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Browns Browns Archive The Year This Week Didn't Suck: Week 16
Written by Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight

browns ravens 2002As we struggle to survive another season with the new-era Browns, one way we can try to get through it (besides alcohol or 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.

At a certain point in your life, Christmases begin to run together and it’s difficult to distinguish one from another. They become an amalgamation of unnecessary new interpretations of A Christmas Carol, obnoxious jewelry commercials, and awkward potluck lunches at work. Only on the rare occasion does a Christmas genuinely stand out.

Similarly, of the Browns’ 14 campaigns since their reboot, 12 of those have cruised into the yuletide season adding absolutely nothing meaningful to the holiday atmosphere. We watch at Christmas parties as fans of other teams sweat out playoff scenarios and discuss the implications of the upcoming games with that little glimmer of jealousy that also seems to permeate the holiday season.

Only twice since 1999 have the Browns paralleled our spring toward Christmas with a run to the playoffs. One (2007) wound up as an epic fail. But the other did not, even though it probably should have.

By Week 16 of the 2002 season, most fans had already given up on any hopes of the Browns reaching the postseason. In what had been built up as a do-or-die game at home against Indianapolis the week before, the Browns pissed away a 16-point second-half lead to lose and drop back to the .500 mark at 7-7. And this was two weeks after somehow losing to a 3-8 Carolina team, also at home, also in maddening fashion.

Yes, they were still in the playoff race, but the Browns had looked like anything but a playoff team in the month of December. And even worse, now they’d have to schlep out to Baltimore to face a Ravens team that had already beaten the Browns in Cleveland after another lackluster performance in early October.

In so many ways, that game in Baltimore, played in the falling darkness of a December afternoon three days before Christmas, encapsulated the entire 2002 season.

The Browns started fast, driving 82 yards on their first possession and taking a 7-0 lead on a Jamel White touchdown run. There was that glimmer that suggested they might have grown up a little bit and were finally ready to start playing like a team that deserved to make the playoffs.

But that - for the next two-and-a-half-hours, anyway - was it. Over the next three quarters, the Cleveland offense couldn’t move past the Baltimore 49, and the Ravens - no great shakes themselves that year - meandered to a 13-7 lead. With our Christmas trees blazing in the corners of our living rooms, the Browns slowly and gently rocked us into a nice holiday nap. Then, quite suddenly, they - and we - woke up.

With 2:18 remaining, the Browns regained possession at their own 8. But instead of sputtering into another punting situation as they’d done for the majority of the afternoon, for whatever reason, they put it all together.

Tim Couch, in the middle of another typical Tim Couch game, completed three straight passes to push the Browns to midfield. Then a dump-off pass to White wound up picking up 28 yards, and Baltimore was penalized for unnecessary roughness after the play. Couch hit Kevin Johnson for 12 more, and in less than a minute, the Browns had driven to the Baltimore 1.

A play later, Couch faked a handoff and lobbed a pass for tight end Mark Campbell, standing alone in the end zone after breaking off the line. Like the little kid catching the silver coin flicked by a jubilant Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning, Campbell caught the pass for a touchdown and Phil Dawson booted the go-ahead extra point with 30 seconds left.

A desperation pass by Jeff Blake - and how hilarious is it that he was Baltimore’s quarterback at one point - was intercepted, and Couch knelt out the final seconds to seal an unlikely Cleveland victory that the Browns almost certainly didn’t deserve. They’d managed barely 250 yards of offense, a meager 63 on the ground, and, as was usually the case when they faced the Ravens, had been utterly outplayed. And yet, somehow, they’d won.

The victory catapulted the Browns into the final week of the season with their skittish playoff hopes still in tact. We opened presents that Christmas knowing that the Browns had a shot to make the postseason for the first time in nearly a decade. We discussed the various scenarios with uncles and cousins over glasses of egg nog and Hershey Kiss peanut butter cookies.

It was, against all odds, a Browns Christmas to remember. It’s 10 years later, and we’re still waiting for the next one.

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