Catch Joe Thomas TONIGHT at 6:30 p.m. when he co-hosts "Browns Live" powered by FirstEnergy with Nathan Zegura. The 100 percent fan-focused show, which will stream on all of the Browns social platforms, will feature multiple segments with Coach Kevin Stefanski, interviews with players, film breakdowns and more.
Each game week, Joe will share his insights, memories and more in this weekly column, "Cup of Joe."
I knew the Browns were going to win Sunday when I saw a Tweet. I'm serious.
I turned on the Browns game just as it was supposed to start, and nothing came up. So I went to the Browns' Twitter feed to see what was the matter, and there I saw a photo of Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki jumping with childlike exuberance as rain, and whatever else that was, fell from the beautiful Cleveland sky.
Right then, I said, "OK, these guys are ready. They're excited to go out there and play. And that's going to give them the best chance to win." And, well, that's exactly what they did.
When you play in the Midwest, you have to expect at least one game in November when wind, rain or snow or all of the above wreaks havoc. That's the way it was throughout my entire career going back to high school. As a matter of fact, I just listened to "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot the other day and couldn't help but think of the line "When the gales of November came slashin.'" That's just what you have to expect sometimes at FirstEnergy Stadium.
How you respond to adverse weather conditions matters in the NFL because more often than not, your playoff fate can come down to one game. And when the weather is really bad, like it's been for the Browns' past two games, it can be a great equalizer, and that makes your margin for error even thinner.
When you have bad weather, the turnover battle is more equalized because in a normal game, ball security is usually better from teams that emphasize it more and are better teams overall. But the chances of getting a fumble because of a bad snap in the wind or a punter letting it slip through his hands goes up equally for both teams. You don't have as many opportunities to take shots down the field, so a lot of stuff is shorter with more runs and fewer possessions. All of those things equal a closer score.
That's why the game of football is great because it is played in the elements. It's not always played in a dome. It's not played on a basketball court. You have to build a quality, well-rounded team that can do everything: offense, defense, special teams. You have to be able to win when it's hot, when it's cold, when it's raining, when it's snowing, when it's in a dome. Those are all of the factors that play into it, which to me, as a fan, makes it exciting.
It's just not always exciting for the players who have to endure those lousy conditions. Wide receivers especially hate playing in bad conditions because it's hard to catch the ball, it's hard to sometimes see out there, your hands are cold, your body's cold, it's hard to warm up. You saw it in their performance that they just did not want to be there.
The best feeling is when you see that exasperation on the other side of the line of scrimmage. You could just see it from their body language and it led to an energy loss.
Everyone talks about focus. Focus is the energy you put toward your task. And as a left tackle, my task was to block the dude in front of me or whoever the play called upon me to block. So, I had energy, I was able to focus that energy on my job, I was good. But those guys that focus on the weather, the cold, and focus on the misery of it and how much they hate it would lose focus and lose the energy needed for their job, and then that's when mistakes happen.
Historically Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, when they were together with the Patriots, were great at playing in bad conditions because Belichick did not allow weather to be your excuse. He said, "I don't care what the weather is. I'm expecting you to do your job the same way." And so, players didn't allow that built-in excuse of the weather to creep into their mind. They thought, "Well, it doesn't matter what the weather condition is. I've got a job to do and I better focus on my task and focus on that job."
You could always see it in guys' eyes whether they embraced the conditions or they hated them. It had a big effect on the energy that they expended when they're on the field trying to get their job done.
Which brings me back to the Tweet.
Mack and Takitaki had that look in their eyes, and it was clear the rest of the Browns had it, too. That's vital for an AFC North team because games like these are more common in that division than the rest of the NFL.
Fifteen to 25 percent of your games are played in bad weather and you've got to have a team that's built to play good defense, to be able to stop the run, to be able to run the ball, to be physical, to be tough, and to be mentally tough to be able to win and play well and have that energy in less than stellar situations from a weather standpoint. That is one of the secrets of the last two decades for the Steelers, who were built to play in bad conditions. They're a team that's built for AFC North football and they play well in December.
The Browns should want to build a team like that as well. We saw a great sign — and Tweet — against the Texans that shows they're headed in that direction.