Todd Porter: Anderson leading Browns' playoff retreat

Todd Porter

His neatly pressed, freshly dry-cleaned designer suit spoke volumes of the ride of Derek Anderson. His long face, sad eyes and quiet voice spoke of the reality.

Anderson led the Browns' playoff retreat Sunday. He threw four interceptions. Missed open receivers. Had passes dropped. Cleveland’s shiny sports car turned into a rust bucket against the Bengals. Anderson knew just how bad, and how ill-timed, his performance was.

“I never give up on myself,” said Anderson, a sixth-round throwaway the Browns signed after the Ravens waived him. “We work too hard. I owe everything to the guys in the locker room and the coach. They’ve had my back all year. It makes it hard to go in there after the game and look around at the disappointment we have.”

Anderson is a swashbuckler. He’ll live and die by the sword.

The Pro Bowl alternate left a stain on his season Sunday on a wind-blown day in Cincinnati. His pressed suit and bright tie couldn’t hide any of it.

Anderson threw a career-high four picks and returned to Cleveland on a career low. With a fistful of cards in one hand and stack of playoff poker chips at his side, Anderson looked like an addict in Las Vegas. Double or nothing into the wind one more time? Tight window? He never doubts that his big right arm can squeeze it in there, and that kind of confidence cuts both ways.

During the biggest game of the expansion era — simply beat a Cincinnati team that’s fallen apart and the Browns clinch a playoff spot — the kitchen either got too hot for Anderson. Or, worse, it cooked him.

He chucked the ball 48 times Sunday, completing 29. Even when he did something right, his anti-Midas touch turned a play to rust. Avoid a sack, flick the ball to Lawrence Vickers — but the pass bounced down the field like Cleveland’s playoff chances.

“It,” Anderson said of his four-interception, 53.4 passer rating performance, “just wasn’t good enough today.”

Which was a bit like saying we underestimated that flu bug back in 1918.

The riverboat gambler in Anderson has paid off for the Browns this season. Laws of averages caught up to him down by the Ohio at Paul Brown Stadium. Against a team with nothing to play for — except ruining the Browns playoff aspirations — Anderson’s gunslinging shot Cleveland in the foot four times.

Sure, some of that was wind. The breeze has been at Anderson’s back most of the season. The breaks fell his way. A tipped pass usually found the ground, not a linebacker’s belly.

The wind finally blew back when the Browns needed it in their sails most.

More than a game was lost Sunday. Much worse was the loss of both opportunity and confidence. Cleveland played like a team afraid of its own success.

“We’ve got to grow up,” veteran running back Jamal Lewis said. “We’re in the position for a reason. We’ve got to play like it.”

Anderson wasn’t the only Brown who played like this was a space walk to save the planet. Braylon Edwards dropped two passes. Joe Jurevicius couldn’t come down with a third-down pass.

Dave Zastudil looked like he was trying to handle a banana peel during a field goal attempt for a 3-0 lead.

Romeo Crennel made the wrong decision to go for it on fourth down at the Cincinnati 19 in the first quarter. How nice would an extra three points have been at the end of the game?

Cleveland’s postseason isn’t in its own hands. As long as Tennessee and Indianapolis don’t tie, the outcome of the San Francisco game in Browns Stadium is meaningless. Simply, Cleveland needs an Indianapolis win in a game the Colts could very well use to rest their starters.

But the Cincinnati game should not be forgotten if things fall the Browns’ way, and they seem to have done that all season.

“We have to look at this,” Edwards said. “Why did we come out like this? What caused all the turnovers? Why were we not in sync? The heck with the weather. ... We have to assess this game and figure out what went wrong from start to finish.”

Anderson knows.

The final 73 seconds of the first half is what went wrong. Anderson was picked off twice to set up 14 Cincinnati points.

“That right there,” Anderson said, head down, face glum and almost out of poker chips, “lost the game.”

Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail