Like a bad movie being played on a continuous loop, head coach Eric Mangini decided to revisit the relative salad days of preseason by reintroducing a quarterback controversy for the coming week. Here's what we know. The limits of Mangini's patience is 10 quarters. That's how long he gave his preseason quarterback derby winner Brady Quinn before pulling the plug by inserting Derek Anderson in the game to start the second half. It didn't pay immediate dividends. In fact it didn't pay any dividends, unless you consider that it made a dark and dank situation even more muddled. Anderson moved the team once but threw 3 interceptions in his limited time. You figure out what that means, I've lost the will.
If there's a controversy next week regarding the quarterback slot, it will probably be over who has to start. Being forced to start at quarterback for this team, a team without a running or receiving game, is like being forced to clean the bathroom with a toothbrush after a frat party.
While 3 interceptions in such a short period of time are impressive by even Cleveland standards, Anderson had a few nice moments. Playing in garbage time that seems to be arriving earlier each week, Anderson at least put his team in relative to position to score by driving them down to the Ravens 8-yard line on his second drive.
The drive featured a number of "good Anderson" plays where he avoids the rush and throws down the field followed by a number of "bad Anderson" plays where he inexplicably trips over his feet and misses a mid-range pass. Still, for a moment it was good enough to give fans hope that someday soon a real touchdown might be scored.
Just not on this day. Down 27-0 and apparently deciding that in some sense progress is measured in points, Mangini eschewed 4th and goal from the 12 (yea, they were 1st and goal from the 8) and instead sent out newly-signed kicker Billy Cundiff for a 30-yard field goal. How very Romeo Crennel of Mangini.
As for the rest of the game, at least it fell apart early, dispelling any notion at the outset that it might be competitive and giving fans enough time to get some chores completed.
Taking the opening kick off and moving the ball for a brief moment on their first series, it blew up 5 plays into it when quarterback Brady Quinn was intercepted by cornerback Dominique Foxworth at the Baltimore 37-yard line. Foxworth then lateraled to Ray Lewis who got the ball to the Cleveland 31 yard line. From there, after a perfunctory toying with the Browns' defense on 4th down, Willis McGahee essentially walked into the end zone so unmolested that he could have Twittered his status on the way and just like that the Ravens had a 7-0 lead.
Meanwhile, back on the Ravens side of the ball, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron used the team's second drive to demonstrate not just to the Browns but to the rest of the league that this is a team in full.
Like Artie Lange at a Vegas buffet line, the Ravens marched through the Browns with ease for the drive's first 77 yards but a timely sack of quarterback Joe Flacco forced the Ravens to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka. The drive was greatly aided by the Browns' defense's inability to put pressure on Flacco for most of it and a late hit penalty that will have Mangini poking out his eyeballs when he looks at it on film Monday, but those are just details. The Ravens made it look effortless. The Browns, on the other hand, looked to be using less effort.
Here's a question to ponder so early in the week: on the Browns' next drive, Jerome Harrison had the team's longest run of the season, 17 yards. On first down Quinn quick snapped a quarterback sneak. The question is why? Did he think that Harrison was a yard short of the first down on his run? Was he trying to catch the Ravens napping? Was Maurice Carthon subbing for Brian Daboll as offensive coordinator? The answer isn't all that important except that it is. It was a wasted play against that feasts on wasted plays. Two plays later, the Browns were punting.
But this being about progress and not results, the Harrison run did change field position. Dave Zastudil's punt was downed at the Baltimore 9-yard line. An illegal block penalty put it at the Baltimore 3-yard line. This is the spot in which it would be nice to write that the Browns defense, emboldened by having the Ravens buried deep, tightened and held, forcing the Ravens to punt from their own end zone and giving Cleveland the ball at the Baltimore 45-yard line.
Actually, it was nice to write that, though it would have been nicer if it were true. Instead the Ravens put together another long drive, 92-yards to be exact, before being stopped at the Cleveland 5-yard line. Hauschka hit the 33-yard field goal (which would have been a 23-yarder but for a holding penalty on his first kick) and pushed the score to an even more insurmountable 13-0.
Again, though, this is about progress and from a progress standpoint the Browns defense may have given up two incredibly long drives, 77 yards and 92 yards, back-to-back, but at least they didn't let the Ravens in the end zone. Kudos, I guess, to Rob Ryan.
Where, then, to fit in the Ravens next touchdown, the one that helped make it 20-0 at half? The answer, of course, is somewhere between the 77-yarder and 95-yarder. This one was precisely 80 yards. For those bothering to do the math, that's 4 drives in the first half covering a total of 271 yards. For perspective, that's more yardage than the Browns had in either of the first two games.
The Browns, as usual, didn't find the end zone in the first half. They didn't even come close. Not a whiff. But since this is about progress, call it a draw. They haven't scored a touchdown in the first half of either of their first two games, either.
It's probably best not to get into too much detail about what took place in the second half. The overarching story was Mangini pulling the plug on Quinn and Anderson doing his best to punch his own ticket elsewhere. For the rest of it, let's just put a positive spin on it and acknowledge that not as much progress was made as Mangini had hoped. Here were the highlights:
Sorting through the wreckage, the final stats tell the story in one sense but not in another. The Ravens had 479 yards in offense, the Browns 186. Flacco was 25-35 for 342 yards, Quinn and Anderson were a combined 17-27 for 115 yards. Baltimore had 142 yards on the ground and the Browns had exactly half of that. It would be hard to find a game more lopsided out of the Texas-UTEP game.
As bad as things were last season, the sting of this season is far worse actually. Promised a new direction and a new attitude, most fans didn't even begin to contemplate that that meant backwards and worse. There is no spark or passion on this team as it takes its cue from the emotionally inept Mangini. The players know that theirs is a boat that is drifting listlessly and that Mangini is responsible for the lack of rudder. He put the team in this position offensively by not committing to one quarterback early in preseason and he took an ax to whatever continuity was being built (admittedly not much) by throwing Anderson in when things got tough.
If the Browns really want to fix this mess then they have to set a course and learn to live with it, for all the ups and down that may come. Instead they change direction on a whim and with their third straight blowout loss, find themselves once again going in circles. Apropos to nothing, the New York Jets are 3-0.