If there’s anything we have learned this year, it’s that somehow, some way, the race for the presidency and the Cleveland Browns can always get worse.
Each time we think things can’t possibly go lower, that surely Donald Trump couldn’t do anything grosser than criticizing PoWs, that even the Browns couldn’t suffer misfortune beyond losing their new starting quarterback to injury during the season opener, we are quickly reminded that this is no regular campaign and that the Browns are no regular losing football team.
A season ago the Browns started a somewhat promising 2-3 before dropping to 2-10 and then finishing 3-13, one of those losses coming in overtime to the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos, another coming to the hated Baltimore Ravens on a kick-six at the buzzer, and the 13th and final defeat coming via blowout to the even more hated Steelers that allowed Pittsburgh to slip into the playoffs. They lost Josh McCown to injury, they lost complete control of 2014 first-round pick Johnny Manziel and they fired yet another head coach. For most franchises, a season like that is rock bottom. It’s a chance to reset, take a deep breath and step into the future with hope, knowing that things can only get better because they can’t possibly get worse.
But it always gets worse for the Browns. This week alone was a football tragedy. The Browns started rookie quarterback Cody Kessler for the third time due to Robert Griffin III and McCown being in slings, but he got knocked out with chest and rib injuries in the first half. That forced the team’s best current receiver, Terrelle Pryor – a former quarterback for Ohio State and the Oakland Raiders – to play a few snaps under center before giving way to Charlie Whitehurst, an NFL journeyman signed less than three weeks ago … who was subsequently knocked out of the game with a leg injury in the fourth quarter, turning the quarterback position back over to a receiver. No, the football gods did not even spare Clipboard Jesus.
That entire debacle was set against the beginning of Tom Brady’s return/vengeance tour. Roger Goodell slapped Brady with a four-game suspension and then let the league scheduler hand the bloodthirsty Patriots a match-up against football’s worst team for the comeback game? What kind of punishment is that, other than undeserved punishment for poor Cleveland? It’s one thing if the universe is out to get the Browns, but they really don’t need the league office ganging up on them, too. Per the eternal Browns misery script, Brady proceeded to throw for 406 yards and three touchdowns and FirstEnergy Stadium was filled with delighted cheers from thousands of Patriots fans who had scooped up tickets to witness the assured destruction.
At least Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard didn’t have huge days for the Patriots. They’re both former Browns draft picks who are now living the good life in New England where they’re being utilized by Bill Belichick, the former Browns head coach who has four Super Bowl titles in 17 seasons with the Patriots (whereas the Browns have just two wins in their last 17 games). The highlight of the game for Browns fans was probably when the local CBS feed cut out halfway through the broadcast and saved them from a few minutes of the Whitehurst era.
Again, all that occurred in week five in a three-hour period. A beautiful, crisp, sunny October Sunday afternoon on the shores of Lake Erie where everything happened to go wrong, just as it always does. It was just as bad in week four when the Browns blew a fourth-quarter lead to Washington at home – giving Cleveland three consecutive half-time leads squandered. This defeat was highlighted by a Duke Johnson fumble/non-fumble that gave the ball away with nine minutes remaining and Cleveland driving … even though Johnson clearly was in control of the ball as the ref signaled turnover.
Cleveland’s week three defeat to the woeful Miami Dolphins was almost entirely the fault of kicker Cody Parkey. After regular kicker Patrick Murray suffered a foot injury two days before the game, the Browns signed Parkey – who hadn’t kicked in the NFL since last September with the Eagles – sight unseen. They should have seen. Parkey missed three of his six field goal attempts, including a 46-yard try that sent the game into overtime where the Browns would, of course, lose. What else? Oh, right. Three days before the loss, the Browns announced that first round pick Corey Coleman, who had two touchdowns and 104 receiving yards in week two, would miss up to six weeks with a broken hand. And then four days after the game, fellow receiver Josh Gordon announced he was checking himself back into rehab. Week three: fin.
Week two delivered a five-point home loss the the Ravens after Cleveland was leading 20-0 in the first half. The Browns were driving in the final minute and picked up a first down at the 10-yard line on a great catch by Pryor with 21 seconds left. But the ball got sent back to the 30 due to offsetting penalties – Cleveland’s coming on “taunting” by Pryor. See if you can uncover the egregious taunt.
Regardless, the game essentially ended on the very next play when McCown, now desperate to pick up the yardage that was taken away, chucked an interception. But at least the bitter taste of that week two defeat helped wash away some of the awful taste of Cleveland’s 2016 debut. That saw Griffin go to injured reserve and the Browns get torched by No2 overall pick Carson Wentz. You’ll recall that Cleveland had the No2 spot but decided Wentz wasn’t the quarterback for them, and traded the pick to Philadelphia. Wentz now has a 103.5 quarterback rating and is on pace to throw for 4,028 yards, 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions in his rookie season. We all should have seen it coming since the Browns passed him over.
And so Cleveland is 0-5, the only winless team in the NFL, each loss special and unique in its own unbelievable (yet completely believable) way. They’ve used five quarterbacks in five games and five bucks says they’ll use five more. It always gets worse.
While those who still back Donald Trump deserve a crushing defeat on 8 November, Browns fans don’t deserve this. Sure, they have LeBron and the Cavaliers, and the Indians are on to the American League Championship series. But the success of those two teams has only seemed to make things worse for the Browns – as thought the city of Cleveland is only allowed so much sports joy, and with basketball and baseball at the highest of highs, the Browns must be pushed to the lowest of lows, lower than they’ve ever been.
We are all witnesses to what may be the worst season in Browns history. That may be hard to believe, but this is Believeland. For good or bad.
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