Week 7: The Importance of Being D'Ernest

Browns 17, Denver 14

Summary: Gutsy effort by a beat-up team.

The key moment: Finding D’Ernest Johnson on a fishing boat three years ago.

Happiness level (scale of 1-to-10): 8. Obviously, there are concerns everywhere with the injuries. But the Browns found a way to win this one and stay in the playoff race.

Let’s start with Odell Beckham Jr — we’ll obviously get to D’Ernest Johnson in a few minutes and it will be a whole lot of fun.

There’s no question that OBJ has been a huge frustration for Browns fans. When he came to the team before the 2019 season, he was still 26 years old, and he had been one of the most dazzling players in professional sports. His famous falling backward, one-handed catch against Dallas on Sunday Night Football was so jaw-dropping, so awe-inspiring, that even now whenever someone makes a catch anything like it — like the Giants’ quarterback Daniel Jones did against the Panthers on Sunday — it’s still referred to as an “OBJ impression.”

Again, this was before the 2019 season, and the Browns were only just beginning to show signs of life — you obviously haven’t forgotten that they went 0-16 in 2017. There were enough good signs in 2018 that hope was beginning to build. Baker Mayfield had shown promise. Nick Chubb had shown promise. Myles Garrett had shown promise. This team seemed to maybe, finally, be coming out of the wilderness, and then they got OBJ and it was like: “Whoa, maybe they’re good RIGHT NOW!”

They were not good “right now” — in large part because they made the titanic blunder of hiring whatever that guy’s name was as head coach — but OBJ was such a thrilling acquisition, and in 2019 he did make a few dazzling catches, and he went for 1,000 yards …

… but, there was just something disappointing about it all. OBJ and Baker Mayfield did not seem to connect. Beckham lacked the burst and explosiveness that he had shown in New York. It’s like he was a pop-up book with the Giants … and just a regular, old, flat book with Cleveland. And most of all, he just seemed miserable. He threw a punch at a Ravens cornerback. He tried to wear those Joker shoes. He fought with coaches on the sideline. He angrily stomped around. It just didn’t seem right.

And it has only gotten worse in the years since then — last year, before he got hurt, OBJ was barely a factor. This year, after returning, he has dropped two fourth-down passes and others as well; the Browns have targeted him 33 times and he has made only 16 catches. A less than 50 percent target percentage is really bad.

But, on Thursday night, I started to understand: The guy has been playing in great pain ever since he got to Cleveland. It’s easy to forget that he played in only four games in 2017 because of a fractured ankle. He played in only 12 games in 2018 because of a nasty quad injury. He dealt with a hernia in his first year with the Browns — he didn’t talk about it but it was bad enough that after the season he had hip and groin surgery. Then he tore his ACL. Then he separated his shoulder. Then he sprained his other shoulder.

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