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Observation deck: Upstart Browns making strides

The Browns had every reason to lose their game Sunday. Playing in St. Louis, they ran into a Rams offense that bore at least a passing resemblance to its former self, and they quickly fell behind 14-0.

At that point, you thought the dream of a winless season for the Rams was over. But this is a different type of Browns team. Cleveland took advantage of the Rams' baffling decision to cover wide receiver Braylon Edwards one on one and mounted an exciting comeback.

And with two minutes left in the game, the defense stoned Rams running back Brian Leonard on a fourth-and-1 at the Browns' 30-yard line, and Cleveland escaped with a 27-20 victory.

This was the first time since 2003 the Browns had won consecutive games, and they head into the Week 9 matchup against Seattle with a lot of confidence. Quarterback Derek Anderson has continued to excel, and he is playing behind an offensive line that is light years ahead of last season's unit. The additions of Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach have helped give Anderson time to make big plays downfield.

It's hard to believe we're only a few weeks removed from calling for rookie Brady Quinn. At one point Sunday, I watched him chase Anderson down the sideline to collect a high five. Apparently a sign of the times.

I'm not ready to call the Browns a playoff team, but for now, they belong in the conversation. Now, here are 10 more observations from Week 8:

1. Patriot games

The New England Patriots can't play a game without some sort of conspiracy theory cropping up. Moments after they took a commanding 24-0 lead on Tom Brady's fake-spike touchdown pass to Randy Moss, Fox sideline reporter Pam Oliver informed us that the Washington Redskins' communication equipment hadn't been working properly.

She explained that offensive coordinator Al Saunders hadn't been able to talk to coach Joe Gibbs for most of the first half, which might have been a positive development last season.

It also was interesting to hear Troy Aikman talk about Moss pushing off on the touchdown. The contact was minimal, and Aikman's favorite target in the early 1990s, Michael Irvin, was known to "create" a little space from time to time.

In an unrelated matter, how in the world do teams not account for linebacker Mike Vrabel when he enters the game as a tight end in the club's goal-line offense? He pretended to block Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington and then slipped into the end zone with no one around him for his second touchdown of the season. And yes, Vrabel has two more touchdowns than the Redskins' wide receiver corps this season.

The Patriots' defense did a nice job of taking away Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell's safety blanket, tight end Chris Cooley, who finished with three catches for 31 yards and a meaningless late touchdown. It's the same thing the Patriots' D did with Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten two weeks ago, and it shouldn't have caught the Redskins by surprise.

2. Tough on the eyes

Did anyone else notice the Fox cameras staying with Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brooks Bollinger long after he delivered the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles in the second half? I realize that Tarvaris Jackson completes only about three or four passes to wide receivers on a good week, but a few of us were interested to see where Bollinger's passes ended up. Viewers shouldn't be forced to watch Vikings quarterbacks for longer than necessary.

In Bollinger's defense, at least he actually attempts to sell play fakes. Jackson shares the backfield with one of the most dynamic runners in the game, but he doesn't acknowledge him when he runs past on alleged play-action passes.

Oh, and can we tap the brakes on some of the hyperbole surrounding rookie running back Adrian Peterson, who finished the day with 20 carries for 70 yards and no catches?

3. Off the mark

Is the DirecTV Red Zone Channel not the greatest invention in the modern era of football? I purchased the Sunday Ticket HD package, but all I really need is this one channel. You would think six and a half hours of Andrew Siciliano might be a tad much, but the guy is entertaining. There isn't a better place to watch Brian Griese throw interceptions in the opposing team's end zone.

He had three passes picked off in the Detroit Lions' end zone and four overall Sunday. The Chicago Bears head to the bye week at 3-5, and you can bet the Donovan McNabb-to-Chicago talk will be in full force.

4.
Putting it on the line

At some point, we need to admit the Vikings have the most overrated offensive line in football. The Eagles poked holes in the vaunted zone-blocking scheme, and smallish defensive end Trent Cole gave Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie fits.

McKinnie let Cole get underneath him for a sack when the Vikings were driving for the possible tying score in the second half. Perhaps McKinnie's unfamiliarity with Bollinger caused him to think the quarterback would step up in the pocket, but it still was a bad mistake that forced the Vikings to settle for a short field goal and a 20-16 deficit.

Part of the problem is that teams don't respect the Vikings' passing game at all, and that allows them to run-blitz whenever they want.

