The Cleveland Browns are heading in the right direction.
In their third preseason game, the Browns beat the Tennessee Titans 23-17 on a night in Cleveland Browns Stadium that was windier than the restrooms in a Chipotle restaurant. Flags whipped, jerseys shimmied, and loose napkins flew across the field for much of the game.
But even in the poor weather conditions, the offense behind both Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson was solid. Quinn went 11 of 15 for 128 yards, including a nifty 20-yard touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards in the third quarter. Anderson went 7-of-11 for 77 yards. More importantly for Derek, he had no interceptions. The QB controversy rages on.
Braylon Edwards had a very nice game, as well. Besides catching the touchdown pass, he seemed more focused against the Titans than he was all of last season. Edwards' most eye-popping play of the game was one that didn't show up in the stats. Running full speed and leaping, the muscled receiver made an incredible one-handed grab that was negated only when he was unable to get a second foot in bounds.
The Browns also may have caught lightning in a bottle with new recruit James Davis. The shifty back was a real spark on offense, carrying the ball five times for 28 yards. If the quick-footed rookie can learn to hit the hole decisively and quickly, he could be a very pleasant surprise for everyone on the team but aging veteran Jamal Lewis.
The defense showed some encouraging signs of improvement, also. Though the unit had some lapses which triggered blown assignments, against a very good offense they held their own and made some spectacular plays in the process.
At the end of the first half, Vince Young was behind center for the Titans and had his team on the Browns' goal line with the chance to score. When the passing play broke down, Young tried to relive his college days and run the ball to pay-dirt himself. But the Dawgs tangled with Young before he could cross the stripe, and when the dust had settled, the pigskin was in the Browns possession with one tick left on the clock.
In the third quarter, Young returned. Backed up near his own end-zone, he again felt the defensive pressure on a broken pass play. Throwing off his back foot, he sailed a "happy birthday" ball into the grasp of an astonished Alex Hall who trotted the few yards to the end-zone for a quick pick-six. The score at that point was Browns-20, Titans-3.
But perhaps the strongest unit on the team was special teams.
Josh Cribbs continues to play with anger, as he is in the midst of a contract dispute with the team. Signed for four more years but believing he deserves a boost in salary, the kick returner has played some of his best football this preseason. It has become a cliche to say that Cribbs is a threat to go to the house every time he touches the ball.
Cribbs has also turned heads as a wide receiver this preseason. As recently as last week, Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston was on WKNR sports talk radio telling the fans that the Browns coaching staff thought Cribbs was still having trouble identifying schemes and separating at the line of scrimmage.
But against the Titans, he looked like a seasoned veteran, and an All Pro at that. Owner Randy Lerner might want to find his wallet. Cribbs' outstanding play may force him to crack it open.
Another veteran specialist, Phil Dawson held a clinic on how to kick through the teeth of a Lake Erie gale. Against the Titans, he kicked two extra points and three field goals, his longest an oxbow 37-yarder in the third quarter. No one kicks better in the confines of Cleveland Browns Stadium than the little Texan with the big leg.
Other special teams highlights included Brandon McDonald recovering a blocked field goal, and a forced fumble against the Titans' Mark Jones who couldn't control a catch and was rudely dismissed from the field without the ball.
Mr. Rogers Not In Neighborhood
Shaun Rogers was once again a no show for the Titans game. Head Coach Eric Mangini and his staff have remained mum on the subject and speculation still abounds that there is more to his absence than a minor ailment.
A war of wills seems to be playing out behind the scenes in Berea, where Rogers has worn a mote into the edge of the field from running (trotting?) his punishment laps.
Brian Brennan Meet Brian Brennan
Before the preseason game with the Tennessee Titans, the Browns hosted U.S. Army 1st LT. Brian Brennan, a soldier who was severely injured on May 7, 2008 from an IED attack, while leading a patrol in Afghanistan. Among the multiple injuries suffered that day, Brian lost both legs.
Former Cleveland Brown Brian Brennan, who is not related to the Brennan family, found out about Lt. Brennan's story and that the soldier was indeed named after the former Browns wideout by his father. The two men have since formed a bond which they detailed during an interview before the television broadcast of the game.
Cleveland Browns players were impressed with Lt. Brennan's bravery and courage.
Cleveland Browns fans are, too. Thank you, Lt. Brian Brennan.