After the final whistle rang throughout FirstEnergy Stadium, the Cleveland Browns’ in-game operations folks unfurled a trio of songs they had not had the chance to defend for over a year. First it was “Cleveland Rocks.” This gave way to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.” This was immediately followed by Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Night.”
OK, if we’re being totally fair, the Browns can play the last one without too much irony, but the other two—those are reserved for the team’s basketball- and baseball-playing brethren. This past Saturday, however, things were much different as the Cleveland Browns found a way to win a game that neither team appeared committed to doing.
For a good chunk of this season, those in-game folks were mostly limited to that dumb “it’s third down” presentation—this, of course, was only when the Browns defense didn’t allow a first down within their opponent’s first two attempts. Since Johnny Manziel beat the San Francisco 49ers (more on them later) more than one year earlier, Browns games have ended with the team exchanging handshakes at midfield and the fans filing out of the stadium like John Michael Bluth.
I like to picture the in-game crew in a similar fashion to the guy in charge of playing “Wild Thing” during Major League, feverishly searching for the cartridge when Rick Vaughn surprisingly emerges from the dugout. Of course, it’s mostly digital now, but you can easily envision them being so excited that they hit ctrl+F and continue to misspell “Celebrate”, pounding the backspace button, as they look to queue up a list of uplifting tracks fit for old white people at a wedding. Had they played “We Are Family,” and invited a bunch of uncles in short-sleeved dress shirts and ties barely reaching their belly buttons, it would’ve completed the entire scene.
After all, the guys on the field weren’t the only ones not used to winning.
when God hates you but Santa doesn't pic.twitter.com/ulcG9pQiOY
— Mike Tunison (@xmasape) December 24, 2016
WINNER: Robert Griffin III
Sure, Griffin may have completed just 17 of his 25 pass attempts for 164 yards and one dropped pass. Sure, Griffin was sacked seven times. Sure, Griffin completed just one of his five pass attempts down the field of 20 yards or more for 21 yards. But Griffin not just added 26 yards on the ground, aiding the team’s entire run game as it forced San Diego to spy the quarterback throughout, he was the starting quarterback during a win.
WINNER: Cody Kessler
The Cleveland Browns needed one play and Kessler delievered, firing a strike to fellow rookie Corey Coleman for what was arguably the biggest first down of that chaotic fourth quarter. Had that play not gone past the sticks, the outcome of this game could have been drastically different.
WINNER: Hue Jackson
There has been something different about Hue Jackson since the team’s bye week. Whether there’s been more comfort following a reported meeting between him and the front office, or just a sense that if he shows panic, it’ll trickle down to his players, but something has been different.
Watch the video below, and you’ll see two things: Jackson’s passion for making things right in Cleveland, and a locker room full of players who badly wanted to win a game for their head coach.
Wins matter. pic.twitter.com/95FC7Sbqvv
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) December 24, 2016
While the lack of transparency from the team in this instance (i.e. not sharing video from the locker room after losses) is a bit frustrating, it’s exponentially more important that fans get to see a team of men who, despite all their short-comings in the way of talent or timeliness, cared about winning that football game. Joe Thomas would refer to it as their Super Bowl. Andrew Hawkins said the team played as if they had nothing to lose. This is a mindset that could have easily evaporated with each loss throughout the season, but it didn’t. That’s on Hue.
WINNER: Ray Horton
Though the Browns still can’t seem to defend tight ends, Horton’s squad—led by Chris Kirskey in the middle—was able to get off the field in key junctures of the game. Not allowing Antonio Gates to get a first down, removing the chance of a spike and a stopped clock with seconds remaining, may have been the biggest defensive play of this horrible, horrible season. While Horton’s group has been dreadful for much of the year, they didn’t give up and did what they had to do in order to put the Browns in the best position to win a football game.
WINNER: Joe Thomas
Go back and watch the video of Hue Jackson’s victory speech, and keep an eye out for Thomas on the right hand side. This man has been through so much shit—and save the nonsense about how much he gets paid. In an era where players can essentially dictate where they play and when, Thomas has stayed in Cleveland, remaining so loyal that he defended guys like Pat Shurmer. There were a lot of absurd draft position-based takes following the Browns’ win, all of them rendered more absurd by Thomas, who was driven to tears by a single, solitary win. Think of this next time you treat these guys like number-producing robots.
WINNER: Tramon Williams Sr.
A whipping boy around these parts for much of 2016, Williams was stellar on Saturday, allowing just three of his seven targets to be caught, yielding just 36 yards. He was as big of a player in Horton’s “win” as anyone, and he would’ve been the last member of the starting unit I would’ve selected before the game to have such a role.
WINNER: Jamie Meder
Three quarterback hits, two hurries and the biggest blocked field goal this side of Travis Coons. Ashland Eagle Jamie Meder did much more than the play that saved the season, but damn if that blocked field goal wasn’t huge.
WINNERS: Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson
While the total numbers won’t be overly impressive—23 combined carries for 72 yards—both Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson provided just enough balance to keep the Chargers guessing. Crowell being able to get into the end zone twice gave the Browns more points than they had scored in six other games, and Johnson’s work in the open field (including two catches for 21 yards) was a perfect relief valve.
Bonus points should be awarded to Johnson for this juke. Don’t lead with your head, kids.
WINNERS: The San Francisco 49ers
For all of the hand-wringing and consternation surrounding draft position (as if solid players aren’t available at No. 2), the San Francisco 49ers saved the day with their one-point win over the Los Angeles Rams.
LOSERS: Anyone who was really looking forward to that 0-16 “parade”
Sorry, you guys. Maybe next year.