AFC North: Willis McGahee

AFC Championship Game rewind: 2008

January, 19, 2014
Jan 19
12:00
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For just the fifth time since the NFL last changed the playoff format in 1990, division rivals will meet in a conference championship game.

Among the four that preceded the 49ers-Seahawks game tonight in Seattle was the Ravens-Steelers meeting five years ago at an electric Heinz Field. It marked the third game that season between the fierce AFC North rivals with nothing less than a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

Here is a look back at that game:

The difference: One of the great defenses in Steelers history intercepted rookie quarterback Joe Flacco three times and also sacked him three times in a 23-14 win. Flacco had played well -- and within himself -- in leading the Ravens to a pair of playoff wins. He played like a rookie against the Steelers, though a defense that had imposed its will on many quarterbacks and a raucous home crowd had plenty to do with Flacco’s performance.

It was over when: Troy Polamalu made the biggest play in a Hall of Fame-worthy career that has been built on them. With the Steelers clinging to 16-14 lead with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Polamalu read Flacco’s eyes and made a leaping, twisting interception after jumping a passing line. The perennial Pro Bowler didn’t stop there. Polamalu weaved his way 40 yards for the touchdown that all but punched Pittsburgh’s ticket to Super Bowl XLIII.

The exclamation point: Ryan Clark provided it after the Polamalu touchdown with a brutal hit on Willis McGahee that resulted in a lost fumble. Clark absolutely leveled McGahee after the Ravens running back had caught a pass over the middle. McGahee left the field on a stretcher, and Clark’s helmet-to-helmet hit did not even draw a flag as it came before the NFL’s crackdown on such plays.

Money quote: “I told that group we have miles to go before we sleep,” coach Mike Tomlin said after the Steelers’ 23-14 win. “A little Robert Frost.”

My take: I have heard Heinz Field get loud plenty of times in my seven seasons covering the Steelers. I will never forget the roar from the crowd when Polamalu picked off Flacco -- and how it built to a crescendo as he returned the interception for a touchdown. The Steelers took control of the game early, and I never got the sense they were in trouble even though they let the Ravens hang around. There was no way that one-for-the-ages defense was going to let a rookie quarterback beat the Steelers at home.
It’s come to this with the Cleveland Browns as they stagger to the finish line of another dreary season: Kellen Winslow made news in Cleveland with something he said.

As if that’s never happened before.

“Winslow, he plays for the Jets, don’t he?” said Willis McGahee, a former teammate of Winslow’s at the University of Miami.

He does, and he told ESPNNewYork.com that he doesn’t believe anyone in the league can cover him. Then he added: “Who’s going to guard me over there? Nobody.”

“It’s funny,” cornerback Joe Haden said with a smile. “What would you expect him to say? Is he gonna say, ‘Yeah those dudes are gonna cover me.’ I don’t know him that well, but hearing about his personality, that sounds like the kind of thing he’s going to say.”

Cleveland folks are used to Winslow, who is apt to say almost anything about his abilities.

“He’s thought that for years,” said coach Rob Chudzinski, who coached Winslow in Cleveland and Miami. “That’s the confidence that you want football players to have.”

The two guys who will see the most of Winslow also treated it with a grain of (Cargill) salt.

“I saw it,” safety T.J. Ward said. “It’s irrelevant. Your play speaks.”

Calvin Johnson said that, it’s different,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “No, in all respect .... we’re already going in there [wanting to] showcase our dominance. He can say what he wants to say. He’s still got to go out there and perform. What he does Sunday, I guess, will tell it all.”

Gipson said some players joked about the remarks during practice, but it was never a focal point of discussion. Ward made reference to Winslow’s status as an aging veteran.

“He’s a decent tight end,” Ward said. “He was good in his heyday. He’s a little past his prime, but he’s still a good tight end.”

Ward called it an interesting league with a lot of characters, but both Ward and Gipson said they feel the same way that Winslow does, except in reverse. They both feel they can cover anybody.

“Absolutely, and I respect that he feels that way,” Gipson said. “You have to feel that way.”

