Hang in there; it's almost over
How many different ways can one say how bad the Browns are this season as they chug along on the Winless Season Express?
Thank goodness there are only two more games left to dwell on that subject.
The inconsistency of this team in every phase of the game this season is mind rattling. Game in and game out, there appears to be no rhyme or reason as to what the coaches want the players to do for 60 minutes. Either that or the players are incapable of fulfilling those wants.
It isn’t just one particular area that has contributed to the most embarrassing season in what used to be the illustrious and proud history of this franchise. It is in all areas. And the great fans of this team, dwindling by the moment, do not deserve it.
Quarter by quarter, possession by possession, play by play, this team epitomizes what bad football is all about. And it is getting worse as the stigma of being only the second team in National Football League history to lose 16 games in one season looms.
The Browns have only two cracks left at ending this nightmare, which reached 14 straight losses this season and 17 overall with Sunday’s 33-13 humiliation against the Bills in suburban Buffalo.
The first is next Saturday in the home finale against the San Diego Chargers with the season finale set for New Year’s Day in Pittsburgh, which means they really have only one crack unless they can pull off the biggest upset in this lopsided series since the 1999 expansion team knocked off the Steelers, 16-15, in Pittsburgh.
It’s high time coach Hue Jackson flat out admits this team is not good enough win football games. Way too often, it can’t get out of its own way. When plays need to be made, they are not and for a very good reason. The roster lacks playmakers.
There is not one player on this team who can be labeled a clutch performer. Someone who steps up, takes charge and leads the way. Leadership by example is noticeably absent on the field.
It is one thing to not know how a team is going to play from game to game because every game is different. But with the 2016 Browns, the mystery of how they will play disappears the moment they show up.
Whether it’s the defense being shredded in the run game or an offense that knows not the meaning of the word consistent, the Browns’ weekly – or is it weakly – effort is nothing more than that . . . an effort. With few exceptions this season, this team tries and it tries hard.
And therein lies the problem. If effort translated into something – anything – resembling a victory, all this wrangling and gnashing about the joyless, winless season would be relatively unnecessary.
The specter of losing every game is now very real and therefore ratchets up the pressure to win. No one wants to be the team the 2016 Cleveland Browns beats and will work that much harder to avoid that embarrassment.
The Bills, whose only two victories in the last seven games came against teams that have totaled three victories this season, made certain they would not be that team with a relentless ground game and fierce pass rush.
After giving up 460 yards in last Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh, including 236 to Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell and putting up only 67 of their own on the ground, they arrived Sunday with a whole different mind-set against the Browns.
LeSean McCoy, arguably the best running back in the NFL, hammered the Cleveland defense all afternoon. He ran for 153 of the Bills’ 280 rushing yards and scored twice on only 19 carries, ripping off runs of 20, 24, 19, 10, and 17 yards, adding 14 more yards on a swing pass.
The Buffalo front seven partially erased last week’s humiliation, dropping Cleveland quarterback Robert Griffin III five times, making him evacuate the pocket on six other occasions to avoid a sack because he had problems all day locating open receivers and generally manhandling the Cleveland offensive line.
The Browns’ offense, which seems to be getting worse by the game, produced just 269 net yards and went three and out on half of its 10 possessions. It gained those yards in only 54 plays, aided immensely by a nine-play, 72-yard drive on its last possession. It owned the ball for a shade less than 26 minutes.
But that offense somehow managed to pull within 17-10 of the Bills with nine minutes left in the third quarter, The Third scoring on an 18-yard scramble after, yep, failing to find an open receiver.
The Bills, who had taken what seemed to be a commanding 17-3 halftime lead on a Mike Gillislee short run and 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Charles Clay, answered immediately with a six-play, 75-yard drive, McCoy going the final four yards for the first of his scores. He added an 8-yard scoring run on the next series.
The offense paid two other visits to the red zone and came away with only a pair of Cody Parkey field goals
On the second possession of the game, The Third drove his men down to the Buffalo 5 before slamming it in reverse. And this is where the inconsistency on that side of the ball comes in.
Three plays from the 5 netted minus yardage, winding up at the 17 after The Third was sacked twice for losses of four and six yards and Isaiah Crowell, whose 25-yard burst early in the drive got the ball to the 17, was dropped for a two-yard loss.
On the second red-zone visit, a 28-yard connection with tight end Gary Barnidge plus a questionable roughing-the-passer call on Bills linebacker Zach Brown (The Third was scrambling on the play) placed the ball at the Buffalo 13 late in the third quarter.
What would go wrong this time? You just knew that in this season of despair and misery, something would go wrong at the wrong time. And sure enough, it did. This time, it was backward march again, courtesy of a hold by the usually reliable Joe Thomas.
The ball eventually wound up at the Buffalo 22 after an incomplete pass, another Crowell loss from scrimmage and a three-yard scramble by the Third. Yet another microcosm moment in a season full of them.
And as he watched his team fall apart in so many different ways, Jackson, who seemed rooted in one spot most of the afternoon, merely shook his head in what seemed to be bewilderment at just how bad this team is.
It’s almost as though this is all a nightmare and isn’t really happening. That is what makes it that much harder to take and understand.