5. Game-changing mistake

For almost a half, the Carolina Panthers actually found an answer for Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. The Panthers had a chance to go up 14-3 in the second quarter, but 43-year-old quarterback Vinny Testaverde made a horrible decision on a third-and-goal pass that was intercepted by Colts safety Antoine Bethea. The Colts took a 10-7 halftime lead and rolled in the second half.

My friend Aaron Schatz, of FootballOutsiders.com fame, e-mailed to say the Panthers' decision to run the ball a lot on first and second down might not have been the best strategy.

In 2005, the San Diego Chargers and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Colts by throwing the ball early in the game -- especially on first down, when safety Bob Sanders was cheating up for the run. When the Colts moved Sanders back, the Chargers and Steelers started running the ball effectively.

As Aaron pointed out, this 2007 Colts defense is more like the 2005 unit than the one that helped win a Super Bowl last season.

6. Wide-open Gates

Houston Texans defensive coordinator Richard Smith spent a lot of time preparing his unit for Chargers Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, but you couldn't tell by watching.

Gates was left wide open in the middle of the field on the Chargers' first touchdown. Quarterback Philip Rivers delivered a wobbly pass, but no one was within 10 yards of the best tight end in football.

On his second touchdown, he used a wicked double-move to send Texans safety C.C. Brown stumbling out of view. The 31-yard touchdown gave the Chargers a 21-3 lead, and it was over at that point. It also was a huge day for cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who had the first two touchdowns of his career on a fumble recovery and a 70-yard interception return.

The Chargers fed off a Qualcomm Stadium crowd desperate for a diversion from the wildfires that have gripped the region. The Texans, whose owner had lobbied for the game in Houston, could not match the home team's energy and never appeared to be in the game.

Texans starting quarterback Matt Schaub and backup Sage Rosenfels combined to throw four interceptions.

7. Fitting the Bills

I'll admit to not investing much time in the New York Jets-Buffalo Bills game, but I stopped by at the right time. Clinging to a 6-3 lead with 3:38 left in the game, Bills quarterback J.P. Losman threw an 85-yard touchdown to the talented but streaky receiver Lee Evans. Losman, who replaced an injured Trent Edwards (wrist) in the second half, threw it as far as he could, and Evans ripped the ball away from rookie cornerback Darrelle Revis, who almost had the first interception of his career.

Earlier in the day, ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported that several players on the team were speculating that Losman's benching had more to do with owner Ralph Wilson saving money than his actual performance. Depending on Edwards' injury, the Bills might be forced to go back to Losman. And that might not be a bad thing.

I read that the Bills were going to open up the playbook for Edwards on Sunday, but his final numbers (14-of-21, 130 yards, one interception) indicate otherwise.

8. Defense carrying Titans

All this talk about how Vince Young "finds ways to win football games" has gotten a little ridiculous. He was 6-of-14 for 42 yards passing and 11 yards rushing in Sunday's 13-9 victory over the Oakland Raiders. On one drive, his teammates dropped two consecutive touchdown passes, but still, Young wasn't impressive.

The Tennessee Titans' defensive line, however, was very impressive. Defensive end Travis LaBoy had two sacks, and he abused reserve right tackle Paul McQuistan, who had no idea what to do with him. Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and defensive ends Antwan Odom and Kyle Vanden Bosch also added sacks.

They kept Daunte Culpepper on the run all afternoon, and the key thing was they didn't require much help. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has been able to generate a pass rush with his front four all season, and that has freed up talented linebackers such as Keith Bulluck to drop back and make plays in coverage.

Running back LenDale White had another nice day with 133 yards rushing, and the Titans held off the Raiders at the end of the game.

9. Mike Williams sighting

Anyone remember former USC receiver Mike Williams? That's who Culpepper went to on fourth-and-14 with just more than a minute left. Williams tried to trap the ball against his chest and then watched it fall harmlessly to the ground. But don't pin this loss on Williams. The Raiders had 14 penalites for 100 yards, and the offense was responsible for 11 of them.

10. Mistaken indentity

The most uncomfortable moment of the day came during the interview with commissioner Roger Goodell during the New York Giants-Miami Dolphins game. For some reason, the announcers decided to use Goodell as a second analyst. Instead of the obvious questions about the fact that they were in a foreign country, they wanted to hear Goodell's take on the state of the Dolphins. Just a strange moment. Then they started complaining about a poor call while Goodell stood there.

The commish did take advantage of the opportunity to clarify some comments about playing a Super Bowl overseas. He said he was talking only about how much interest other countries might have in hosting a Super Bowl and wasn't necessarily saying it was going to happen.

Matt Mosley covers the NFL for ESPN.com.