“You should have that confidence that your’e unstoppable,” Ward said. “Just like I have that confidence that I can stop anybody. If you didn’t have that confidence, you wouldn’t be a player in this league. You wouldn’t be here. I don’t think there was any shots fired. It was just how he felt. You have to respect it, but at the same time you got to go out there and play football.”
The Browns will be without guard John Greco and running back Willis McGahee in practice today.

Greco sprained his right medial collateral ligament on the first play of the game in New England when his foot caught in the turf. He tried to stay in the game, but was not effective. The Browns will see how his week goes, but it does not seem likely he will face Chicago on Sunday

Jason Pinkston replaced Greco in New England and would replace him against the Bears as well.

“We’ll see as we go along what his (Greco’s) status is,” coach Rob Chudzinski said.

McGahee suffered a concussion on a goal-line run in the fourth quarter. He was sent home Wednesday and must pass the NFL concussion protocols before returning. His return for Sunday seems very doubtful. The Browns signed Edwin Baker off the Houston practice squad.

Quarterback Brandon Weeden, meanhwhile, has been cleared to practice. Weeden has been sidelined since he received a concussion nine days ago against Jacksonville.

Chudzinski would not say whether Weeden or Alex Tanney would be the backup quarterback against the Bears.

“There’s some things that Brandon has to clear this week,” Chudzinski said.

On the run game -- or lack thereof

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
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There may have been many good and wise reasons for the Cleveland Browns to trade Trent Richardson.

In Indianapolis, Richardson has provided no reason whatsoever to make the Browns lament the deal. Nor did he do anything for the Browns to make the team think trading him would be foolish, or that a first-round pick in return was (as they now say) good value.

But that doesn’t mean the Browns' running game isn’t shorted without him.

A year ago, Richardson ran for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie -- while he played with broken ribs. Eight hundred yards and five touchdowns would look joyful for the Browns' run game right now.

The team’s leading rusher is Willis McGahee; he has 287 yards and is averaging 2.6 per carry. Chris Ogbonnaya is second; he has 196 yards (and a 6.3-yard average, which is why he’s playing more than McGahee).

[+] EnlargeWillis McGahee
Peter Aiken/Getty ImagesWillis McGahee is the Cleveland Browns' leading rusher with 287 yards.
McGahee ranks 50th in the NFL, Ogbonnaya 66th.

The Browns have had 91 yards or less as a team in six of the last eight games. In one of the two they had more than 91, they had a 45-yard reverse from Travis Benjamin.

The point: The backs aren’t getting much done.

They rank 28th in the league with 81 yards per game. They rank 29th at 21.4 carries, 26th at 3.8 yards per carry and 32nd with one stinking rushing touchdown. That’s one. O-n-e. All season.

The NFL may be morphing into a passing league, as Joe Thomas tells us. But there are times when a team needs to run the ball. Pittsburgh’s run game ranks lower than the Browns, but rookie Le’Veon Bell ran well and hard in the win on Sunday. When the Steelers needed a carry from him, he usually provided positive yards.

The Browns can’t say that. And that, combined with the fact they’ve fallen behind the past two weeks, led to them throwing 57 and 52 passes against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh respectively.

That is simply not a way to win.

The point can be made that the run game might be the exact same with Richardson. It would be hard to argue it the way he’s not running with the Colts.

It’s easy, too, to say that the decision to keep Fozzy Whittaker over Bobby Rainey was a mistake. But Rainey did little to justify staying in Cleveland, and after a big game for the Bucs against Atlanta he carried 18 times for 35 yards against Detroit.

In the offseason, team CEO Joe Banner admitted there would be positions this season where the team simply would not be able to fill its needs; that it was impossible to address everything in one offseason. He also said the team would be well aware of this.

Presumably the team is well aware of its issues at running back.

It’s easy to call the NFL a passing league, but most teams that depend on the pass have guys named Brady or Stafford or Roethlisberger or Manning or Brees or Luck.

A team that’s started three quarterback and is on the verge of its fourth change at the position that doesn’t even have a 300-yard back ... well, that’s trouble.

Big trouble.

And probably why offensive coordinator Norv Turner over and over has called this situation unique and something he’s never dealt with before.

No doubt he hopes to never deal with it again.

