CLEVELAND – Mike Holmgren couldn’t have envisioned the set of circumstances surrounding his first home game as Browns president.
Not in his worst nightmare.
The unveiling of the Ring of Honor – a well-received and long overdue idea – will be overshadowed today by the absence of the greatest Brown, Jim Brown, who refuses to attend.
Jake Delhomme, Holmgren’s handpicked choice to stabilize the quarterback position, is doubtful after injuring his ankle on an interception that sent the Browns free falling to an opening loss in Tampa Bay.
The vultures have started to circle after the collapse against the Buccaneers. All the goodwill accumulated through the offseason and preseason will be gone if the Browns can’t beat the Chiefs.
Welcome to life with the Browns, Big Show.
A must-win doesn’t exist in Week 2, but what the Browns face is close. The easiest part of their schedule was the beginning, and they start a hazardous stretch next week in Baltimore.
For a team that started 1-11 last year, some early momentum would go a long way.
“You don’t want that snowball effect,” defensive back Mike Adams said. “Once you start digging a hole for yourself, it’s hard to get out of it. A team of our caliber, we just don’t want to do it.”
Delhomme didn’t practice all week, and Seneca Wallace is ready for his first start as a Brown. He fared well in spot duty during his tenure in Seattle, which may be the only thing comforting Holmgren, his coach with the Seahawks.
If he didn’t have enough to deal with trying to fix the Browns franchise, Holmgren can add a slow-healing surgically repaired foot and a back that needed an epidural last week to the Brown soap opera.
“The unique thing about Seneca is he can move, but he can also drop back and get in the shotgun and operate in the pocket making throws like a traditional guy,” said coordinator Brian Daboll, who consulted with Holmgren on Wallace’s favorite plays. “He just has a little bit more athleticism than some of the guys, where he can maybe escape and make a play with his feet or make a play scrambling and keeping his eyes down the field.”
The Browns used Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson at quarterback last season, and both were a disaster. Since training camp began, whenever players discussed the new situation, they praised Delhomme and Wallace.
So little drop-off is expected if Delhomme can’t go.
“It all starts underneath center, and we’ve got two good quarterbacks,” said running back Jerome Harrison, who ran for a team-record 286 yards in a thrilling win over Kansas City in December in which the teams combined for 908 yards.
The Chiefs are coming off an unexpected and exhilarating 21-14 Monday night win over the Chargers. The defense won the game with a stop inside the 5-yard line in the final minute, and the points were a result of three big plays.
Rookie Dexter McCluster returned a punt 94 yards, a fumble set up a 12-yard drive and Jamaal Charles took a handoff 56 yards. The Chargers held Kansas City to 62 yards passing and 197 total, but left as losers.
The Browns don’t need a reminder about the importance of a single play. Delhomme’s interception late in the second quarter against the Bucs changed the momentum, the outcome and possibly the season. Peyton Hillis’ third-quarter fumble made sure the Browns wouldn’t recover.
“It’s just amazing how it always comes down to one play and how tough and miserable that makes a week in the home of that poor family such as my own,” defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said. “It just stinks, but there’s nothing better than winning. You’ve got to be great every play.”
The Browns feel they’re more talented, more confident and tighter as a group than a year ago. Their spirits weren’t crushed by the opening loss.
“This year we know how good we are, we know what we did in training camp,” left guard Eric Steinbach said. “That was more of a stumpin’ the toe or a taking one on the chin. I think maybe that will progress us into not letting that happen again.
“I don’t think this team is a team that wants to lose two in a row. The thought of that happening hasn’t even come up. I think we’re going to come back and answer.”
The frustrated home crowd would like nothing more.
The Browns have lost five straight home openers. They are 1-10 in home openers and 31-57 overall on the lakefront since 1999. However, they did finish 2009 with three straight wins at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“Whenever you get a chance to play in front of your home, the fans, the people that support you through everything, it’s very special,” receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said. “We play for them. They’re just as much a part of this team as we are.”
