Don’t do it, Jimmy; not yet
It would be so easy to begin this diatribe with a call to immediately relieve Mike Pettine of his duties as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Even lesser sophisticated fans, those who follow the team only because it represents Cleveland and they never say anything bad about it, realize the season has not only slipped away, it’s careening toward oblivion in a monstrously embarrassing manner.
Instead, this diatribe will begin with a plea for Jimmy Haslam III to fight the urge to fire Pettine in the wake of Sunday’s ultra-embarrassing 37-3 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
No, Pettine must be made to wallow in the murky waters of the final weeks of the National Football League season at the helm of this team. He should be made to suffer every bit as much as the fans themselves. Maybe more.
He should be made to stand stoically on the sidelines while his talent-starved, underperforming team slogs through the motions as they did against the Bengals, and wonder just what the hell is going on.
No wonder the Bengals have outscored Cleveland, 98-10, in the last three games of the lopsided series. They just (pick your own verb here; I’m kind of partial to hammered) the daylights out of the Browns for 60 minutes on both sides of the ball Sunday. It was not even close to being a fair fight.
It was the men against the boys on the lakefront as the so-called Battle of Ohio turned into the Domination of Ohio with a decided edge to the southern part of the state. No one on the Browns who played Sunday should step forward to collect a paycheck and walk away thinking he deserved it.
Pettine should be punished for pretending to put a professional football team on the field week after week after week only to see that so-called professional football team act like anything but. Keeping his job would accomplish that. The Browns clearly did not arrive ready to play a game of football Sunday.
The coach’s hokey “Play Like a Brown” mantra has become stale and come back to slap him silly. If this is what playing like a Brown is like, either change the mantra or change the players who are supposed to live up to it.
Playing like a Brown certainly doesn’t mean playing embarrassing football like they played for 60 agonizing minutes against the Bengals, a team the Browns should seriously think about trying to emulate in so many more ways than one.
Playing like a Brown has taken on a whole new meaning as the club’s current losing streak reached seven games with no silver linings in sight. The Browns are plumbing new depths as they streak toward yet another top three slot in next year’s college football draft.
Everyone was culpable against the Bengals, who toyed with their intrastate rivals all afternoon. This was, in the truest sense of the word, a team loss.
The defense couldn’t stop the run or successfully defend against the pass, while the offensive line once again had problems blocking for the run game and handling the fierce Bengals pass rush.
Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton misfired on only five of 19 passes for 220 yards and opened up the scoring on the Bengals' second series of the game when he sneaked in from three yards as the Cleveland defense was totally unprepared at the snap.
That, as it turned out, along with 57-yard pass hookup with wide receiver A. J. Green that began the drive, was a portent of things to come. Green had beaten Cleveland cornerback Tramon Williams, whose desperate, lunging reach managed to trip up Green or else it would have been an 84-yard strike. It only delayed the inevitable.
No one realized it at the time, of course, but the rout was on. The Bengals put points on the board in the next six possessions, including three Mike Nugent field goals, to lead, 20-3, at the half and 34-3 late in the third quarter.
They ran for 144 yards against the sieve-like Cleveland defense; Dalton threw for two scores; he was sacked just once and hit just once; and Green, whose 23-yard touchdown was scored with ridiculous ease on what appeared to be a blown coverage, made nine-year veteran Williams look like a rookie.
The Browns ran 12 first-half plays in Cincinnati territory and managed to come away with just the three points, but even that was somewhat dramatic. Another time management brain cramp by Pettine in the final seconds of the first half removed any chance of getting into the end zone.
It took the Cleveland coach 12 seconds to call his final timeout after Austin Davis’ short checkdown pass to Duke Johnson Jr. over the middle advanced the ball to the Bengals’ 29-yard line. An immediate timeout would have left the Browns with about 12 seconds to work with and multiple options.
As it was, only two seconds remained and Travis Coons drilled a 47-yard field goal. It was as though Pettine was playing for the three points.
The Bengals tightened the defense in the second half and allowed the Browns to cross midfield only once on five drives.
The Cincinnati pass rush was relentless all afternoon, basically eschewing whatever running game the Browns had and aiming for the bull’s-eye on Davis’ uniform. The Cleveland quarterback was sacked three times, hit on at least 11 other occasions and either hurried or flushed from the picket on many other occasions.
He was forced into grounding the ball twice and a backward pass that was deflected by Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap was ruled a fumble and recovered by the Bengals early in the fourth quarter. Not exactly what Davis had hoped for in his Cleveland starting debut.
Boos rained down throughout the second half and bounced off the numerous empty seats. The Browns were so bad that maybe even Pettine felt like booing, too. This one is going to be hard to explain to his owner. The temptation to finish the season with an interim head coach might be overwhelming.
So please, Jimmy The Third, don’t do Pettine any favors and fire him now. He might consider it an act of mercy if you do that. Resist the temptation. Hold on a little longer. Only four more games. It might be painful to do, but try and wait until the minute after the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then pull the trigger.
Right now, Pettine is a dead man walking.