Tuesday, Sep 25, 2018
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David Briggs

MIRRORS OF SPORT

Browns can build on gloriously absurd opening tie

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    Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon catches a 17-yard touchdown pass under pressure from Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton.

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CLEVELAND — Dilly dil ... oh, no.

Rest assured, there will come a time when we all have self-flying cars, report to middle-management robots, and the Browns win a football game.

But that day was not Sunday.

Well, technically.

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Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon catches a 17-yard touchdown pass under pressure from Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton.

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In truth, nobody was sure what to make of the Browns’ 21-21 tie against the Steelers in a gloriously absurd rain-drenched season opener at FirstEnergy Stadium. 

“You don’t know what to feel or say or think,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. 

Depending on your perspective, it was either — to borrow a line from former Ohio State president Gordon Gee after the Buckeyes tied Michigan in 1992 — one of the new Browns’ greatest wins ever, or an Only-in-Cleveland gut punch.

The Browns roared back from a late two-touchdown deficit, forced six turnovers, and lined up for a 43-yard field goal attempt to win it with nine seconds left in overtime.

If that sounds like a hard game to lose, that’s because it is, whether you’re playing a Super Bowl contender or not. Since 1999, teams with a plus-five turnover margin — as Cleveland enjoyed — are 132-4-1. You can guess who owns two of those defeats and the tie.

The Browns. Still the Browns.

“A tie,” coach Hue Jackson said, shaking his head. “A tie.”

Any consolation? After all, Cleveland — absent a victory in 624 days — is still undefeated!

“No,” he said, sounding like the 50-handicap golfer who feigns disgust after stroking a 3-iron within five feet of the hole.

“We’re not celebrating this,” receiver Josh Gordon said.

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At least not with Bud Light.

Yes, if you were wondering, the promotional Bud Light coolers throughout the city — the ones that promise to swing open after the first Browns’ victory — remained locked. I know, I said we should have gotten half of them too.

Either way, the Browns offered hope the Dilly Dilly nectar will soon flow.

Call this a baby half-step.

Sure, the Browns did a lot of Browns things. I’m not sure which sequence was more on brand: their back-to-back false starts on the first drive of the season or allowing touchdowns on three straight plays.

Yep, the Steelers had consecutive third-quarter scores of 2 and 12 yards called back, only for Ben Roethlisberger — who otherwise appeared as if he had aged in dog years during the summer — to calmly thread a 22-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown on the next play.

Take a ticket, score a touchdown.

Cleveland’s own offense, meanwhile, left plenty to be desired. I fear the Browns were so rattled by DeShone Kizer’s 22 interceptions last year that they went too far the other way in getting Tyrod Taylor, a game-manager-type who is more averse to risk than an actuary.

The great irony, of course, is he took his biggest chance when it wasn’t necessary at the end of regulation. Needing a quick, 10-yard pass or so to pull the Browns comfortably within field-goal range, he instead launched a deep ball to Gordon. It was underthrown and intercepted.

But otherwise, Taylor — who tossed all of four interceptions with the Bills last year — upheld his reputation, making few mistakes but few plays, too often holding the ball a few Mississippis too long behind an uneven line. (As it happens, replacing a Hall of Fame left tackle with an undrafted free agent — Desmond Harrison — is not ideal.) Taylor completed 15 of 40 passes for 191 yards. He was sacked seven times and registered a 51.8 passer rating. Kizer, for the record, had a 60.5 rating last year.

Still, this season is not last season.

I don’t mean to sound overconfident after just one game, but Cleveland really looked like one of the two best teams on the field. Look around: Myles Garrett (two sacks). Denzel Ward (two interceptions). Gordon (game-tying touchdown catch). Carlos Hyde. Jarvis Landry. All are game-changers who were either not here or healthy last season.

This is a different team, and, shortly after the first boos of the season rained down and fans began a firedrill march to the exits, the Browns showed it. Or, at least, Garrett showed it. Down two scores with less than eight minutes left and the Steelers running out the clock, the defensive end drafted first overall last year turned green, forced two fumbles, and, next thing you knew, the half-filled Factory of Sadness was rocking like it hasn’t in years.

Wow.

“I am being the person they got from the draft,” Garrett said. “I am finally healthy, and I am just trying to be the guy to make the plays when we need them.”

As for overtime, here’s the positive: They were one Benny Hill montage away from winning.

And because they didn’t, we were spared the apocalyptic plague of locusts.

After Zane Gonzalez’s blocked 43-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds punctuated a low-comedy overtime — and answered a Pittsburgh miss of its own — the fans threw up their arms, then smiled.

At least the Browns didn’t lose.

Perhaps now we can look forward to a perfect season parade of another stripe. How does 0-0-16 sound?

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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