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Joe Posnanski

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Joe Posnanski article from the Athletic, an institution l suscribe to and recommend. This is the best article l’ve read in a while, had to share...

 

Those of you who listen to The PosCast — a podcast I have been doing sporadically for nearly a decade with my pal Michael Schur, creator of NBC’s “The Good Place” — know that I have for a long time been trying to turn Mike into a Browns fan. My brilliant plan was based on two things I know about him.

  1. Mike, like many of us, has been gradually losing interest in the NFL for myriad reasons.
  2. Mike, by the quirk of birthplace, has been a Patriots fan all his life, which was fine for the first six Super Bowls and whatever but at some point, come on, what’s the fun in that?

And so I’ve been relentlessly pushing Browns fandom on him as a way to find himself — consider it a spiritual journey. The first time I convinced him to be a Browns fan, he lasted roughly two weeks. Too much pain was thrown at him all at once. The Browns were hopeless. Their quarterback was whichever Spinal Tap drummer hadn’t died yet. They seemed to be drafting players based on the awesomeness of their names (Barkevious Mingo! Emmanuel Ogbah! Jabrill Peppers!).

Mike wasn’t ready for all this Browns-ness all at once; it was like a guy walking into a gym for the first time running an ultramarathon on his first day. Mike quit the Browns, went back to the Patriots, went to another Super Bowl, lived his life.

But I have never stopped trying. And Sunday, we had a breakthrough. It wasn’t just a hallelujah day because the Browns won their first Sunday game since the year 2 BF (Before “Fortnite”). It was the day that Mike was fully indoctrinated into the world of Cleveland Browns football.

“How many first downs have they had negated by holding penalties today?” he texted me during the game. “Seventy?”

“Current penalties: Cleveland 8-51. Baltimore: 0-0.”

“I find that implausible,” he added.

“Another 10-yard penalty after a first down.”

“Third and 13 and they give up 14,” he texted me. “How do you do this every week?”

“And if they hadn’t missed the extra point, this would be moot anyway.”

“This is terrible.”

“Why did you do this to me?” he texted me.


The Browns should have won and should have lost another game. This apparently is how it’s going to go all season. The Browns players are talking about how they could be 5-0, and that’s absolutely right. You go through the weeks and can easily find a winning scenario:

Week 1: Had a 43-yard field goal to beat Steelers in overtime. Ended up tied.

Week 2: Missed two extra points and two field goals in a game against Saints they lost by three.

Week 3: Beat Jets with a fourth-quarter touchdown drive led by Baker Mayfield.

Week 4: Had Raiders beat when referees bizarrely overturned a first-down mark with time running out. Lost in overtime.

Week 5: Beat Ravens on overtime field goal that wouldn’t have been necessary if they had just made an extra point earlier.

So that’s five games, and a clear 5-0 record with things going their way. But, of course, you could turn it around and show them going 0-5, too.

Week 1: Steelers played one of their worst games in 20 years, committed six turnovers, and STILL had the first chance to win the game with an overtime field goal.

Week 2: Saints played lousy, lost two fumbles and still won.

Week 3: Jets played lousy and still might have won by two touchdowns had Browns starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor not gotten hurt, opening the Baker Mayfield Era a bit earlier than the Browns wanted.

Week 4: Raiders are lousy, the Raiders played lousy, and yes they got an absurd break. They still won.

Week 5: The Ravens threw a dreadful interception at the goal line, their absurdly accurate kicker had a field goal blocked, etc.

So this is the Browns’ season. This is why three of the five games have gone into overtime, this is why the Browns are the very essence of middling at 2-2-1. Every game is close and teetering on the edge and while not always exciting, the games are always compelling. They can go either way.

And it seems to come down to this: The Browns are talented, raw, inspired and, let’s be honest, not very good yet. But, and this is exciting, they have shown a skill that is desperately underrated in the NFL: They have figured out how to drag teams down to their level.

This sounds like a joke or a sick burn but I could not be more serious. I’ve been a Cleveland Browns fan since the day I was born, which just happened to be exactly one week before Super Bowl I. I’ve been following the NFL since the days when they only played 14 games and teams ran the ball more than they threw it and there was no instant replay review to complain about, meaning two-thirds of the great catches we saw were actually drops.

And if there’s one thing I’ve learned over all those years of Brownsdom, it is this: Games in the NFL are lost. They are not won.

