Monday, October 12, 2009
You hardly know what to make of a win that looked much like a loss, but if you’re somebody who cheers for the Cleveland Browns, you’ll settle for a 6-3 victory regardless of how ugly it looked. Think about it: The Browns had been rolling nightmarishly toward a futility that would match what the Detroit Lions did a season ago. Sixteen losses, although hardly guaranteed, did seem reachable, and coach Eric Mangini and the Browns did nothing Sunday to suggest they could win a game. They dropped passes, slogged around in the wind and, essentially, played as if it were an exhibition game. One thing that helped the Browns was a Buffalo Bills team that couldn’t get out of its way. The Bills stumbled and false-started from the opening whistle to the game’s end. Yet they might have escaped with a win (or a tie) if a muffed punt hadn’t set the Browns up for Billy Cuniff's game-winning field goal with 23 seconds left. The muff was a gift from the football lords, the sort bestowed on a hapless team like the Browns. They can’t beat many opponents on merit alone. Even in this victory, the Browns didn’t show that their short-term future under Mangini was overly promising. They didn’t self-destruct totally, but they didn’t do much to win the game with fine play. While it might be fitting to applaud the defense for its play, but to be overly kind to the defense would be to give too much credit to the Bills. To put it bluntly, they fielded an offensive line that couldn’t stop a Division III defense. How these Bills (1-4) had beaten anybody this season is a question that can’t easily be answered, not based on their performance Sunday. If the Bills aren’t the worst NFL team, they find themselves in the same league as the winless St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders. The three of them will be lucky to combine to win as many games as the Indianapolis Colts. It’s no Herculean chore to deconstruct a lousy team like the Bills, because they did so many things wrong that it would be silly to dwell on the few things they might have done right. The chore is to figure out, even with all the mistakes the Bills made, how the Browns couldn’t turn the game into a blowup. That, too, isn’t a chore. For the figuring can start with what has been one of the glaring weaknesses for the Browns this season: a bad quarterback. Browns fans have seen sorry play from quarterbacks for most of this decade, but few quarterbacks, not even the flawed Tim Couch or the inept Charlie Frye, had a game like Derek Anderson did and came away a winner. Anderson completed two of 17 passes for 23 yards. In Anderson’s defense, his receivers dropped a half-dozen passes, and maybe his statistics might have been more pleasing had those passes been caught. But he looked as shaky as he has been since Romeo Crennell -- and then Mangini -- refused to anoint Anderson the unquestioned starter for what he did in 2007 when his confident was sky high. Still, Anderson deserved some credit for not losing this game. Mind you, he did nothing to win it, but against a pitiful excuse for an NFL team like the Bills, he spared the Browns a possible loss simply because he kept turnovers to a minimum (one). When you’re a football team careening toward 16 losses, an ugly win halts a date with NFL infamy. Browns fans don’t have to worry anymore about matching what the Lions did, but can those fans, after witnessing the horror show that Anderson directed in Buffalo, think that anything better than a 15-loss season awaits them?