On the run game -- or lack thereof

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
10:53
AM ET
There may have been many good and wise reasons for the Cleveland Browns to trade Trent Richardson.

In Indianapolis, Richardson has provided no reason whatsoever to make the Browns lament the deal. Nor did he do anything for the Browns to make the team think trading him would be foolish, or that a first-round pick in return was (as they now say) good value.

But that doesn’t mean the Browns' running game isn’t shorted without him.

A year ago, Richardson ran for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns as a rookie -- while he played with broken ribs. Eight hundred yards and five touchdowns would look joyful for the Browns' run game right now.

The team’s leading rusher is Willis McGahee; he has 287 yards and is averaging 2.6 per carry. Chris Ogbonnaya is second; he has 196 yards (and a 6.3-yard average, which is why he’s playing more than McGahee).

[+] EnlargeWillis McGahee
Peter Aiken/Getty ImagesWillis McGahee is the Cleveland Browns' leading rusher with 287 yards.
McGahee ranks 50th in the NFL, Ogbonnaya 66th.

The Browns have had 91 yards or less as a team in six of the last eight games. In one of the two they had more than 91, they had a 45-yard reverse from Travis Benjamin.

The point: The backs aren’t getting much done.

They rank 28th in the league with 81 yards per game. They rank 29th at 21.4 carries, 26th at 3.8 yards per carry and 32nd with one stinking rushing touchdown. That’s one. O-n-e. All season.

The NFL may be morphing into a passing league, as Joe Thomas tells us. But there are times when a team needs to run the ball. Pittsburgh’s run game ranks lower than the Browns, but rookie Le’Veon Bell ran well and hard in the win on Sunday. When the Steelers needed a carry from him, he usually provided positive yards.

The Browns can’t say that. And that, combined with the fact they’ve fallen behind the past two weeks, led to them throwing 57 and 52 passes against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh respectively.

That is simply not a way to win.

The point can be made that the run game might be the exact same with Richardson. It would be hard to argue it the way he’s not running with the Colts.

It’s easy, too, to say that the decision to keep Fozzy Whittaker over Bobby Rainey was a mistake. But Rainey did little to justify staying in Cleveland, and after a big game for the Bucs against Atlanta he carried 18 times for 35 yards against Detroit.

In the offseason, team CEO Joe Banner admitted there would be positions this season where the team simply would not be able to fill its needs; that it was impossible to address everything in one offseason. He also said the team would be well aware of this.

Presumably the team is well aware of its issues at running back.

It’s easy to call the NFL a passing league, but most teams that depend on the pass have guys named Brady or Stafford or Roethlisberger or Manning or Brees or Luck.

A team that’s started three quarterback and is on the verge of its fourth change at the position that doesn’t even have a 300-yard back ... well, that’s trouble.

Big trouble.

And probably why offensive coordinator Norv Turner over and over has called this situation unique and something he’s never dealt with before.

No doubt he hopes to never deal with it again.

Upon Further Review: Browns week 11

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
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A review of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 41-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

Injury report: Inside linebacker Craig Robertson had an MRI on an injured knee today. Robertson hurt the knee in the first half, and though he tried to return he could not stay in the game. He has started aside D'Qwell Jackson all season. Tank Carder replaced Robertson against the Bengals.

Gordon
Ogbonnaya
Play count: It might mean nothing because the Browns fell behind in the second quarter and had to throw a lot (Jason Campbell threw 56 passes). But Chris Ogbonnaya was on the field for 46 plays and Willis McGahee was on the field for just 13. Ogonnaya also was the Browns' leading rusher in yards and attempts. The Browns won’t give up on McGahee, but they might be moving more toward Ogbonnaya.

Boggles the mind: In the second quarter the Bengals had the ball for 3:42. The Browns had it for 11:18. Cincinnati scored 31 points, the Browns 0. That's what happens when a punt is blocked, another tipped, and the offense commits two turnovers. Those four plays were the difference between a close game and a 21-point loss.

