October 25, 2003
Belichick Renews Acquaintances With Old Team
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
They are no longer the Browns of Otto Graham, Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly, Brian Sipe, Clay Matthews, or even the immortal Jo Jones.
Now they're the Browns of Al Lerner, Carmen Policy, Butch Davis and Tim Couch. Oops, make that Kelly Holcomb.
The Bill Belichick Browns wear purple uniforms and call themselves the Ravens. You'll find Art Modell right down there at the bottom of the food chain, but Belichick resides at the top of it. The Ravens had their fifteen minutes of fame, and boast a dynamite running back who set the single game rushing record and a linebacker who fought the law and won. Belichick was made to be a scapegoat in the final year the Ravens called Cleveland home, and nearly saw his coaching career go up in flames thanks to the impending franchise move.
Things came full circle for everybody involved. Baltimore won Super Bowl XXXV, Belichick won Super Bowl XXXVI. Modell got his ring, Belichick got his second chance to show that he could actually be a head coach and not just a defensive coordinator.
Now, time has passed, and things are certainly looking a lot better for Belichick than either of his former entities.
Technically, Belichick has no ties with the Ravens, but it is the franchise he used to coach. The Cleveland Browns today are brown in name only (last weekend and those orange jerseys excepted), without the heritage which left in the moving van in 1995. On the official record, Belichick is a former Cleveland Browns head coach, so he is, in a way, going up against his former team this Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
It remains one of the greatest outrages in NFL history. Though the new Cleveland Browns have rejuvenated the city of Cleveland and did make a respectable showing in the postseason last year, the sad fact is that the original Browns should have never left Cleveland. The Dawg Pound, one of the best fan bases in the NFL, managed to survive the four-year interregnum between the departure of the old team and the dawning of the new one.
In the new Browns' brief history, they have played the Patriots three times already. The Patriots hold a 2-1 edge in wins in the series. On their way to six straight regular season wins to close out the 2001 championship season, the Patriots whipped the Browns, 27-16 in the penultimate regular season game at Foxborough Stadium, their most recent meeting with the Browns. Antowain Smith scored on two short rushing touchdowns, and Troy Brown returned a punt 85 yards for a score.
The other win against the new Browns came on October 3, 1999 at Cleveland. Terry Glenn set a Patriot record with 13 catches for 214 yards, including a 54-yard reception for a touchdown from Drew Bledsoe, and the Patriots defeated the expansion Browns, 19-7. A year later, also in Cleveland, reserve quarterback Doug Pedersen led the Browns to a 19-11 win over the Patriots in one of the poorest performances by the Patriots in the Belichick Era.
Despite having a terrific young quarterback in Couch, the position remains unsettled. It was Holcomb who led the Browns on their playoff run last year, as the Browns nearly upset the Steelers in the Divisional round before falling, 33-30. Couch has not been able to take full command of the starting quarterback job since his arrival in 1999 as the top pick in the draft that year. Holcomb is listed as probable on the injury report, but Couch will likely draw the start on Sunday.
The Patriots' main concern on Sunday will be the wide receivers of Cleveland. Kevin Johnson and Dennis Northcutt will draw tight coverage from the Patriot corners. Despite their awesome potential, they only have three touchdowns between them, and Johnson is averaging less than ten yards per catch. If the Browns go to multiple wideout sets, Quincy Morgan and Andre Davis will be the guys in this case. Reserve running back Jamel White is fourth on the team in receptions with 16.
The bulk of the rushing load will fall upon William Green. In seven games thus far this season, Green has amassed 559 yards rushing and an average per carry just under four yards. If Couch can establish a good passing game with his band of wideouts, Green might enjoy a good to great day. But three offensive line starters for Cleveland (C Jeff Faine, G Shaun O\'Hara, T Barry Stokes) are all listed on the injury report as questionable. This would hamper the Browns' chances of establishing a running game right from the get-go.
Defensively, the Browns have three standouts that will bear watching. The left side of the defensive line features end Courtney Brown and tackle Gerard Warren. Both of these guys are recent first round picks. The secondary features Daylon McCutcheon, son of former Ram running back Lawrence McCutcheon and a third round pick in 1999 out of USC. Overall this will be a defense which the Patriot offense can deal with, but Charlie Weis needs to come up with a solid game plan which will, if nothing else, make people forget some of the questionable play calls he made in the late game against Miami last week and at Washington a few weeks back.
On paper, this seems like a solid chance for a Patriot win. Naturally, all the pessimists are screaming "trap game" left and right. At home, weak opponent (Cleveland is 3-4 coming into this contest), fresh off a gut-wrenching overtime win at Miami last week, the chance for letdown is very high.
But Belichick will show his "former team" that he can coach, and coach well. His banged up squad is 5-2, and literally has no right to be 5-2. It would be shocking if Belichick's troops came out flat for Sunday. What with how this season has gone amidst all the injuries and other negative flak surrounding this team, the fact that they are 5-2 right now is a miracle. The Patriots have taken all this adversity and channeled it in the absolute right direction, and that is a tough attitude aimed right at their opponent.
Belichick really has nothing to prove in this game. You won't see Modell in the opponent's owner's box. You'll see Policy, and all he is is a former executive of a team which Bob Kraft has modeled his team after (that team plays out by this Golden Gate way out west, if you cannot remember). You won't see any of Belichick's former players on the other sideline, unless they got there by coincidence.
And he may not toss the headset as high in the air as he did last Sunday if the Patriots win Sunday.
But they are still the Browns, and Belichick badly wants to beat them.
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