The players of the Cleveland Browns participating in the 2014 Pro Bowl mirrored the team's 2013 NFL regular season; there were ups, and there were downs.
Things did not start out well for those wearing orange helmets. Cornerback Joe Haden put up what could politely be referred to as a half-effort when defending an Andrew Luck pass that was reeled in by DeSean Jackson for the touchdown that opened the scoring in the first five minutes of the contest. Something interesting happened following that score.
The defenses participating in a Pro Bowl stepped their games up.
Haden redeemed himself in the second quarter. He wrestled the ball out of the hands of the previously mentioned Jackson, forcing an interception that was awfully harsh on QB Cam Newton. Oddly enough, that was not the most fascinating defensive play made by a current member of the Browns.
Safety T.J. Ward and wide receiver Josh Gordon, on opposite sides during Sundays Team Rice vs. Team Sanders Pro Bowl, collided for what was a candidate for play of the game. Ward went low and sent Gordon upside down, nothing shy of a heart-stopping moment for all Cleveland fans. Gordon immediately got up to the delight of those who support the Browns, and the two teammates acknowledged one another before going back to their huddles.
Gordon emerged somewhat out of nowhere as one of the best wide receivers in the NFL last fall, and he finished the campaign with 87 catches, nine touchdowns and over 1,600 receiving yards. He found the end zone in the final minute of the first half of Sunday's game, scoring the touchdown that tied the game 14-14 heading into the break.
“I don't think he knew what he was doing but I'll give him the benefit of a doubt on that one,” Gordon said on the Ward hit after the game. “I'll get him back in Cleveland.”
Gordon may not have that chance. Ward is scheduled to enter free agency, and many analysts in Cleveland and around the league believe that the safety will sign with another club in March. The Browns have reportedly not yet offered Ward a new deal.
Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron also got into the act. He caught a 12-yard touchdown pass with under five minutes left in regulation. Team Rice ultimately beat Team Sanders 22-21 in what was, for a variety of reasons, an interesting exhibition that is, more often than not, a missable affair.
Offensive lineman Joe Thomas got himself a bit of ridicule from fans posting about the game on Twitter. He was beaten by pass-rushers on a few plays, but I'm not going to bury any lineman for not getting down and dirty on every play of a meaningless football game.
Six Browns in total, – Haden, Ward, Gordon, Cameron, Thomas and center Alex Mack (who could join Ward in making an exit from Cleveland in March) – were awarded with trips to Honolulu. The Cameron touchdown resulted in NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth making the following comments about the Browns: “If you have not followed the Cleveland Browns at all, they have some players in that franchise.”
Cleveland went 4-12 last season.
The public perception of the Browns at the start of Super Bowl week is not good. Cleveland required roughly three weeks after firing Rob Chudzinski to settle on Buffalo defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who, depending on what reports you want to believe, may have been the only qualified candidate to take the gig. Two All-Pros could already have their bags packed. Sunday's dog and pony show offered several reminders that, while the franchise could certainly be in a better state, things aren't all bad for the Browns.
Getting a franchise quarterback in the upcoming draft probably wouldn't hurt.