To the points: Every point scored in the game went to the North end zone, away from the Ohio River. Why that was the case remains a mystery. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski gestured palms up when asked, as if to say he didn’t know. The wind was from the South, Chudzinski said, but it wasn’t significant enough to affect the game to the point that all the scoring would have been in one direction. To Chudzinski it was just one of those quirks of the game.

Sputtering run game enough for Browns

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner discussed the Browns' running game today -- or lack thereof -- and provided a little more insight as to why the team and the coaching staff are satisfied, for now, with its limited production.

The Browns rank 27th in the league in overall rushing with 734 yards in nine games, and they rank 27th in yards per carry with 3.7. Just about two-thirds of their offense comes via the passing game. They have one rushing touchdown, which ranks last.

In their last game, a win against Baltimore, Willis McGahee led the team with 31 yards on 21 carries. Since running for 72 yards on 26 carries in a win against Buffalo, McGahee has rushed for 37, 39, 28 and 31 yards -- and he leads the team in rushing. The best game in that stretch was a 45-yard effort, and it came from wide receiver Travis Benjamin on one carry on a reverse.

[+] EnlargeWillis McGahee
Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsRunning back Willis McGahee hasn't been churning out big yardage, but the Browns keep feeding him the ball to keep defenses honest.
The Browns will live with it, and keep managing it.

Turner said the Browns can work with what they’re getting because it poses enough of a threat to make the play-action passing effective.

In Turner’s offense, play-action passing is vital.

That’s why Turner keeps calling running plays even when he’s not getting a lot of yards. McGahee wasn’t averaging less than 1.5 yards per carry against Baltimore, but he kept getting the ball. It’ s the old belief that the number of carries in a game might be more important than the yards gained.

Turner said the Browns have to play that way, if only to keep defenses honest.

“That’s kind of where the run game has gone to in the NFL,” said left tackle Joe Thomas, who has become quite vocal about how irrelevant a sustained run game is in the NFL. “It’s not about getting points or yards per carry or anything like that, because you just don’t put up a lot of points running the ball anymore.

“It’s more about setting up your passing opportunities with the run game, and making the defense still respect it so you have opportunities to throw the ball down the field to get those chunk plays in the passing game. Nobody in the NFL wins games by running anymore.”

This from an offensive lineman from Wisconsin, where running the ball is sacred.

McGahee, a running back, went even further.

“It’s not football right now,” he said.

McGahee said he’s seen things change, though. He was in Denver when Tim Tebow ran the read-option and receivers had to adjust.

Now running backs have to adjust.

“The game changes, man,” he said. “You got the little backs coming and running the routes now. It’s rare that your’e going to go out and pound the ball. I think it all comes back in a circle.

“Eventually you need that run game to come back alive.”

Time ... as they often say ... will tell.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 9

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
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An examination of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 24-18 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesJason Campbell put together a steady performance on Sunday in leading Cleveland to a victory.
In the hunt ... for real: Don’t look now, but the Browns are 4-5. In many cities, this would be a disappointment. In Cleveland it exceeds expectations. Few thought the Browns would enter the bye week in the midst of a wild-card chase. But it’s happened, in part because there aren’t many strong records in the wild-card group. Seven AFC teams have either four or five losses, and the Browns are one of them.

Why it matters: The Browns haven’t had a 4-5 start since 2007, which is also the last year they beat Baltimore. And Sunday’s win gave the Browns four wins over defending Super Bowl champions in the past six seasons. For a team that has won 23 games in five seasons coming into 2013, this is progress.

Where in the world ... : The Jason Campbell who has played quarterback for the Browns the past two games is a bit of a revelation -- not to overstate anything, of course. But his calm, placid personality belies his competitiveness. Campbell played through serious pain and discomfort after 340-pound Haloti Ngata fell on him in the first quarter. He would not be taken out of the game, and he made some outstanding throws. This is the Campbell Oakland saw for six games in 2011, but it’s also a Campbell nobody has seen since, including the Bears, who had no interest in bringing him back after last season.

