Two dogs, and one of them had to win Sunday -- one of the two had to prove it was the better of the two mutts.
But better was hard to judge in these dogs, which explains why the Browns hooked up with the Lions to produce one of the most entertaining NFL games of the season. Two even teams thrilled.
Was their game inside Ford Field an instant classic?
Well, maybe this 38-37 game, which the Browns lost, won't be looked at that way. An instant classic ought be a game that matters, and this game didn't matter a lick. Two dogs can't play NFL games that go down as classics.
All the Browns and Lions did was show that two lousy teams can keep their fans glued in front of a TV set. They might have switched channels if they hadn't been watching a game that resembled Arena Football. The two teams were scoring points at the pace of a pinball game.
Fast-break football has its appeal, and in this game, Browns fans got to see what their prodigal son Brady Quinn might be able to do. For the first time in his NFL career, Quinn played like a quarterback with talent.
In the first half, the coaching staff took the shackles off Quinn, who did a reasonable imitation of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady. Quinn handed the Browns a 24-3 lead with his sharp passing and deft handling of the offense in the first half. He still threw his typical dinks and dunks, but he also aired it out, which is what people who have called for coach Eric Mangini to start Quinn had waited for.
When two bad teams play, a three-TD lead isn't much. You can bet your next paycheck a coach will play to preserve that 21-point lead and not to build on it. Mangini didn't disappoint. He put the shackles back on Quinn, a costly decision.
How the beleaguered Mangini could rely on his defense to stop a high-school team is a question only the he can answer. At point of this season, has he seen his defense stop anybody. Why did he count on it Sunday?
In desperation, the Lions had no choice; they had to play high-risk football. Rookie Matt Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in the last draft, flung the football around as if he were guiding Mike Leach's Texas Tech offense, finding receivers roaming loose everywhere in Mangini's sieve of a secondary.
Still, Stafford would need a miracle to pull off the win. Behind 37-31 with nine seconds left, he scrambled and then heaved a prayer that was answered -- partly anyway. On his Hail Mary into the end zone, the Browns were flagged for pass interference with no time left on the clock.
"I didn't see what happened down in the end zone," Mangini said in his postgame interview. "Usually that's a scrum."
An NFL game can't end on a defensive penalty, which gave Stafford a last chance with the football on the Browns 1. He cashed that opportunity in. His TD pass to rookie Brandon Pettigrew left the Lions an extra point away from winning.
And, of course, their kicker Jason Hanson made it. Nobody misses extra points -- not even kickers on sorry teams like the Lions. So the Lions were the better of these two dogs.
Big deal for the Browns? Not really.
For the loss did the Browns a favor. Mangini can talk about wanting to win every game. But with his need for high-end talent so acute, he was better served in losing than in winning, because the loss gave his Browns the edge in one area that bad teams count on: the NFL draft.
That one-point loss moved the Browns a niche ahead of the Lions in the draft rankings, and if the two teams end the season tied for what draft slot they have, the Browns will get the higher pick.
When you're one of the NFL dredges, you count on high draft picks to rebuild your fortunes, and when you're an NFL team with about as much talent as a Division III college team, talent will bring reverse your fortunes.
And if that happens for Mangini and the Browns, they might be able to hold their own a shoot-out against a team that isn't at the bottom of the NFL standings but at the top.