on defense, key injuries to QB Seneca Wallace and RB Peyton Hillis derailed Cleveland’s chances of getting a second straight win. With the loss the Browns drop to 1-4, and a trip to the playoffs seems very unlikely. There are, however, several positives that can be taken away from this game.
Defense was the name of the game in this one for the Browns. Three times in the first half the Falcons were able to drive the ball into the redzone and all three times they were forced to settle for field goal attempts. The third field goal attempt was blocked by rookie safety T.J. Ward who is quickly making a name for himself as a tough and smart player. This was the second blocked field goal for the Browns special teams in as many weeks.
The Falcons only managed one offensive touch down all game, which came on a 45 yard pass from Matt Ryan to Roddy White. White beat corner-back Sheldon Brown for the score only one play after Brown had re-entered the game after previously coming off with a shoulder injury. LBs Scott Fujita and Marcus Benard recorded sacks on a day where the Browns pass rush was as consistent as it has been all year. The only drawback for the defense was that they let Michael Turner get loose for 140 yards on only 19 carries including a 55 yard run. The extremely talented Turner is the first RB to have a 100 yard game against the Browns this year.
Two key injuries sabotaged the Browns offense. It was clear from the start that RB Peyton Hillis’ pulled quadriceps injury, which occurred in Thursday’s practice, greatly affected his ability to run the ball. Despite not being able to play his bruising style, Hillis fought hard all day finishing with 28 yards on the ground and 49 yards receiving, which included a fantastic TD reception that gave the Browns a 7-3 lead in the second quarter. The Browns would stretch that lead to 10-3 before giving up seventeen unanswered points.
The other key injury was a high ankle sprain to QB Seneca Wallace. The injury came on a play where Wallace was sacked by Falcons defensive-end, and sack specialist, John Abraham. Left tackle Joe Thomas, who most consider to be the Browns best player, had trouble with the veteran Abraham all game. Abraham had two sacks in the game as well as a crucial QB pressure on the decisive play of the game. With the Falcons leading 13-10 in the forth quarter, QB Jake Delhomme (in for the injured Wallace) and the Browns’ offense was moving the ball down the field looking to tie the game or take the lead. With just over four minutes remaining in the game Delhomme dropped back to pass, was pressured off the edge by Abraham, and forced a throw which was batted into the air by defensive lineman Kroy Biermann. Biermann managed to snag the ball before it hit the ground, then he had the presence of mind to get up and run the other way for a defensive TD. Do not expect poor play to become a trend for Thomas, despite playing and acting like a veteran he is still young, and everyone is entitled to a poor performance on occasion.
As for the QB situation, Wallace started the season second on the depth chart, but had played well in relief of the injured Jake Delhomme. It was Delhomme, however, that was forced to come to the aid of Wallace in this one. With his zero TD, two interception performance, and his visible limp, it was clear that Delhomme was still hurting and was not quite ready for action. The only other option the Browns have is Colt McCoy, the rookie out of Texas. The Browns do not feel McCoy is ready for action, and many believe despite his impressive college accomplishments, that McCoy does not have the right attributes to be a successful NFL quarter-back. To be perfectly honest, despite Wallace’s solid play and Delhomme’s history of being a somewhat capable signal caller, the Browns have to be looking to bring in a franchise QB this off season. The team is shaping up and proving week after week that they can at least compete with some of the league’s best teams. Browns’ President Mike Holmgren has to be thinking that a QB could be the next piece to turning the Browns into a team that can compete for a playoff spot consistently.
Don’t look for things to get better anytime soon for the bruised Browns. They go on the road to face Pittsburgh and New Orleans before their bye week. By that time we could very well be looking at a 1-6 team. Then the conversation turns to potential answers about the long term QB situation, and many will likely be talking about if Coach Mangini will be fired at the end of the season. For any Browns fans out there who are inclined to see what their future might hold, check out some Stanford and Washington NCAA games. Both these teams have highly touted QBs, Andrew Luck and Jake Locker respectively, who could be high draft choices next April.
About the Author
Written by Fran Berkman
Francis (Fran) Berkman is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY with a BS in Human Development. He is currently working towards a master's degree in journalism at Hofstra University. He lives in Massapequa, NY.