Running on empty: Talk about a passing league. Neither Baltimore nor the Browns did anything in the run game. Willis McGahee was the leading rusher with 31 yards -- on 21 carries. Joe Flacco led the Ravens as Ray Rice averaged a career-low 1.5 yards on his 11 carries. Both quarterbacks had their team’s longest run. At least the Browns kept running. McGahee’s 21 carries continue an NFL trend -- when a team has a back that carries the ball 20 times, it wins three of four times.
videoCLEVELAND -- Cleveland Browns quarterback Jason Campbell played in Sunday's 24-18 victory against the Baltimore Ravens in extreme discomfort.

After the game, Campbell had X-rays on his ribs. He judged based on his experience that they were not broken, but results of the X-rays will be announced probably on Monday. The chance he has broken ribs remains.

“I kept telling [the team] to just give me time because my ribs were really bothering and hurting me,” Campbell said. “It was bothering me on a couple of throws. I really wanted to cut it loose and it was kind of grabbing me. I couldn’t really get what I wanted to put on the ball as far as speed and accuracy sometimes.

“But this league is all about pressing on.”

Campbell was hurt in the first quarter when he scrambled for a short gain. At the end of the run, Baltimore's mammoth defensive tackle Haloti Ngata tried to jump over a teammate, but tripped and his momentum put his entire 340 pounds on top of Campbell. To make it worse, the ball was between Campbell and the ground, which exaggerated the blow.

“I felt that one,” Campbell said. “I’m not even gonna tell you what was in my mind. That one was big.”

Though Ngata was penalized, nobody thought the hit was dirty. Campbell said Ngata came to him after the game to apologize. Ngata told the Browns quarterback he jumped so his teammate didn’t hit his legs, which caused the hit.

“Haloti is in the air while Jason Campbell is in the air,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Jason’s running and because he ends up landing on him it’s hard for me to understand why that’s called.”

“He’s not a dirty player,” Campbell said of Ngata. “He’s a really good, standup football player.”

That Campbell had the game he did with the physical problems he had was all the more impressive. He finished 23-for-35 with three touchdowns, no interceptions and 262 yards. He guided the Browns on a 6:30 drive in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory. On the drive, he scrambled for a first down on third down, hit Chris Ogbonnaya for 17 yards on second down and found Ogbonnaya again for 14. He also scrambled from the blitz to find a sliding Davone Bess for a fourth-and-1 conversion at the Baltimore 40 with just more than two minutes remaining.

That pass was the biggest play of the game.

“I’m not even sure I call the play right,” Campbell said with a smile.

But on that play, Campbell was again hit in the ribs as he threw. As he lay on the ground in pain, running back Willis McGahee came over.”

“We’re the old guys on the team,” Campbell said. “All I could hear was him, ‘Get up! Get up! I’m hurting, you got to get up.’ I was like, ‘Give me 10 seconds. I can’t even breathe here.’”

If Campbell has an injury that lingers, he’ll have an extra week to heal because the Browns have a bye. That would be good news to the team, because Campbell has stepped into the quarterback spot and played beyond every expectation.

In two starts, he’s thrown for 554 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

More important, his calm demeanor combined with an inner confidence seems to bring something the team needs, and appreciates.

Which is why he’d be missed if he is hurt worse than he thought. Campbell is basing his diagnosis on his experience.

The Browns will hold their breaths on the results of the X-rays.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 8

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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A review of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 23-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsBrowns receiver Josh Gordon, who has been rumored to be on the trading block, celebrates a TD Sunday against the Chiefs.
Calming the waters: Jason Campbell soothed some nerves with the way he played against the Chiefs. Campbell threw for just short of 300 yards and had a passer rating well over 100 in the loss. Rarely has a guy on his fourth team in eight years provided such a soothing presence with one game, but the state of Browns' quarterbacking was such that this game from Campbell was badly needed. And accepted.

Trade talk: Josh Gordon only has to live for one more day with the trade rumors that he’s going to be sent elsewhere. Gordon only enhanced his value against the Chiefs, with five catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. At this point, it’s almost as if his value will never be higher. "There’s really nothing more to be said about it," Gordon said. "I know just as much as all of you guys know. When it happens or if it doesn't happen, we'll know at the same time." The constant rumors have weighed on Gordon, and the team. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said he can’t wait for the deadline to pass.

