Cleveland Browns’ fans overestimated this team after they routed the Pittsburgh Steelers in week six. With Jacksonville, Oakland, and Tampa Bay coming up on the slate, most supporters figured three blowout wins would follow and the Browns would go to Cincinnati with a 6-2 mark.
However, that’s not how the NFL works.
Instead the Browns lost to the Jaguars, and then won two home games, both in workmanlike fashion, and head to the Queen City at 5-3, still very much in the playoff race as the calendar turned to November.
The truth is that the Browns are not an elite NFL team, they aren’t even a very good team. They are in the middle of the pack, and that is good enough to play meaningful football at this point in the season.
After years of hopelessness regarding this football team, we should all be excited about that.
Cleveland’s offense couldn’t get into the end zone in the first half, getting only three Billy Cundiff field goals (49, 29, and 43 yards) and trailed going into the locker room 10-9.
After a touchdown a little less than six minutes into the second half, Mike Pettine’s team took a 16-10 lead.
The lead was short-lived, as the Bucs’ went deep to Johnny Manziel’s former teammate at Texas A & M, Mike Evans, caught a 24-yard throw from Mike Glennon to give Tampa a one point lead.
But Brian Hoyer led the Browns back, hitting rookie WR Taylor Gabriel (with the aid of a crushing block by Terrance West) to give the home team a lead it would never surrender.
As we said before, it isn’t easy in the NFL.
Look at today’s results. Cincinnati didn’t blow up Jacksonville either, although they did beat them, and San Diego, thought to be one of the AFC’s best teams, were dominated by Miami, losing 37-0.
Earlier this year, this same Tampa Bay team went into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers.
Style points do not matter, but wins do, and right now the Browns have collected five of them, one more than they had all of last season. In fact, the last time Cleveland won more than five games in a season was 2007, when they went 10-6.
That’s not to say the Browns are a team without problems.
The running game continues to sputter without Alex Mack, averaging less than two yards per carry again (50 yards in 28 attempts), and Mack’s replacement, Nick McDonald was dominated by Tampa Bay DT Gerald McCoy, who sacked Hoyer twice.
Another problem is the run defense, which to be fair, did improve in the second half, but still allowed 113 yards in total. Former Brown, Bobby Rainey, deemed unusable by Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, picked up 87 yards on 19 carries.
Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil did make an adjustment in the second half, as Rainey gained just 17 yards on his last nine carries.
The special teams were also a huge factor in today’s win. Billy Winn blocked a field goal in the first quarter, and Craig Robertson blocked a punt that set up the winning touchdown. It was the second blocked punt of the season, and both were major factors in victories. We can’t remember the last time a Cleveland special teams unit blocked two punts in a season.
Donte Whitner had his best game as a Brown too, getting an interception off a pass batted away by Joe Haden, and he forced a fumble on a play that was called back because of a penalty. The former Glenville product is starting to make his presence felt.
And we have to mention Hoyer, who threw for 300 yards despite two interceptions, one a horrible throw, and the other off a deflection. He evened up the two picks by throwing two touchdown passes.
It’s a short week for both the Browns and Bengals as they play Thursday night. Because the AFC North is so good and so bunched up in the standings, any divisional game is huge.
Cleveland is 5-3, but they need to start playing better if they want to stay in the race for a playoff spot.