Browns 17, Falcons 13
The Browns won the game, but the story most of the national media will gravitate toward is "What is wrong with the Falcons?"
Consecutive losses to the Lions and Browns, the NFL's own Laurel and Hardy, has to have sent the Falcons' team morale spiraling downward at an alarming rate.
True, Michael Vick threw two interceptions, then fumbled the ball away in the fourth quarter. But while that was certainly a key ingredient in the shocking upset, it isn't the whole story.
This is the story of the Browns forcing one of the best teams in the league to play their style: slow and ugly.
This will go in the books as an ugly win for the Browns. In all honesty, can the Browns win any other way? When is the last time the Browns won a game you'd term "pretty?"
This game was about the Browns defense standing up to the multitalented Vick. Even though Vick is incredibly dangerous with his legs, Kamerion Wimbley led the pass rush as the Browns flushed Vick out of the pocket all afternoon.
Vick did lead all Atlanta rushers with 74 yards, but the Browns kept him contained enough that they forced him to mostly make plays with his arm. And, history has shown, that is the one area where Vick is vulnerable.
In addition to the interceptions by Brodney Pool and Sean Jones, the Browns secondary, banged up as it is, made several other very nice plays. Brian Russell saved a touchdown with a disruptive dive. Ralph Brown knocked another pass away.
The Cleveland offense looked good in spots, particularly in building a 14-0 first half lead. They only managed another three points all day, but you have to look beyond the numbers to the backbone the Browns showed as Atlanta began creeping back into the game.
Charlie Frye deserves a gold star for the plays he didn't try to make. He was sacked five times, but managed to get rid of the ball on several other occasions when a sack was imminent. He didn't try to force the ball downfield, didn't stick his neck out unnecessarily, and the proof is on the stat sheet: one Cleveland turnover involving Frye, none in the second half.
The one Frye turnover was the the only real head-smacking moment on the day for the Browns offense. In reality, it was offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson who tried to play swashbuckler and go for the throat at the end of the first half.
Instead of taking a knee with two seconds left, already possessing a surprising 14-3 lead, he lined up his wideouts, planning to have Frye throw deep. But Frye never got the pass off, instead fumbling the ball away, and the Falcons tried some Cal-Stanford razzle-dazzle to reach the end zone. They almost did, as a series of laterals got the ball inside the Cleveland 20 before the play was finally wrestled to the ground.
That play was way too risky, and Davidson should have known it.
Beyond that, the Browns did just enough on both sides of the ball to win. The defense gave a solid "B" effort for 60 minutes, the offense minimized their mistakes, even when they stagnated in the second half, and the punting of Dave Zastudil allowed the Browns to play the field position game all afternoon.
Eventually, you'd like to see the Browns be able to paint a masterpiece in victory. But if all they can muster right now is stick figures in tempera fingerpaint, well hey, at least it can go up on the refrigerator.
Up next: Pittsburgh, Sunday, 1 p.m.