Long won’t they run: The Browns continue to struggle to run the ball, as they totaled 57 yards on 15 carries in Kansas City. With Campbell starting his first game in two years, the Browns called 36 passes and 12 runs (three of their runs were scrambles by the quarterback). Coach Rob Chudzinski wants balance, but with Willis McGahee and Fozzy Whittaker the guys to turn to, balance could be difficult to achieve.

Aggressive aproach: Say this for Chudzinski -- he is not afraid to take a chance. He went for the first down for the 17th time on fourth down this season, and made it to set up a touchdown. Add in the trick plays -- the Browns' first touchdown came on a flea-flicker -- and the fake punts, and it’s evident Chudzinski is letting his team know he’s not afraid to take a chance on their behalf. The 17 fourth-down attempts lead the league.
Eddie Lacy and Brandon WeedenUSA TODAY SportsThe Packers may have to rely more on their run game, while Browns QB Brandon Weeden seeks to recover from a forgettable outing.
The Green Bay Packers have made it past a difficult stretch in which they played four playoff teams from last season in their first five games.

And they came out of it with a respectable 3-2 record.

The Cleveland Browns, despite going from Brandon Weeden to Brian Hoyer and now back to Weeden at quarterback, also aren't out of anything yet at 3-3.

ESPN.com Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and Browns reporter Pat McManamon break down the matchup:

McManamon: Rob, what will Green Bay do at receiver with all those injuries, and how much will it affect the offense?

Demovsky: It's bound to have a significant impact. Randall Cobb more or less became the focal point of the passing game last season and if anything, that intensified this season. Sure, he's only a slot receiver and the Packers still have the deep threat of Jordy Nelson on the outside. But in this offense, a lot of those quick-hit passes -- especially against teams that blitz -- are directed to the inside. No team used more three-receiver sets than the Packers had until Cobb went down last week against the Ravens. They had used a three-receiver set on 90 percent of their snaps. That number likely will go down beginning this week against the Browns. They might have to rely on their new-found running game more than ever. But with fewer threats in the passing game, teams might be able to load up to stop running back Eddie Lacy.

The Browns have offensive issues of their own, Pat. Brandon Weeden's turnovers in the loss to the Lions looked like killers, especially that backhanded, underhand flip. How can they get him to play smarter?

McManamon: That backhanded, underhand flip will live for a long time in the annals of Cleveland Browns misplays since 1999, Rob. A lengthy list just got longer. As for getting him to play smarter, that's the challenge. And the challenge has gone on for 18 starts. Weeden actually started fairly well as a 29-year-old rookie, but he struggled the end of last season and this season he's played in fits and starts. Which of course won't be good enough against Green Bay. With Brian Hoyer injured, the Browns have few other options -- it's not like Tom Brady is on the streets waiting for a job -- so they will stick with Weeden. But you have to wonder whether the Browns aren't coming to the conclusion that what they see is what he'll be when it comes to this 30-year-old quarterback.

Rob, Weeden does not read the rush well and does not move well. The Packers are ninth in the league in sacks. Is that yet another bad recipe for Weeden and the Browns offense?

Demovsky: It remains to be seen whether they can keep up their sack pace. They did it without Clay Matthews last week, getting five sacks at Baltimore, but now they're going to be without another outside rusher, Nick Perry. Matthews and Perry each have three sacks on the season, which ties A.J. Hawk for the team lead. At some point, those injuries have to slow down their pass rush. The one thing that's helping them is they're playing the run very well, probably the best they have since they led the league in rushing defense in 2009. After shutting down Ray Rice last week, they're up to third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (78.2). That's putting teams in a lot of third-and-long situations, which allows defensive coordinator Dom Capers to blitz. That's how Hawk got all three of his sacks against the Ravens.

Perhaps the Browns can help protect Weeden if they run the ball effectively to keep the Packers from rushing like crazy. What are their prospects for doing that?

