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Browns Browns Archive The Year This Week Didn't Suck: Week 3
Written by Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight

browns steelers 2000As we struggle to survive another season with the new-era Browns, one way we can try to get through it (besides alcohol and heavy medication) is to look back at the best individual weeks of the Browns’ new era to remember times in recent memory when this particular week didn’t suck.

Oftentimes, in the aftermath of complete disaster brought on by a series of massive miscalculations, it’s fascinating to look back at those fleeting moments just before everything began to fall apart and try to understand why it was expected to work.

You can envision the optimism and energy of the Confederate army at Gettysburg right before storming out of the woods for Pickett’s Charge. Or exactly what John McCain’s campaign staffers were thinking when they advised him to go with Sarah Palin.

For the new Browns, that moment was Week 3 of the 2000 season. For that one afternoon, drunk off their asses with false optimism, they could see a bright future lying just over the horizon. As it turned out, in the history of wrongness, this expectation remains legendary.

But even still, that one moment prior to the shit hitting the fan was pretty spectacular.

It was clear in the first two weeks of the season that notable progress had been made following the 2-14 campaign of 1999. The Browns had hung in with a powerful Jacksonville team on opening day before running out of gas, then dominated the Bengals the following week in the first-ever game at Paul Brown Stadium. Step-by-step, it appeared the Browns were getting there. 

The Steelers would come to town for the third game, and nobody had forgotten what happened the last time they visited - the 43-0 reality-check in the new Browns’ first game the previous September that literally altered the course of the franchise’s mindset for that inaugural season.

Eight more losses would follow at brand-new Cleveland Browns Stadium - not yet a bona fide Factory of Sadness - and fans were beginning to get antsy, since it was now nearly five full years since the Browns had won a game in Cleveland. The team’s next milestone had to be delivering a win to their home fans, and the longer they made them wait, the more important the milestone became.

On a perfect afternoon for football, the Browns came out on fire, again looking light years better than the team that had only managed 40 total yards for the game against the Steelers a year earlier. With newly acquired running back Errict Rhett ripping holes in Pittsburgh’s line, the Browns scored touchdowns on their first two possessions, both on Tim Couch scoring passes as pretty as the day.

Quick as a wink, it was 14-0, and as fullback Marc Edwards flexed his torso at the delirious Dawg Pound after the second touchdown, Chris Palmer’s tenure as Browns’ head coach reached its summit. The Browns’ offense looked unstoppable, brilliantly mixing the run and the pass with players who genuinely looked as if they belonged in the NFL. Most importantly, the Browns were dominating a bitter rival who had ripped their nipples off with fish hooks on this same field 54 weeks earlier. The next milestone appeared in sight.

Not surprisingly, the offense couldn’t keep up its dynamite pace, and the Steelers clawed back into the contest, eventually surging ahead 20-17 in the third quarter. They were poised to take control when they then reached the Cleveland 20 in the waning moments of the period, but - as the Steelers often did during this era - got a bit too cute and called for ever-rotund Jerome Bettis, of all people, to throw an option pass. It was picked off by Cleveland cornerback Corey Fuller and the Browns sidestepped a knockout punch.

In the fourth quarter, the Browns regained some of the razzmatazz that had catapulted them into the early lead. An 87-yard drive resulted in a game-tying field goal by Phil Dawson, then after the defense stopped Pittsburgh at midfield, the Browns got the ball back at their own 3 with less than seven minutes to play.

Couch, having what would turn out to be arguably the finest day of his career, connected with wideout Kevin Johnson over the middle, and Johnson maneuvered through the Steelers for what turned into an electrifying 79-yard play. The Browns stalled at the Pittsburgh 1, but Dawson booted the go-ahead field goal with 2:45 left to make it 23-20.

The Steelers’ offense - directed by former Ohio State quarterback Kent Graham for some reason - reached the Cleveland 6 with 14 seconds left and the game appeared destined for overtime. But in another coaching decision that was symptomatic of a massive head injury, the Steelers opted to run one more play despite having already burned all of their time outs. (Today, this type of strategy is better known as the “Pat Shurmur Solution.”)

In the kind of development we would see happen to the Browns - not for the Browns - fairly regularly over the next decade, Graham was sacked by rookie defensive end Courtney Brown and time expired before the Steelers could run another play, clinching the Browns’ long-awaited first-ever win at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Today, this game looks like a postcard from Myrtle Beach tacked to an otherwise empty bulletin board. Led by sterling performances by their previous two No. 1 draft picks - 316 passing yards from Couch and three sacks by Brown - the Browns took advantage of two colossally stupid and costly Steeler mistakes to win a thrilling game at their crystalline new ballpark and surge over the .500 mark for the first time in five years.

In that moment, we truly believed we saw the expansion Browns maturing into an NFL powerhouse - ahead of schedule, no less. With every personnel move they’d made in the previous two years looking golden and unquestionable, they’d looked like a playoff team for two consecutive weeks and had notched back-to-back wins over the Bengals and Steelers.

Like Neapolitan ice cream and Raiders of the Lost Ark, any way you looked at it, everything was perfect.

To discuss what happened next would be anticlimactic: three straight lopsided defeats followed by a season-ending injury to Couch that led to Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, and Chris Palmer’s runaway train.

Four months after this shimmering September spectacle, Palmer was gone, Butch Davis was handed more of the reins than he ever should have been, Courtney Brown and Tim Couch were on their way to becoming two of the biggest draft busts in sports history, and we were starting to realize that Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark were less Butch & Sundance than Beavis & Butthead.

But before the wheels came off the wagon, delusion had never been sweeter.

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