Early in the second quarter, with the field blanketed with snow from a blizzard, the officials initially had problems locating one of the yard lines. It wasn't exactly an obscure one for which they spent several seconds searching.
It was the 50.
It wasn't any better for the Browns. Their normally explosive offense didn't score a touchdown, but it did score. Ultimately, the Browns' superior management of whipping winds off of Lake Erie (clocked as high as 43 mph) and a slick field gave them an 8-0 victory to remain on track for their first playoff appearance since 2002.
The Bills, who still were threatening until the final seconds, find themselves out of the playoffs for an eighth successive season. They also found themselves staying in Cleveland one more night because the weather did not allow their chartered flight to head home immediately after the game.
Although it was hardly a stellar offensive day for the Browns, they still were able to do what they do best -- move the ball and make plays.
Not surprising, their most effective play was the run. However, it was downright shocking that Jamal Lewis -- or anyone -- was able to find good enough footing to crank out 163 yards on 33 carries.
"When I heard the forecast," Lewis said, "the offensive line and I loved it, because it called for a ground attack."
Lewis and Cleveland's big and talented offensive linemen overpowered the Bills' smallish defensive front, whose members had traction issues all game.
And the biggest shock of all was that the Browns threw the ball reasonably well under the circumstances. I still can't figure out how Derek Anderson was able to handle the center exchange, let alone accurately fire passes to the tune of 137 yards. How were Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius able to get their hands around the ball, let alone make several spectacular catches among their combined six receptions for 98 yards?
"I have never played in anything like this," Anderson said.
The Browns handled the weather well in other ways, too. Phil Dawson hit both field goals he attempted, looking every bit as impressive as Adam Vinatieri did for the Patriots in their "Snow Bowl" playoff victory over Oakland. He drilled the second, from 49 yards, out of four inches of snow and into swirling winds. It barely cleared the crossbar before bouncing off of the support pole to give the Browns an 8-0 advantage with 1:22 left in the second quarter.
"That was a tremendous kick," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "Conditions weren't great, and he hit that ball, and I when I saw it go through I was elated. Being up by eight in a game like this is huge."
Cleveland's Dave Zastudil had some good punts, including one that pinned the Bills at their 1-yard line in the third quarter. He had a 29-yarder that put the Bills at their 13 in the fourth. But then, in a scene more typical of the conditions, he slipped and got off a 7-yard punt with 7:43 left in the fourth quarter.
A snap sailed over the head of Brian Moorman, and the Bills' punter kicked the ball out of the end zone for a Browns safety. Moorman's day didn't get much better when his free kick went out of bounds and put Cleveland at the 50 ... once the officials found the 50. Later, he got off a 30-yard kick with less than two seconds of hang time that died at the 50 in the fourth.
The Browns' defense, which entered the game ranked last in the league, did a fairly impressive job in teaming up with Mother Nature to register a shutout.
"Our defense played well today," Crennel said. "They have been inconsistent during the course of the year. They have made some good plays and stops at times, and were able to put it together today. We had a little help from the weather, but we will take all the help we can get."
With Pittsburgh's loss to Jacksonville, Cleveland has a shot to win the AFC North. Even as a wild-card entry, the Browns look as if they could make a little noise in the postseason. They are playing loose, but generally smart in all phases.
"It was a fun one," Anderson said. "And we are going to enjoy it."
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