McManamon: Running the ball would protect Weeden. But it helps to have a ... well ... a running game. At present, the Browns are in make-do mode with the running game, and as the season continues that will more and more become a problem. Since the trade of Trent Richardson the Browns have relied on aging Willis McGahee, young Bobby Rainey and fullback Chris Ogbonnaya. These guys give effort, but there's only so much they can give. McGahee can't run outside, Rainey is inexperienced and Ogbonnaya is what he is. The Browns rank 22nd in the league by running for 86.8 yards per game -- though they are averaging 3.9 yards per carry. If the Browns want to run, they will have to commit to it and pound it out, something I am not sure they can do.

Rob, the Browns have had 19 starting quarterbacks since 1999 -- and it appears next year or soon after that number will hit 20. Do the Packers and their fans realize just how fortunate they have been these many years to have Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers?

Demovsky: They should. There are only a handful of organizations who can say they've had the kind of quarterback transition that the Packers had. The 49ers with Joe Montana to Steve Young come to mind. Maybe the Colts have that now with Andrew Luck following Peyton Manning. Not only was Favre a great quarterback, but he was there week in and week out. Rodgers is pretty much the same way. Those guys rarely get injured and when they do, they still play.

Most Packers fans here are still fond of Mike Holmgren, for leading them to the Super Bowl XXXI title. His tenure with as a Browns executive was much shorter. What impact, if any, did he have on the organization?

McManamon: Let's just say the feelings for Holmgren are a lot warmer in Green Bay -- odd as that sounds -- than in Cleveland. Many fans feel Holmgren's epitaph with the Browns should be "As a president, he was a great coach." A lot of that is frustration at constant losing. Some is frustration at the job title and salary scale Randy Lerner gave Holmgren. More still that Holmgren never took on the coaching duties himself. On balance, Holmgren's tenure was no worse than many, and better than some. He and GM Tom Heckert brought in some good players who are helping the team win now. But with any regime change comes more change, and Joe Banner has gotten rid of some of Holmgren's guys -- notably Richardson. Holmgren's biggest gamble was selecting a quarterback in the first round a year ago who is now 30. But Weeden clearly would have been helped by more continuity in the front office.

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Cleveland Browns running back Willis McGahee was not practicing Thursday as the team prepared for Sunday’s game in Green Bay, but the Browns said it's no big deal.

McGahee rode a bike early in practice, and worked on the side as the team worked on the field. The team said it is just giving McGahee a day off to rest his surgically repaired knee.

The team believes he will play in Green Bay, though he will probably be on the injury report the rest of the season.

McGahee leads the team with 164 yards on 59 carries. He signed with the team after the trade of Trent Richardson. Without him, the running game would come down to Chris Ogbonnaya, Bobby Rainey and Fozzy Whitaker against the league’s fourth-ranked run defense. Thus the Browns are trying to make sure McGahee gets to Sundays.

“We have an unusual situation, and we’re making the best out of it,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “McGahee is giving us plays. Ogbonnaya is giving us plays. Bobby’s giving us some plays. Now we’re going to use Fozzy a little bit and see how he does. No question it’s a group effort.”

McGahee is not a great back, but he makes tough runs and runs hard. Turner said a week ago his ability to gain 3 or 4 yards on a carry had given the offense a fair amount of confidence. He ran 26 times in the win over Buffalo.

The Browns ran well in the first half against Detroit, but they did so little offensively in the second half they sustained nothing passing or running.

Any struggles in the running game would play right into the hands of Dom Capers and the Packers. He likes to shut down the run, then use creative and different blitzes to attack the quarterback, which will add to Brandon Weeden’s already significant challenge.
A question about the Cleveland Browns confidence in quarterback Brandon Weeden after the play against Detroit was put to defensive lineman Desmond Bryant today.

“Which play?” he asked.

The Browns circled the wagons around their quarterback, with not a hint of criticism or doubt emerging. Teammates said they understood Weeden simply made a mistake with his backward flip.

“He’s a professional in this league,’” Bryant said. “He’s one of my teammates. I believe in his ability and obviously so does the rest of the team. That’s why he’s out there playing.

“Not everybody’s going to have great plays every play. You can’t win them all. I don’t have perfect plays every play. There’s times where I don’t do what I’m supposed to do and I don’t execute like I want to. So I understand that’s going to happen to him as it happens to everybody out there. His are a little more magnified, scrutinized, whatever.

