Before the football season began there was a reasonable sense of optimism about the direction of the Browns and the upcoming season. No one really predicted a playoff run but a boost to 7-9 or 8-8 was very possible. The coaching staff although new was exciting and a true Browns fan was running the show (Coach Chud) with very experienced O and D coordinators to support him. The players on defense had been upgraded significantly and the hope was an aggressive attacking defense that made opposing teams uncomfortable. The Steelers were on the decline and had little chance of sniffing playoffs based on their roster and anemic start to the season. All was good in Browns land. Browns fans had reasonable expectations and an improved competitive team. Everyone hated the quarterback, but that was not new for Browns fans. We haven’t liked a quarterback that starts since our return to the league. Now we do love backups but that is a fleeting fancy.
And now we reach the final game of the season and a reality check. The Steelers are again in the playoff race and a victory over the Browns is important for them. The Browns are again “racing” for a high draft pick that is unlikely to right the franchise (as evidenced by the many high picks that have gone before). The Browns have a pathetic record, still no quarterback, can’t close out games as evidenced by many fourth quarter meltdowns, an expensive defense that is highly overrated in our minds and can’t stop a team at the end of a game and can’t get off the field on third down, and a front office that can’t even let the General Manager speak for fear of what he will say. Does that sound like a recipe for success to you? Please challenge me if I am misstating the facts here? I don’t think I am even exaggerating a bit.
And then comes the Browns vaunted fan base. We complain about our starters (primarily at quarterback but everywhere else at times). Boo when the team is down and our players are down. Fatalistically expect to lose and then boo more when the team meets our expectations. We have become the same losers our teams have become. That isn’t a value judgment because I join in with the chorus myself on many occasions. It is simply a statement of fact and reflects the performance on the field of being unable to close out games and be a winner. Be honest with yourself. Isn’t it true that every time a game gets close in the fourth quarter you visualize another loss instead of a stunning win? Well do you think the team is any different? Free agent and rookie players come here and marvel at the improbable ways the team finds to lose games. They almost are in stunned silence. Listen to Kruger interviews since the losing. The poor guy doesn’t know what hit him.
Despite all of this gloom and doom next year hope will spring eternal again. The fans will have a new quarterback to boo and maybe this time they will learn their lesson. I can always pray that the fans will realize that a rookie quarterback will not carry the Browns to the Promised Land (and neither will Hoyer). This team needs to keep its draft picks in their pocket and improve the team at every turn. I have no problem picking a quarterback with their first pick; just do not trade up to get him. Ask Washington how that is turning out? There are no Andrew Lucks in this draft and probably no RG3s either. Let’s get the best available and move from there.
The Browns must sign Mack and Ward to avoid creating two gaping new holes they must fill. They have enough holes already. With a good draft and a mental makeover of the team and the fans, the Browns have something to work with. We might have the most dynamic receiver in the league thanks to Tom Heckert. Just remember that this front office basically ripped Heckert for that move. If he stays clean, he can get even better. That is a great star to build with on offense.
Yes, I have said that the Browns are a disaster. And who can really challenge me on that? They have an unproven front office that needs a bunch of home runs in the draft and strategic signings to move the team forward. I am hopeful that they will listen to reason and use their cap money and draft picks aggressively this year to vault the team forward. The assets are there but it takes precise execution to move out of the abyss.
In addition, it will take some luck and success on the field to break through the culture of losing both for the fans and the team. Even with that early, I have seen Cleveland teams crash and burn when the expectations begin to rise. It makes no sense, but it happens. One team will need to rise above. One team will have to go from disaster to success. Will it be the Browns? Will the Browns fans drop their losing mentality and support the team with thunderous cheers instead of dysfunctional boos? Can we avoid being fickle and support the quarterback through the tough times as well as the good times? There are only so many superstar quarterbacks out there you know. We may not get one. But, look at it this way; anything will look like an upgrade over Weeden.
Am I optimistic? Well, I am a Cleveland fan so that counts on the negative side. I will say this, if the front office executes this off-season, I will remain positive unless the record proves me wrong at the end of next year. I want a winner and acting like a loser does not lead to winning. So I vow to change my approach and hope it helps. Fairy tale … maybe. But, after looking at this Browns season, I have little choice other than giving up. I choose not to give up.