Down And Out

I knew that when the Browns decided to start Johnny Manziel, the season was over.  Sure enough, the Browns got crushed by the Bengals today in a game that was never even competitive.  Manziel was predictably awful.

I’m not saying that Johnny Manziel lost the game single-handedly, because he didn’t.  The whole team didn’t show up.  But when you have to change quarterbacks in the middle of what should be a sprint to the playoffs, and you’re going with a raw rookie whose arm strength is questionable and who made most of the great plays in his college career with his legs, you can’t really expect anything good to happen.  Real playoff teams just don’t do that.  Brian Hoyer’s awful play the past few weeks left the Browns coaches with no choice, because you can’t just let games slip through your fingers through offensive ineptitude — but only rabid fans would expect anything good to happen with Manziel making his first start in a crucial divisional match-up with the Browns’ fading playoff hopes on the line.

And so a season that once seemed promising has spiraled downward into a smelly, urine-soaked, rat-infested dumpster.  It’s the unfortunate lot of the Browns fan.  Now let’s turn our attention to the Buckeyes and that tilt against Alabama on January 1.

Lucky Seven

I’m sure readers of our blog get sick of postings about the Cleveland Browns.  I ask for forgiveness.  The Browns have been so wretched for so long that I just can’t help myself.  And when the Browns reach 7 wins, as they did today with a lucky victory over Atlanta on the road, I feel that I need to acknowledge the occasion.

The Browns’ success this year demonstrates the wisdom of the NFL statistical gurus who take a team’s record into account and try to design schedules that will result in every team ending up 8-8.  Teams that stank last year play considerably easier schedules than the tough teams that made the playoffs.  That’s the sole reason the Browns have reached 7 wins this year.  Still, hitting 7 wins feels good — if only because the Browns have been terrible and gotten the benefit of the cupcake schedule in past years and still laid egg after colossal egg.

I don’t think the Browns are one of the best teams in the NFL by a long shot, but their defense is improving and they have some weapons on offense with the return of Josh Gordon, the development of their two young running backs, and the fact that they finally have some reliable possession receivers.  If Jordan Cameron gets healthy, the Browns could pose a challenge to opposing defenses — if they had a quarterback who didn’t make stupid decisions.  Unfortunately, Brian Hoyer is regressing in that category, and his bonehead plays today produced three interceptions that almost gave the game away.

It was lucky for the Browns that they overcame three bad interceptions and won — but the main thing is they won.  They remain in the hunt for a playoff spot, and it’s the latest in the season that they’ve been in contention for a long, long time.  It feels good to write that.

The Agony, And Occasional Ecstacy

The Browns were playing like crap and down 21-3 when I snapped off the TV in frustration this afternoon and suggested that Kish and I walk to the library — which we did.  It was a way to get away from another situation where I could feel myself beginning to lose my temper and yell incoherently at the lousy tackling and poor play.

We had a nice walk, and when we got back from the library I offered to take Kasey, Mighty Kasey, for a walk around the Yantis Loop.  Why not?  It would keep me away from the TV and make me feel less like I had wasted my Sunday on the Browns.  So Kasey and I took a nice walk, too.  But during the walk I thought well, I should just check to see if anything is happening in the game.  What could it hurt?  I checked, and it was 28-13.  Well, at least the Browns had cut the deficit and hadn’t quit.  A little later I couldn’t resist checking again, and now it was 28-15.  Hmm . . . a safety?  And the Browns were within two scores?

When Kasey and I got back, I decided to turn on the TV, despite the Steelers debacle earlier this year.  Hey . . . it was now 28-22!  Well, what the hell — why not watch?  So I did.  And I saw Head Coach Mike Pettine make a smart challenge on the spot of the ball, and the Browns D make a huge, goal-line stand-type play on fourth and inches — a decision that the Tennessee coach would like to do over — and then Brian Hoyer calmly drive the team down the field for the winning score.

Hey, who are these guys?  A Browns miracle comeback never happens.  I know that Tennessee isn’t one of the best teams in the NFL, but the fact that the Browns were able to turn it around and didn’t quit says a lot to me.  Their coach stays in the game, and his players do, too.  What’s not to like?  Now if only the Browns could actually play full games like they played the second half today and against the Steelers.