You will hear people say some version of that — the team that makes the fewest mistakes wins blah blah blah —  but I don’t think they go far enough. Losing is the natural state of the NFL. You don’t WIN games. The games are too complicated, too unpredictable, too violent, too volatile and with too many odd, illogical and unenforceable rules to win. Give you an example: In overtime, the Browns had the ball on the Ravens 39, fourth-and-five, and Cleveland coach Hue Jackson went for it. This made me very happy. It was more or less the first time I’d seen Jackson show any boldness as a coach.

On the play, Mayfield threw deep to Jarvis Landry. And with the ball in the air, the Ravens defensive backs smashed Landry and knocked him to the ground.

My daughter, who knows nothing whatsoever about football, shouted out: “You can’t do that.”

But the NFL says you can. Why? Because the ball was ruled uncatchable; the referees said Mayfield had thrown the ball too deep for Landry to get it even if nobody had touched him, and they were probably right about that. Of course, there are other rules saying you can’t just smash a receiver to the ground — there’s illegal contact and defensive holding and hitting a defenseless receiver and such. But apparently, none of those rules fits the situation because not only was the play ruled legal, the television referee explained that it was the right call.

This is not a complaint, by the way, because replay of that very play showed that one of the Browns offensive linemen had committed a MASSIVE holding penalty that the referees also did not call.

The point is, NFL games are chaos — much of the time they are not even orchestrated chaos — and so what you want to be able to do is bring the other team down. There are methods for doing this. You can force them to make mistakes. This is best done with defensive linemen who can get after the quarterback; the Browns now have this with the unblockable Myles Garrett and disruptive Larry Ogunjobi and the like. Nothing makes another team play lousy more than defensive linemen who get after the quarterback.

But many times you don’t “force” mistakes. You just receive them. You accept penalties. You make the interception when the ball is thrown directly into your hands. You fall on the ball when it is fumbled. These are at the heart of the “help the other team play lousy” equation: Most often it’s called “the turnover battle.” Boy, coaches love talking about how you have to win the turnover battle.

And they talk about it a lot because winning the turnover battle is a mysterious and mystical mixture of blind luck, execution, blind luck, standing in the fortunate spot, having the ball bounce right, blind luck and not stinking. The Browns forced/received 13 turnovers all of last season — dead last in the NFL. The Browns also committed 41 turnovers last season — dead last in the NFL. It goes without saying, minus-28 turnover differential is the worst since the league started playing 16 games.

This year the Browns already have forced/received 15 turnovers, best in the NFL. They also have the best turnover differential at plus-eight.

Crazy right? Is this because the Browns are that much better? Yes, obviously they are better. But there’s a different vibe about this team, a different energy, a different mojo, a different luck quotient. They are getting other teams to play awesomely terrible football.

Cleveland got the Ravens to play awesomely terrible football Sunday. A receiver drops what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass? A quarterback throws a spectacularly ill-advised pass in the red zone?. A great kicker gets a field goal blocked? A sure-handed running back who hadn’t fumbled in three years fumbles? Thank you very much.

This is how it happens in pro football. It’s like the Alec Baldwin speech in “Glengarry Glen Ross” — NFL teams are sitting out there waiting to give you their money, to give you victory. Are you gonna take it? Are you man enough to take it?

Mayfield’s first start in Cleveland was exactly what you would expect from a super-talented and super-raw rookie quarterback. He made mistakes. The offense stalled most of the game. But he also threw for 342 yards and — this is the most important part — in the end, he willed this team down the field. The Browns faced a second-and-21 from their own 5-yard line with barely more than two minutes left in overtime and the game seemingly headed for a tie. Mayfield scrambled for 13. He threw a terrific short pass to a rookie receiver I honestly had never heard of, Derrick Willies, for 39 yards.

After three hard Duke Johnson runs — nobody plays harder than Duke Johnson — the Browns’ Greg Joseph kicked the game-winning field goal, an appropriately ugly knuckleball that somehow coughed and wheezed through the uprights.

When it ended, the camera showed a celebratory Hue Jackson holding up two fingers as if he wanted the team to go for two after the field goal. I think he was actually referring to it being the team’s second victory. It’s also possible he was asking for world peace. With the Browns winning, hey, anything’s possible.

 

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i guess the postulate here is that the browns are mildly talented but what they're really good at is pre game spell casting that makes opposing teams not play up to.their usual standards. Interesting. I didnt know the browns were lvl3 archmages.

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Geez, tough crowd, haha. I got a few lols out of the article. I didn’t take the “bringing teams down to their level” thing as a skill per se, but more of an observation with a limited sample size. 

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