The entire world has lambasted New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick for a coaching decision which led to his team’s defeat Sunday night. But it was Browns coach Eric Mangini’s coaching decision in Monday night’s 16-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens which should draw the most derision.
In fact, Mangini’s decision was a fireable offense.You’ve probably heard about it by now, but you might not have heard about it right away. With the game decided, with no one in the stands, with most of the televisions around the Cleveland area turned off and the fans all snug in their beds, Mangini had quarterback Brady Quinn throwing Hail Mary passes with less than 30 seconds to go and his team down 16-0. There was no chance for the Browns to come back. If Bernie Kosar, Jim Brown, and Paul Warfield in their primes all came back for the final minute of the game and the Ravens left the field the Browns would not have come back.
Instead, Quinn threw two deep passes intended for Cribbs out of bounds. Then, with three seconds left, Quinn hit Cribbs with a short pass. Cribbs hit teammate Robert Royal with a lateral. And Ravens defensive end Dwan Edwards hit Cribbs. Hard. Right in the chin. With the stands empty and the clock at 0:00, Cribbs lay motionless on the ground. Trainers and doctors gathered around him, and soon after just about every Cleveland Brown gathered. With a stretcher and cart brought onto the field alongside Cribbs, the Browns look like they were attending a wake. Their touchdown leader of the past two seasons lay sprawled out on the field, future unknown.
How can a coach do that? How can a coach make such an awful decision that his team’s best player winds up carted away to the hospital on a meaningless play? Or better yet, how can a coach make such a decision and keep his job?
Tuesday Mangini said he “probably” wouldn’t make that play call again, which for a Belichick disciple is just about the same as pleading guilty to grand larceny. Hey, guess what, Eric — if Randy Lerner had it to do over, he “probably” wouldn’t have hired you. And the way the return of the Browns has gone, we “probably” would never have begged the NFL to give us our team back. When you cause your team’s best player to spend the night in the hospital because of a meaningless play, you best admit your mistakes. It might be the only way to keep your job.
This being the Browns, though, we’ve seen such a play before. Remember when Kellen Winslow broke his leg in his second game as a Brown while in for an onside kick in a similarly hopeless cause against the Dallas Cowboys in 2004? Remember the flak that former Browns coach Butch Davis caught for that decision? At least Butch Davis, like Belichick, was trying to win. There was very little chance that the Browns were going to recover that onside kick and win that game. But there was NO chance the Browns were going to win while throwing Hail Mary passes in the final 20 seconds of Monday night’s game.
So what exactly was Mangini’s motivation then? Most likely, ego. He was hoping to avoid a Monday Night Football shutout. How would that look on a resume of a coach trying to find a job next season? If Quinn could connect on a Hail Mary pass, Mangini would be able to say that at least his team didn’t get shut out in front of the entire NFL. Heck, most everyone would even forget about the game. It would be just another awful game in a season full of them.
Now this is the one game that’s going to stick out when we remember Mangini’s (hopefully short) tenure as Browns coach. The final play, with all the Browns gathered around a fallen teammate, will become the symbol of this year’s team.
The Browns appear to have gotten lucky on this one. Cribbs left the hospital in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Maybe he has a concussion, maybe not. Mangini says he’s hopeful Cribbs can play against the Detroit Lions next week. But you can bet there wouldn’t be nearly as many Cleveland Browns gathered round to mourn the firing of the dead Mangini walking.