Brady Quinn has always loved the bright lights. Playing under them makes the Cleveland Browns quarterback shine.
“I like playing night games,” he said. “Takes you back to those high school days, I guess.”
Those were mostly on Friday nights. Quinn may wish Monday night that he was back in the hallways of Dublin Coffman High, his alma mater near Columbus.
There, he would be safe from the Baltimore Ravens.
Reinstated as Cleveland’s No. 1 quarterback following a bye week, Quinn will make his return against the hungry-for-a-win Ravens (4-4), the team he was facing on Sept. 27 when Browns coach Eric Mangini abruptly benched him just 10 quarters into his first season as a starter.
While Quinn stood on the sideline wondering what had happened to his opportunity and where his stunted pro career would go next, the Browns went 1-4 with Derek Anderson directing an offense that couldn’t find the end zone with a NASA-designed GPS.
Cleveland has scored 78 points and the Browns, who had a bye last week and more turmoil this past one, have failed to score a touchdown in five games and have just five TDs in their last 14. The team’s only rushing scores this season have came on two short runs by Anderson. No Browns back has scored on the ground since Nov. 17.
Anderson was historically bad during his five-week stint. His completion percentage (33) and rating (25.1) in the past four games are the worst since 1981.
It’s hard to fathom Quinn doing any worse. So why did it take the Browns (1-7) so long to go back to their former first-round pick?
Theories abound, one of them being the team did not want to pay him $11 million in incentives if he had played in 70 percent of the offensive snaps. But nothing will matter when Quinn breaks the huddle, steps behind center and looks into the eyes of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
Quinn says he’s ready.
“The past is the past and we’re not focused on that,” he said this week.
It’s worth looking back at, though. On Nov. 17 last season, in his only previous Monday night start, Quinn led Cleveland to a 29-27 win in Buffalo. Back then, his future looked bright and it seemed the Browns had finally found their quarterback, their future.
Now, nothing is certain. Quinn has to prove himself again. He has put his house up for sale, but says it’s because he wants to downsize. However, it may be because Quinn, who will be making just his seventh start in three years, knows a bigger move could be coming.
In the meantime, he’s embracing his second chance.
“The season’s only halfway over and we’re going to do our best to try to fix things and move forward,” he said.
The Ravens are having a mid-season crisis. They’ve lost four of five since a 3-0 start and are coming off a 17-7 loss in Cincinnati. The Bengals held the ball for 40 minutes and limited Baltimore’s offense to just 215 yards — 98 in the final three quarters.
With upcoming games against Indianapolis (Nov. 22) and Pittsburgh (Nov. 29), the Ravens can’t overlook the Browns.
Lewis, Baltimore’s inspirational leader and spokesman, delivered a simple message to his teammates this week.
“Weather the storm,” he said. “That’s kind of the same message about the season. Weather whatever little things you’re going through right now, so in the second half of the season we can be better. I look at this (game) the same way. It’s a great opportunity to come out and see some things differently, but it’s also a great opportunity to play real fast and not worry about anything and just let the game take care of itself.”
The Browns have had more than two weeks to prepare for the Ravens.
It was hardly a quiet time.
Their bye week began with the firing of general manager George Kokinis, who came to Cleveland after spending 13 years in Baltimore. Also, disgruntled Browns fans announced a “walk-in” protest for Monday’s game — they plan to stay out of their seats for the opening kickoff — and running back Jamal Lewis declared he will retire after his 10th season.
Lewis prepared for his final game against the Ravens, his team for seven seasons, by first criticizing Mangini for overworking the Browns and then reversing field on his pointed remarks one day later, blaming the media for exaggerating his comments.
Mangini needs a win, or at least a respectable showing by his team on national TV, to cool off calls for his firing.
He may be counting on Quinn to save him.
The former first-round pick was 46 of 77 (60 percent) for 409 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a 62.1 rating before his demotion. He was also sacked 10 times, but probably could have prevented a few of those with quicker decisions. Quinn patiently waited two seasons for his chance to start. He insists he hasn’t lost any confidence.
Quinn was asked what he can do better the second time around.
“Throw more touchdown passes,” he said, laughing. “We need more production, that’s pretty much it.”
Cleveland’s offense has been off-the-charts awful. With no legitimate playmakers (Mangini traded Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards) to stretch the field, the Browns best chance against Baltimore will be if they can consistently run the ball and control the clock.
There’s pressure for sure. But Quinn says the heat should be on the Browns, not Mangini.
“People are just misreading our team,” he said. “We’re not playing the way we’re capable of. We just need to pick up our play and pick up some of the fundamental things, fix the things we’re doing wrong and execute better on the field and all that criticism goes away.”