Maybe Derek Anderson was just off his game in the first quarter of Sunday's 27-21 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Maybe he was playing within himself and just made some bad throws.
I saw something different.
I saw a quarterback who might have started to believe his own hype, a QB who was starting to realize that he is the out-of-nowhere feel-good story of the 2007 NFL season. Fans and media have been gushing over the rags-to-riches story of Derek Anderson, about his rocket arm and pocket poise, since late September, and maybe, just maybe, it was all starting to go to his head.
On the heels of a couple of nifty touchdown passes against Houston, including a missile to Kellen Winslow that managed to elude three Texan defenders, Anderson was becoming a prime candidate to start believing that he could pierce masonry with one of his passes.
You could liken it to a golfer who is so impressed with his ability to drive the ball 270 yards, he forgets that if the ball ends up on the next fairway over or in the cattails of a water hazard, it's still a horrible shot.
There is a fine line between good arrogance and bad arrogance in the spotlighted world of NFL quarterbacks. A quarterback has to believe he can make all his throws, even in the face of criticism. He has to believe in his ability to zip the ball into tight coverage when needed. He can't fear the possibility of an interception when he drops back in the pocket.
But he also has to know when such Herculean displays of strength are needed, and when to let off the gas pedal and play it a little more conservatively. He has to remember that the object of the game is to score touchdowns, not impress everyone with his arm strength.
Sunday, Anderson might have dabbled a little too much in arm vanity. And football, like any sport will do sooner or later, served up a slice of humility to the Browns' blossoming QB.
Tim Carter gets an assist on Anderson's first interception for failing to come back to the ball. But Anderson still carelessly winged the ball wide, to a place where it was easy pickings for Cardinal corner Roderick Hood, who snagged the errant pass and cruised 71 yards for the first score of the game. Even if Carter comes back to the ball, that still was probably an interception.
The second interception was more glaring. Anderson was hit as he threw a deep ball to Braylon Edwards, but the ball was thrown into double coverage with the Browns trailing 14-3 and in desperate need of a touchdown, and in even more desperate need of not falling farther behind.
With underneath throws working, as they have more times than not this year, Anderson opted for the jugular in a situation where a kill wasn't needed. The contact Anderson absorbed as he released the ball turned what would have been a dicey play into another brown leather blimp hanging in the sky for a Cardinal defender to snag. Hood again was the opportunist, returning the pick 26 yards.
After watching four years of ultra-conservative and unimaginative playcalling from the Browns, I'm not ever going to say they should abandon the big play, especially when the team finally possesses a quarterback and receivers capable of big hookups. But there is a time and a place for big gambles, and down 14-3, with a delicate momentum swing in your favor, isn't the time. Certainly not into double coverage.
Two picks, a botched snap that led to another turnover, and his failure to put the ball in the end zone in the fourth quarter all add up to Anderson's worst start-to-finish game since becoming the Browns' starting QB in Week 2.
The magic wand Anderson was able to wave in previous comeback situations wasn't there. Even so, the Browns were still one Winslow toe-plant away from winning the game as time expired, proving that these Anderson-led Browns are capable of absorbing a lot of adversity and still give themselves a shot to win many games.
But three turnovers at the hands of their quarterback was simply too much to overcome. And it should have been. Even if Winslow pulls off the miracle touchdown catch, the Browns had no business winning Sunday because they let mistakes ruin a game in which they otherwise battled the Cardinals to a draw.
For the first time since Oakland blocked a last-second field goal in Week 3, Anderson and his gifted arm weren't enough to rescue the Browns from losing to an inferior team. It's a tough lesson for a QB to learn, but one that is necessary.
You can have the kind of arm that would make Nolan Ryan look like Jamie Moyer, but even that isn't going to be enough to overcome the gray matter between your ears.
That is where Derek Anderson, and his teammates, lost Sunday's game.