Browns fans cling to their pre-Super Bowl championship history in the absence of recent glory. That’s one of the reasons Holmgren considered it a no-brainer to permanently display the greatest names in franchise history prominently on the facade of the upper deck.
Brown’s unfortunate feud can only dim the spotlight on the team’s 15 other Hall of Famers. The halftime ceremony remains a special occasion.
“I have a little bit more to play for,” fullback Lawrence Vickers said when told of the Ring of Honor festivities.
From Holmgren to Wallace to Vickers, there’ll be no shortage of motivation, pressure and distraction for this home opener.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
JUST THE FACTS
• WHAT: Home opener
• RECORDS: Browns 0-1; Chiefs 1-0
• LAST WEEK: Browns lost 17-14 at Tampa Bay; Chiefs beat San Diego 21-14 at home Monday night
• SERIES: Browns lead 10-9-2
• SERIES AT CLEVELAND: Browns lead 7-2-1
• LAST MEETING: Browns won 41-34 on Dec. 20 in Kansas City
• COACHES: Eric Mangini is 5-12 with Browns, 28-38 overall; Todd Haley is 5-12 with Chiefs and overall
• TV/RADIO: Channel 19, with broadcasters Don Criqui and Steve Beuerline; WMMS 100.7-FM
• NFL RANKINGS (OUT OF 32 TEAMS): Browns — offense 13th (16th rushing, 12th passing), defense 12th (23rd rushing, 15th passing); Chiefs — offense 29th (T-5th rushing, 31st passing), defense 29th (18th rushing, 29th passing)
• BROWNS UPDATE: Evan Moore had a career-high 87 receiving yards on three catches in the opener. He leads NFL tight ends in yardage. … Mangini is 3-0 vs. the Chiefs as a head coach, all close games. … QB Jake Delhomme topped 20,000 yards passing for his career last week. … Nine receivers caught passes against the Buccaneers. … LB Marcus Benard had 1.5 sacks, which is tied for first in the NFL. He has at least a half-sack in four of his seven NFL games. … The Browns gained 417 yards against Kansas City last year. … RB Peyton Hillis has 105 rushing yards on 15 attempts with one touchdown in four games against Kansas City. Hillis had five of the team’s 15 first downs last week, three rushing and two receiving. … The Browns had a league-low 25 completions of 20-plus yards in 2009. They had three in the opener. … LB Scott Fujita was drafted by the Chiefs in the fifth round in 2002. He played there three seasons.
• CHIEFS UPDATE: Kansas City beat the Chargers with a defensive stand in the final minutes inside the 10-yard line. … The Chargers were 4-for-15 on third-down conversions. … QB Matt Cassel had 62 yards passing in the opener. He went 22-for-40 for 331 yards and two TDs against the Browns last year. His stats would’ve been even better if not for a number of drops by his receivers. … WR Chris Chambers, a Bedford High alumnus, caught five passes for 114 yards and a TD against Cleveland last year. … The Chiefs totaled 491 yards vs. the Browns. … The Chiefs went 1-for-11 on third down last week and were outgained 389-197. … Haley, coordinators Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis and GM Scott Pioli all worked with Mangini in New England. … LB Derrick Johnson had 12 tackles, 11 solo, and a forced fumble in the opener. … DL coach Anthony Pleasant played for the Browns from 1990-95.
• BROWNS INJURY REPORT: Out: LB D’Qwell Jackson (pectoral), OL Shawn Lauvao (ankle); Doubtful: QB Jake Delhomme (ankle), DB Derrick Roberson (hip); Questionable: NT Shaun Rogers (ankle, hip); Probable: LB Marcus Benard (shoulder), LS Ryan Pontbriand (ankle), S Nick Sorensen (concussion), OL Floyd Womack (knee).
• CHIEFS INJURY REPORT: Questionable: Tamba Hali (foot), DE Tyson Jackson (knee), OL Ryan O’Callaghan (groin); Probable: Wallace Gilberry (back), Jon McGraw (hamstring).
• THE PICK: Jim Brown should be here, as the Browns get a win they desperately need. Browns 20-17.