Frustration and failure can manifest itself in many different capacities. Repeated failure, as was the curious case of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Davone Bess one week ago in Kansas City, can only serve to punctuate such a subnormal quality. Brought on to be a sure-handed, chain-moving weapon for Norv Turner’s vertical attack, Bess donned a Browns jersey and instantly became a player of ill timing and an incomprehensible absence of the entire skill set required for a wide receiver. Bess’ dropped passes were becoming an every-week occurrence as common as Brad Nessler mispronouncing a player’s name. But it would be his three drops and fumbled punt return which served to cement Bess’ name on the entirely-too-long list of players who came to Cleveland to make a difference only to seemingly forget how to execute the craft that brought them here in the first place.
Following the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs—a game that was undoubtedly winnable with the Browns defense buckling down and quarterback Jason Campbell doing everything within his well-traveled veteran power to keep his team in the contest—Cleveland head coach Rob Chudzinski took the higher road, sticking up for a player who undoubtedly cost him a win on this rookie coaching résumé. Despite the free agent addition being among the league’s worst in botched receptions on a team which can ill afford any miscues in the execution department, the man they call “Chud” went to bat for his baffling ball-dropper.
“I think Davone is everything you could ask for in terms of a guy working and doing the things to be the very best he can,” Chud said. “He’s a pro’s pro in that way. I have faith in him that he’ll make the corrections. I know there are some things from a technical standpoint that he can improve on in that area, and I think some of it is just trying to do too much before the ball is secured.”
By all accounts, Bess returned to practice this past week, working as if the drops in Kansas City had never occurred. He’s the kind of player who is given the cliché moniker of being a “pro’s pro”—a player who does everything right despite not always, if ever, being a part of the spotlight. He’s the kind of player who leads by example and only gets media attention during the most polarizing of times. The kind of guy who shows up to the practice facility early, leaves late, and makes sure to give a percentage that is nominally greater than 100. Unfortunately for Bess, while he was leaving it all on the field, he was doing so without football in hand.
Well whatever those technical corrections were, whatever areas which needed additional focus, Bess turned back the clock to…well every other season in his NFL career, and made plays. Not just any plays, mind you. Huge, point-scoring, ball-moving, jump-off-of-your-couch moments which made you wonder where in the hell this guy had been over the course of the team’s first eight contests. The uncovered crossing routes that came to an abrupt halt with the ball crashing to the grass, the third-and-short out routes which netted nothing but another punt attempt for Spencer Lanning—all a distant memory the very second Bess came down with two feet in the end zone, ball securely in hand, successfully taking it to the ground as Baltimore cornerback Lardarius Webb blasted him with all of his might, Bess landing at roughly the one-yard line.
Not satisfied with his first touchdown reception as a member of the Cleveland Browns, Bess would later haul in a Jason Campbell pass at the Raven’s 10-yard line, only to provide Webb with a bit of retribution, turning him into an And 1 Mixtape highlight in front of 70,000 screaming Browns fans before merely waltzing into the end zone for what would be his first multi-touchdown game in his nine years in the National Football League.
While the touchdowns were all well and good, it would be a fourth quarter fourth-and-one play which would serve to be the biggest play of the evening as Campbell, looking to extend a game-sealing drive, was flushed out of the pocket, buying time with his legs, allowing his receivers to trail him down the field. What would follow could only be best described by play-by-play man Jim Donovan who, already standing as he does through the entire broadcast, harnessed his inner Joe Tait and shrieked as he exclaimed “HE CAUGHT IT! DAVONE BESS CAUGHT. THE. BALL.” The play was seemingly identical to a fourth-and-one play in the fourth quarter a week earlier where Campbell, using his athleticism to extend what was otherwise a broken play, fired a pass to Bess that would have extended a potential game-winning drive with the clocking ticking down, only to have his receiver drop the ball. Only this time, in almost poetic fashion, Bess capped off his evening with a play that the box score will never, ever do justice.
[Related: Davone Bess: Out of the Fog (Video)]
“I dropped the one last week, and that definitely went through my head so I didn’t want to make the same mistake again,” said Bess of getting his number called in the utmost important of times. The reception would extend what would ultimately be a 15-play drive that drained 6:30 off the clock—the kind of drive that Manning and Brady and Rodgers amass week to week—leaving the opponent with next to zero time in their attempt to amount a comeback of any kind. It was a win that was capped off by brazen fourth-down calls, injuries to key players and the bitter, high-energy emotion that is oftentimes organic in games between division rivals. But it was also a win that showed that Chud’s comments from earlier in the week, about trust and work and being the very best, were not empty in the slightest. Chud put his money where his mouth was and the “pro’s pro” paid him—and the entire city of Cleveland— back, doing so in the most handsome of fashions.
“I trust [Davone] and I know the type of person his is that he’s going to bounce back from the week before,” said Chudzinski following the win over the Ravens, the team’s first such victory in almost a decade. “You get to know people and you get to trust people and feel about them in this way, and Davone Bess is one of those people.”
Bess could have easily wound himself even tighter. He could have played out of fear rather than out of hunger. He could have let the worst of times get to him, manifesting eight weeks of frustration into an even tighter downward spiral. Instead, he managed to put what was arguably his worst game as a professional firmly in the rear view mirror, choosing to look forward rather than back.
The question left to be answered is rooted in which Bess, the sure-handed play-maker or the veteran who has surprisingly become prone to drops, is the trend and which one is the mirage? After all, despite a career of moving the chains in Miami, it was this week, Week 9, where that player finally reared his head, stepping up when the team needed him most. One game does not a career make, but the same can be said for the debacle in Kansas City. If Bess can prove that the first half of the season was plagued with inconsistency only due to comfort and not character, the Browns could have themselves a potent offense as teams try to blanket first-half heroes Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. One of these games—either Week 8 or Week 9—is the outlier. At this point, it’s a matter of finding out which one.
Browns cornerback Joe Haden may have put it best after, of course, referring to Bess as a “pro’s pro.”
People ask, ‘What do you say to him?’ You don’t have to say anything to people like Davone. He knows what he did wrong. He’s way madder [at himself] than you will ever be. He knew what he had to do and handled his business.”
Bess is his toughest critic, his own worst enemy. And it’s for these reasons, despite all of the ones on the field prior to his voyage north, that the team offered a mid-round draft choice for his services before promptly extending him with a three-year deal. One player doesn’t lose a game, but what Bess did a week ago comes pretty damn close. The silver lining comes in the fact that he lived to play another game, and man did he ever. Bess handled his business and, in turn, allowed the Browns to handle the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
Revenge is a dish best served cold. Redemption is one that tastes sweet regardless of temperature. The best part is this dish will get to last for at least two weeks.
Photo Credit: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)