And by the way — I know it is stupid that a 57-year-old guy can find his mood change completely depending on whether a football team wins a game, but I just can’t help it.

Another Browns National TV Debacle

The Cleveland Browns were on national TV last night, taking on the Washington Redskins on ESPN.  Why not check out my team?  After all, they’ve got a new coach (an annual occurrence), lots of new players (ditto), there’s a quarterback controversy (ditto ditto), and there’s hope for the future (the horrible, crippling curse of all deluded Cleveland sports fans).  Russell and I had our cell phones handy, ready to text our thoughts on the game and share some positive vibes.

Alas — as is always the case with Cleveland sports — it was not to be.  The Browns defense, at least, looked like an NFL-quality team.  Other than the fact that they were mysteriously penalized on every play, the D got decent pressure on the quarterback, forced some turnovers, and had a nice little goal-line stand.  There seems to be some depth there, too.  When the regular season arrives and the refs swallow their whistles a bit, the defense might even be good.

ESPN photoThe offense was another story.  It started with a botched snap count, a blocking breakdown, and an uncontested sack on the first play, followed by a penalty on the second.  At that point, how many Browns fans thought:  “Uh oh, same old Browns”?  And they were right.  Words like putrid, awful, and embarrassing don’t begin to describe the futility the Browns starters showed in the first half last night.  Brian Hoyer, the quarterback who is coming back from surgery last year, was 2-6 for 16 yards, blew an easy TD throw, and was off on almost every pass.  Johnny Manziel was 7-16 for 65 yards, but even those lame stats were padded by a second-half series against second-teamers.  The Browns eked out a miserable 3 points after a turnover.

Fortunately for me, I decided not to watch the second half when the scrubs took over.  I therefore didn’t have to watch Manziel distinguish himself by flipping off the Redskins bench on national TV.  So, Johnny Football looked like Johnny Asshole.  Browns teammates say Manziel takes a terrible riding from opposing players and fans.  No surprise there!  Manziel is just a kid — people tend to forget that — but his antics on draft day, and his insistence on acting like a big shot when he hasn’t proven himself at the pro level, are bound to attract that kind of attention.  If he can’t keep his cool in a meaningless preseason game, how is he going to stay level-headed during a crucial play with an important game on the line?  Manziel’s stupid middle-finger salute tells us something about him, and it isn’t good news.

There’s some value in a game like this.  It was such a colossal failure that it’s bound to crush any lingering optimism that the Browns have turned a corner and smash the rose-colored glasses of the glass-half-full fans.  The rest of us Browns Backers will approach the start of the regular season with a wary attitude, like a cornered animal with its foot caught in a trap, and grimly determined to bear the impending pain for as long as we possibly can.

Who’da Thunk It?

I ripped the Browns and their management earlier this week when they traded Trent Richardson, accusing them of giving up on the season and disrespecting their diehard fans.  So it’s only fitting that the Browns somehow figured out a way to score 31 points today and beat the Minnesota Vikings on the road, 31-27.

IMG_4861Let’s not kid ourselves — Minnesota isn’t very good, and the Browns aren’t either.  But I am amazed that this Browns team could figure out a way to score 31 points against any NFL team.  Of course, they frittered away lots of opportunities and had incredibly ill-timed turnovers, but this was the first time a lot of these guys had ever played together.  How in the world did they manage to gain more than 400 yards on offense and win on the road?

This week Browns fans everywhere will be tantalized.  Brian Hoyer looked a lot more comfortable in this offense than Brandon Weeden — could Hoyer and his quick release be legitimate?  The Browns D held Adrian Peterson below 100 yards, forced a fumble from him, and recorded six sacks.  Could the defense actually keep the Browns in games this year?

That’s the maddening thing about the Browns that only charter members of the Browns Backers can fully appreciate.  They usually don’t just stink up the joint — they always manage to raise your hopes before crushing them with an embarrassing loss or an impossibly inept play, and you look back on seasons and see countless losses that could have been wins and wonder about what might have been.  With today’s win, that process will start all over again.  Browns fans everywhere will see their hopes raised — at least until next week.