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Browns Browns Archive The Year This Week Didn't Suck: Week 4
Written by Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight

kj couchAs 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.

Ultimately, a fresh coat of paint has very little impact on your house.

Sure, it covers up a lot of the scratches and ugly spots, and right after you finish, it might feel like you’ve made your home a better place. But once the afterglow of the stand-back-and-cross-your-arms moment fades and the contact high from the polyurethane wears off, your house still has all the same problems it had before, only now they’re beige instead of white.

Butch Davis was the Browns’ coat of paint. And the first few weeks of 2001 was the afterglow.

Lord knew they needed something after losing 27 of their first 32 games since their return, and, predictably, they’d thrown Chris Palmer under the bus in the hopes of moving on. In comes Butch, who’d resurrected the University of Miami from the brink of the NCAA’s death penalty and rebuilt it back into a powerhouse program with a tendency to choke with the national championship on the line. He was supposed to be our Jimmy Johnson - lured from Coral Gables to guide a woebegone NFL franchise back to glory. Or in our case, baseline relevance.

And though the Browns started 2001 as more/less the same sorry-ass team that started 2000, something just felt different in those first few weeks.

Following the obligatory soul-ripping defeat on opening day, then an unscheduled week off following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Browns - like Peter Frampton - came alive. Prompted by seven interceptions of former teammate Ty Detmer, they notched an impressive 10-point win over the Lions, then scored a hallmark victory in Jacksonville over a Jaguars team that had made the Browns look dippy in all six of their previous meetings.

It pushed the Browns to 2-1 going into a suddenly intriguing Week 4 matchup with the 3-0 San Diego Chargers, led by three-foot-two-inch veteran quarterback Doug Flutie and already dominant rookie running back LaDainian Tomlinson, whom the Browns brilliantly passed over in the draft to take Gerard Warren.

Christ. Still can’t believe they did that.

Though it was a crisp, sunshiny fall afternoon in Cleveland, the game would be played under the ominous shadow of that morning’s launching of the U.S. military’s campaign in Afghanistan (which actually pre-empted the start of the telecast of the game and demonstrated to those of us who were pissed about it that our priorities in life were kinda fucked up.)

We joined the game already in progress (and what a tactful transition it was - “We now take you from mind-blowingly destructive tactical airstrikes of Kandahar avenging the worst moment in American history to Don Criqui and Steve Tasker with just a huge third-down play in Cleveland.”) 

The Browns took a 10-3 halftime lead following a touchdown run by James Jackson (whom, lest we forget, the Browns were perfectly happy to stick with rather than drafting Tomlinson), but the Chargers tied the game in the opening moments of the third quarter after Tomlinson broke free for a 54-yard run, then scored a play later. In case you were wondering, Gerard Warren did not score on this day. Or any day, for that matter. Ever.

A pair of San Diego field goals in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter gave the Chargers a six-point lead, and with their offense virtually non-existent most of the game, the Browns were in trouble. But two long completions from Tim Couch to tight end Ricky Dudley and wideout JaJuan Dawson (aww...the good old days) set up a field goal to cut the margin to 16-13.

A quick three-and-out followed by a lousy punt gave the ball back to Couch & Co. at midfield with just under four minutes left. A 13-yard toss to Kevin Johnson at the San Diego 23 moved the chains on third-and-10 at the two-minute warning. Two plays later, from the 19, the Browns faced another key third down, and again Couch went to Johnson. KJ reeled in a perfectly thrown pass in the back corner of the end zone with 1:15 remaining to give the Browns a 20-16 lead as the sun-drenched crowd roared in both jubilation and genuine surprise. After a long, tense afternoon, it appeared both the Chargers and the Taliban were going down to defeat.

The Chargers reached midfield before a pair of trademark Flutie Hail Mary passes (brought to you by UPS) fell incomplete, and the Browns moved to 3-1 for the first - and still only - time since their return.

With neither team topping 300 total yards for the afternoon, it certainly wasn’t a pretty victory (again, not unlike Afghanistan). But it was both satisfying and dramatic - the kind of victory that evoked memories of the Kosar years and the Kardiac Kids.

For the first time, the Browns had won a close game that hadn’t required a miraculous finish. It was - blast of trumpets - a fun game to watch. Little did we know, that over the next ten years or so, there would not be too many more.

Even more delicious, with the victory, the Browns had matched their win total from the year before and were two games over .500 for the first time in six years. Before the annual injury parade started marching down Lou Groza Boulevard, the 2001 season had already been qualified as a success.

To be fair, the 2001 Browns were not a bona fide 3-1 team. And yet, thanks to a few key breaks (and the moving of the scheduled Week 2 game in Pittsburgh to the end of the season), there they were. The inevitable anvil of reality would drop onto the Browns heads over the next several weeks, and other than a stunning season sweep of the Ravens, there wasn’t all that much to get excited about.

Which made the win over San Diego all the more refreshing and, in the short term at least, important. Like a fresh coat of paint slathered all over an ugly wall on a bright autumn afternoon.

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