It’s hard to throw a football with cold hands. It’s hard to throw a football in precipitation. It’s hard to throw a football in wind. So with 40 mph winds, heavy snow, and freezing temperatures the only way Sunday’s game would have been less suitable for quarterback evaluation would be if the receivers were forced to wear boxing gloves and there were sharks floating through the air.
Still, let’s give it a shot.
To put it in NFL terms, Anderson needed to manage the game in order for the Browns to win. On Sunday, he did just that.
This was just the second time in the last seven weeks — and the first in the last five — that Anderson didn’t throw an interception. Whether this is due to dumb luck or skill is a matter for debate, but any Browns fan who remembers what Charlie Frye’s arm looked like throwing in that nasty lake effect wind knows that we should all be thankful to finally have a quarterback with a rocket arm. Sure, that rocket arm went 9-23 but this was one of those games where his completion percentage to the other team was going to be far more crucial to the outcome of the game than his completion percentage to his own teammates. Four of the nine completions came on third down and went for first downs, and two of those four completions came on the two scoring drives of the game. On the whole the nine completions meant more than any of the 14 incompletions. That might be the definition of managing a game.
Not that you can knock Anderson for all those incomplete passes. After all, the day’s biggest pass play came when a pass ricocheted off Braylon Edwards’s chest and, rather than falling incomplete, fell into the hands of Joe Jurevicius, who promptly scampered 25 yards before tumbling over into a pile of snow. (1) This was one of a number of passes thrown by Anderson and Trent Edwards that hit their receivers but were not caught (at least by the intended receiver). In those conditions seeing receivers drop passes is not surprising. What is surprising in those conditions is seeing receivers actually get hit by passes. It was like watching someone hit a bumble bee with a grain of rice in the middle of a hurricane.
An element of luck was undeniably a part of Anderson’s success on Sunday, but that should not diminish the amount of skill that went into his performance. He never put the Browns in jeopardy by taking big risks on long throws down the field or by throwing into double or triple coverage — which have both been ignoble hallmarks of Anderson’s worst tendencies. Against the Bills he made a lot of smart decisions and relied upon his strong arm to do the rest (i.e., overcome the conditions). Perhaps his most glaring lapse in judgment came late in the first quarter when on third down he took a seven yard sack. Prior to this week Anderson has been insanely good at throwing the ball away and avoiding negative plays. The sack against the Bills was the result of holding the ball for too long.
Which brings me about to the play off the offensive line. They allowed one sack (and even then I’d put the fault more on Anderson than the line) and blocked for 174 yards rushing. Jamal Lewis is getting a lot of credit for his performance — and rightfully so — but in the biggest game of the season the Browns won thanks in large part to decisions made last spring, when they shored up the line through free agency and the draft. Can anyone name the last time the Browns won a game due to decisions made by the front office in the spring?
On any list of reasons why the Browns beat the Bills one final name needs mentioning: Phil Dawson. Without Dawson the Browns don’t win. It was great to see the only remaining member of the 1999 Browns team have yet another day in the sun (or overcast sky). Though it came on a smaller stage, Dawon’s 49-yard field goal in the second quarter was ever bit as impressive as Adam Vinatieri’s field goal against the Raiders a few years ago. Amazing. And the reaction of both the crowd and the team — Anderson rushing the field with an oven mitt on his hand was priceless — served as a powerful emotional punch to the extraordinary physical display Dawson put on with his field goal kicking. In a game where small things made big differences it was fitting that Dawson’s leg prove to be the ultimate difference in the game.
And so the Browns playoff juggernaut keeps rolling. Even the Associate Press has hopped aboard, as evidenced by this little ditty from their post-game wrap up:
Cleveland needed a win and a loss by Tennessee to secure at least a wild-card berth. Only half of that scenario happened, but the Browns will clinch their first playoff appearance since 2002 with a win at Cincinnati next week.
The operative word is will. It’s not “the Browns could clinch” it’s “the Browns will clinch”. (2) Even the supposedly impartial gaze of the AP has been moved to Browns homerism thanks to a grizzly, snowy, altogether Clevelandy win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. Awesome.
QB Score: 52
QB Score per play: 2.00
fn 1: Is there a receiver in the NFL with a more baffling set of hands than Edwards? The guy drops the easiest passes and then bails his quarterback out with catches on throws that should otherwise be incomplete. On the whole this all probably evens out in the end, but just think of the things he could do if he didn’t let the ball fly off his chest.
fn 2: I realize that this line in the AP story does not necessarily read how I’m implying it does. It’s just ambiguous writing that allows me to spin the sentence to be something it’s not. A clearer phrasing would be “with a win at Cincinnati next week the Browns would clinch their first playoff appearance since 2002.”