Todd Porter: Browns need to learn how to win on the road
Tattooed on the left forearm of Kellen Winslow Jr. is a famous comment from Fredrick Douglas.
“Without struggle, there is no progress.”
It is the same right arm that reached into the balmy desert winter and snatched a Derek Anderson prayer on the final play of Sunday’s game.
The roof at University of Phoenix Stadium was open and the sun shone in. Just not on the Browns. And that’s the way it should have been.
All nine of the Browns lives seem to have finally died. It’s time to win football games with ability, rather than good fortune and the bounce of Romeo Crennel’s oft-referred oblong ball. Cleveland’s playoff hope took a bit of a hit Sunday when the Cardinals, not too proud to turn away charity, scored 21 of their points off turnovers and beat the Browns 27-21.
But, there seemed to be a last ray of Arizona hope. Three receivers lined up right, and Winslow was split left by himself. Anderson’s pass, into traffic, was perfectly placed and Winslow’s large hands grabbed the ball and came down with it.
One foot landed in. Winslow was blasted out of bounds while in the air. It was a judgment call. An official could have ruled he was forced out and would’ve come down with the catch. Instead, he ruled incomplete pass.
Players congratulated, but ... wait a minute. The officials looked at the last play one more time. No one reverses the final play that changes the end of a game right? Never happens?
“If we would’ve gotten that call, I’d have thought we wouldn’t have been able to be beat,” wide receiver Braylon Edwards said. “If we’d got that call, I’d have said, ‘Browns to the Super Bowl.’ We’ve been getting call after call after call. We’ve been getting a lot of calls.
“If we had won today, it would’ve been a situation where Arizona could’ve been really disappointed. We didn’t deserve to win.”
Worse than the Browns not playing well, they didn’t play smart. Anderson was picked off and it was returned for a touchdown. He lost a fumble that led to another touchdown. Leigh Bodden had a Dwayne Rudd moment when he kicked a ball after dropping an interception. Damn ball.
Bodden’s brain indigestion led to a delay of game penalty. That converted a third-and-four and likely punt, into a first down and ultimately a Cardinals touchdown.
Josh Cribbs, a big part of why Cleveland is a wild card contender, helped lose this one. He muffed a punt when he lost track of blocker Daven Holley.
Simon Frazer went Snuka and head-butted a Cardinal during a kickoff. That penalty erased decent field position at the 33. It even resulted in Crennel delivering his best quote of the season.
“They always see the second head butt,” he said.
Anderson was the reason the Browns had a chance to come back, and the reason they needed to.
“I don’t like losing the game for us,” Anderson said.
The Browns start road games like the gravedigger starts his mornings. They did again Sunday.
“I think we address things and focus so hard on things, a lot of times we forget the other things,” Edwards said. “We need to focus on starting fast. We put so much emphasis on finishing ... a lot of times you forget to start. ... We need to have a balance. We need to start and finish.”
And you’d think that goes without saying, almost like using soap and water to bathe, or peanut butter and jelly on the sandwich.
Unlike past expansion Browns teams, this one cares. Kicker Phil Dawson has been on plane rides after a loss and teammates didn’t know enough that they should care. This one does.
“This team,” Dawson said, “they expect more. That’s the difference. Guys really want to learn.”
The Browns have a good thing going. They are confident and know they can win. They have yet, however, to learn how to win games on the road.
“There’s a big difference between knowing you can win, and knowing how to,” Dawson said. “There is a fine line, but these guys get it.”
Veteran Eric Steinbach has been on the bad Bengal teams, and the good. He’s playing on a good Browns team, lucky for him. Steinbach is left scratching his head at this team.
Sure, it’s impressive this offense will stop a heart at the end of a game.
But why try?
“It’s good in a negative way,” Steinbach said. “We have the talent, but why put ourselves in that position. ... We’re winning consistently, but that’s not enough. We can’t be complacent. We’ve got to start fast. In this league, you can’t play catch up.”
So, in the final six seconds, Anderson heaved a ball that found Winslow’s hands. The law of averages caught up to the Browns and nudged Winslow out of bounds. This one they didn’t deserve.
“They played better than us. That’s what sucks,” Steinbach said. “We put it in the hands of someone else.”
The football gods made sure it wasn’t in Winslow’s when it mattered.
Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail email@example.com