“He’s still our quarterback. He’s one of the leaders of this team. I’m always going to ride with him.”

Joe Thomas was more succinct.

His support is “unwavering,” he said.

Ditto with running back Willis McGahee.

“It’s just a fact that everybody is pointing at that interception he threw,” McGahee said. “But that’s part of the game, and we got his back. So no worries over here.”

Quentin Groves agreed, and his support matched what sounds like the very mature approach of his teammates.

“We all make those plays,” Groves said. “It just happens that the plays he makes are amplified a lot because he’s the quarterback. He’s been under so much scrutiny that any little thing that he does wrong everybody wants to jump on his back about it.”

That goes with the territory, of course. A quarterback gets the fame, the adulation and the money when things go well. When a team struggles, he gets the blame.

An NFL adage is that when a team wins the quarterback spreads the credit, but when it loses he takes the blame.

“When your mental toughness is tested your character comes out,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on a conference call. “You learn how to move forward from those things. You have to go through it. We all did. You have to learn from those things, be critical of yourself every week and realize it’s part of the territory that comes with playing quarterback.”
A lot of Cleveland Browns players said they didn't see Brandon Weeden's backhand, underhand flip that resulted in a fourth-quarter interception.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Tony Dejak/AP PhotoCleveland Browns QB Brandon Weeden walks off the field looking dejected following a 31-17 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
They might want to prepare, because the next time they see it outside the team’s film room it will play to the tune of “Yakety Sax.”

Ya-da, da-da-da-da ...

In a game in which Weeden could have made a forward move to reclaim his spot as the Browns quarterback now and in the future, he wound up with a play for the lowlight reel. For years to come.

“It was a boneheaded play,” Weeden said.

Credit him for candor.

Not only did it kill the Browns' fourth-quarter drive when they had a chance to tie the game, it raised the semi-dormant questions about field awareness and smarts in clutch performances that have dogged Weeden this season. It was the kind of play that could cause a team to wonder about its quarterback.

“It’s on me,” Weeden said of the high flip that was intercepted by DeAndre Levy at midfield with 4:36 left and the Browns down seven.

Weeden said he was trying to throw the ball away, but it was about as bad a play as any quarterback can make. He had his back to the line of scrimmage, his feet pointed toward the other end zone, his body twisted just outside the hashmark as he tried to flip the ball over the head of Chris Ogbonnaya, who was 12 yards ahead of Weeden standing at the sideline.

As he threw, C.J. Mosley was at Weeden’s ankles. But the guy who had been schooled so much and so hard to avoid a sack did just that -- and in trying to avoid a sack he made a far more foolish play.

“I have no answer for it,” running back Willis McGahee said. “You have to ask him what he was thinking.”

“I would just have to look at the tape,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “All I saw was kind of the end of the play so I didn’t really see what was developing out there at the time.”

Several other players said they didn’t see it. Maybe they didn’t want to discuss it.

“It all happened so fast,” Weeden said. “Trying to make a play. You want to be smart and don’t take a sack. I just have to fall on it. Take a sack and move on.”

Especially because it was first down. Weeden even had a chance earlier in the play to make a more traditional throw to Ogbonnaya, or to throw the ball away. He moved left, and made it harder.

The play seemed to go in slow motion live, but it took about five seconds for Weeden to take the snap and do the reverse shovel (with a twist). He originally looked to Josh Gordon, then to Cameron. Mosley chased him as he moved left and flipped.

“He tried to make a play,” said safety Louis Delmas. “Obviously the play didn’t turn out to his favor.”

Obviously.

Weeden played a role in the Browns taking a 17-7 lead at halftime, just like he played a role in the offense stumbling through the third and most of the fourth quarter. The Browns tried to rally around him after the game, but that play will not be a pleasant one to watch in front of the rest of the team.

“We’re still behind him,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “He’s still the guy.”

“At the end of the day, we’re all in this together.” McGahee said. “You can’t blame it on one person.”

Not the game, but Weeden was clearly singularly responsible for the play that might just go down with Dwayne Rudd’s helmet toss and other infamous Browns boneheaded plays that haunt fans. Instead of one more for the record books, Weeden provided another for the annals.

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