Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's hammer (and nail) time

Pass the next nail, please. Yep, that one in the box marked "Mangini." And pass the hammer while you're at it.

What do I want that for? you ask. Isn't the answer obvious?

It's to drive what should be the final nail into the head coaching coffin of Eric Mangini, who has to know by now his days as coach of the Cleveland Browns are numbered. As in no later than the day after the last game of the season, which would make that Jan. 3. Or 15 days from now.

Mangini is a smart man (not coach) and if he isn't updating his resume after Sunday's humiliating 19-17 loss to the Bengals down in Cincinnati, he's in full denial. There is absolutely no way he comes back for a third season.

If Mike Holmgren has even the tiniest notion of even thinking about bringing Mangini back for one more season of this torture, then Randy Lerner made the wrong move in bringing him to Cleveland to run the show.

Fans have seen enough. Even some of those who still believe Mangini is the right guy for the Browns must now see the club has slammed the gear into reverse. And that's the coach's fault. No one else's His alone.

Two weeks in a row now, Mangini's Browns faced a two-victory team. And two weeks in a row, they have emerged with a performance that reeks of a stench so toxic, nothing will get rid of it short of changing head coaches.

It was very obvious the Browns were not prepared to play the 2-11 Bengals. Sound familiar? Happened against the 2-10 Bills the previous week. Happened against the at-the-time 1-9 Carolina Panthers, too, but they got lucky and won that one. No one has stepped up and made a big play (on both sides of the ball) when it was required.

And yes, this is virtually the same team that knocked off the three-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and defending Super Bowl champ New Orleans Saints in consecutive weeks earlier this season. Hard to believe, isn't it?

There is no question this team has completely fallen apart. If not for a couple of fortunate victories against Carolina and Miami, the Browns would be dragging up the rear of the National Football League. They have played less than inspired football since nearly beating the New York Jets back on Nov. 14.

They arrive on game day not ready to play. More than half the game in the NFL is mental preparedness and psychological readiness. Emotion plays such a big part in this game and the Browns, for the most part, have exhibited very little since their brief (and very deceiving) mid-season push.

Sunday against the Bengals, the defense played shoddy football, especially against the run. The Bengals averaged 88 yards a game on the ground coming into the game. They ran for 188 against the Browns, who tackled as though they wished the season was over. Cedric Benson looked like a combination of Emmitt Smith and Earl Campbell with his 150 yards.

The offense, with the exception of the flawless opening drive, struggled despite the return of Colt McCoy. There is no reason that side of the ball should be scuffling at this point of the season. The offensive line has become the gateway to the quarterback with Turnstile John St. Clair leading the way. McCoy had little or no time to throw most of the afternoon.

His return to the lineup after recovering from a high ankle sprain was somewhat disappointing since most fans believed anything would be better than Jake Delhomme and anticipated a victory. But the rookie quarterback received little cooperation from his offensive line.

He was sacked four times, hit on at least a half dozen other occasions and flushed out of the pocket more than he wanted. His 132.6 passer rating on a 19-for-25, 243-yard, two-tocuhdown afternoon more than proves that statistic often times is very misleading.

And there should be no excuse for the offensive line to regress at this point of the season. But that's precisely what we're seeing. The Cincinnati defensive front seven, which gives up 125 yards a game, humbled Peyton Hillis, limiting him to just 59 yards and an embarrassing one first down on the ground.

The Cleveland offense ran just 43 plays from scrimmage and owned the ball for only 22 minutes against the Bengals. The week before against Buffalo, the Browns ran 46 plays and had the ball 24 minutes. You don't win games with time of possession figures like that.

This season hasn't merely slipped away. It has careened into a runaway nightmare. The fans have been humiliated enough. They believe it's time to finally bring in a coach who can make them feel good again about their team. Ten losing seasons in 12 since the return in 1999 ratchets up a lot of anger.

That's why it's time to finally put an end to the misery of Browns Nation. It's time for Mike Holmgren to do the right thing. It's time for Eric Mangini to effect a complete separation from Cleveland. Pay him the rest of his contract to not coach the Browns.

So please hand me that hammer and nail and stand back. This one's for the great fans of the Cleveland Browns.

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