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Browns Browns Archive The Year This Week Didn't Suck: Week 1
Written by Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight

Jeff Garcia2012 marks the Browns’ 14th season since limping back into the NFL in 1999. While these previous 13 years have been...let's just leave it at “disappointing”, there have been a handful of little McNuggets of promise.

In fact, if you put all said McNuggets together, you’d have one fantastic season. Not with Paul Brown’s dominant teams of the 1950s or the Kardiac Kids or the Bernie Kosar teams, but with...egads!...the new Browns. Sort of a hypothetical dream season consisting of the table scraps from a 13-year nightmare.

Thus, with the current edition of the Browns all set to continue the amazing incompetence of the previous 13, one way we can try to get through it (besides alcohol and smack) is to look back at the best individual weeks of the Browns’ new era to remember a time in recent memory when this particular week didn’t suck.

It’s pathetic how easy it was to pick this first one.

Since the Browns’ return, they’ve played 13 season openers and lost 12 of them - 11 on their home field. Yum.

But the lone exception was a doozy.

Like this year, against the backdrop of a bitter presidential race in which Ohio was a regretfully (for us) important swing state, the Browns opened the 2004 campaign against the Baltimore Ravens, then as now, a perennial playoff team.

Interestingly, the 2004 season marked one of the few crossroads the new Browns have encountered. After they reached the playoffs in a quasi-exciting 2002 campaign, the 2003 season turned into the kind of catastrophic bus crash we now know so well as the Browns dropped to 5-11. 2004 would prove whether ’02 or ’03 was closer to reality.

Not only had it been 10 years since the Browns won on opening day, but they’d lost their last three openers on field goals in the final seconds - all before optimistic home crowds. Understandably, we had already developed an emotional complex about opening day.

And adding even more intrigue - and potential for disappointment - this game marked the beginning of the Browns’ Jeff Garcia era. Which, in and of itself in retrospect, isn't all that remarkable. The following year marked the beginning of the Trent Dilfer era, the year after that marked the beginning of the Charlie Frye era, so on and so forth up to Colt McCoy last year, Brandon Weeden this year and - as we are silently preparing for - a player to be named later next year.

That being said, remember when landing Jeff Garcia was a big deal? When we were so thankful that the whole Tim Couch/Kelly Holcomb debacle was finally over? For the first time (and arguably last time) since they’d returned, the Browns would have a bona fide NFL quarterback, one who had led San Francisco to the playoffs twice in the previous three seasons.

Come what may for the remainder of that 2004 season, for one sunshiny September Sunday, Garcia brought us everything we could have hoped for - everything it appeared fourth-year coach Butch Davis needed to bring the disparate pieces of his perpetually undisciplined team together.

But even more surprising on this opening day, the Browns’ defense manned up.

The year before, then-Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis had rolled up an even 500 rushing yards in two games against the Browns. (Take a moment to reflect on how silly that sounds.) Stopping him had become almost a mythic quest for the Browns.

Jamal Lewis 2004But - for that day at least - stop him they did, limiting him to a harmless 57 yards on 20 carries. As it happens, he was actually out-played by Browns’ running back William Green, who picked up 65 yards on 22 carries in one of the last respectable performances of his wildly disappointing career.

With the defense leading the way, the Browns crept to a 3-0 halftime lead, and the defensive battle continued into the second half. Then, with the score tied at three in the final minute of the third quarter, Garcia hit Quincy Morgan for a 46-yard touchdown strike to put the home team up again.

An interception by Anthony Henry set up another field goal midway through the fourth, then the Browns put the game away. Kenard Lang stripped the football from Ravens’ quarterback Kyle Boller on a third-down sack and the Browns recovered at the Baltimore 6. Two plays later, from the 3, Garcia rolled around right end and dove into the end zone for exactly the type of touchdown neither Couch nor Holcomb ever could have scored. Or so we told ourselves.

The final was 20-3 and, silly as it sounds now, it honestly felt like a page had turned for the new-era Browns. They’d out-hit and out-muscled a hard-ass opponent and won a defensive struggle over their former selves.

And in the process, Garcia had provided the type of leadership that had been sorely lacking at quarterback, completing 15 of 24 passes for 180 yards and a 99.3 passer rating. Even better, his primary target was Kellen Winslow Jr. in his pro debut (and as it turned out, his only complete game of the season).

The bright promise of an enjoyable season lay ahead for both Garcia and the Browns.

The Browns were 1-0 for the first time in a decade - and sadly, still the last time.

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