Sunday, September 30, 2018

Self destruct button worn out

 One of these days, or weeks, or months, the Browns are going to win a game on the road. Sunday in Oakland was not one of those days.

In a game that see-sawed back and forth so often and so quickly it made the television viewer dizzy, the Oakland Raiders literally outlasted the Browns in a four-hour marathon slugfest, 45-42 in overtime.

It was a battle of endurance with both teams near exhaustion at the end when Matthew McCrane kicked his third field goal of the game, a 29-yarder with 106 seconds left in the extra session

It was a game that saw Browns rookie running back Nick Chubb touch the ball three times, run for 105 yards and score twice; the Browns successfully convert two of three two-point attempts after touchdowns; and Carlos Hyde’s elbow becoming a turning point.

It also saw Baker Mayfield, in his National Football League starting debut, commit four turnovers against a team that had only one takeaway in its first three games. It included a pick six for the first Oakland touchdown in the opening quarter.

The teams combined for 1,052 yards of offense, 48 first downs, 165 snaps and six turnovers as the lead and momentum swung back and forth all day.

The victory snapped the Raiders’ season-opening three-game losing streak and extended the Browns’ road woes to 23 games dating back to the 2015 season when they beat the Baltimore Ravens in overtime. That was 1,085 days ago.

The loss also prevented the Browns from winning their second game in a row, something they haven’t done since the 2014 season when they put together a three-game win streak (this is not a typo) in a 12-day period from Oct. 26 to Nov. 6,

There were numerous points of the latest loss when Browns fans thought they had the game wrapped up, only to watch them fall completely apart at the most inappropriate time and allow the Raiders back in the game.

They extended a 17-14 halftime lead to 28-14 lead midway through the third quarter and looked positively golden after forcing an Oakland punt. And this is where the game took a decidedly and unexpectedly sharp turn for the worse.

The Raiders turned a 14-point deficit into a 34-28 lead, taking full advantage of a Cleveland offense that all of a sudden could do nothing right. The main culprit was Mayfield, looking nothing like the confident and self-assured quarterback 10 days ago in the New York Jets victory..

It began with a losing fumble as the kid attempted to pass near his goal line and was stripped and ended with a three-and-out during a five-possession stretch during which the Raiders scored 20 unanswered points.

In between were two more three-and-outs and a fumbled snap by Mayfield when lining up under center after center JC Tretter inadvertently snapped before his quarterback was ready.

The Raiders began drives at the Cleveland seven and 20, gifting an Oakland offense that had struggled up to that point, managing only seven points until the Browns’ offense practiced generosity.

Somehow, though, the mistake-prone offense somehow found a resilience that regained the momentum, displaying a characteristic that has been missing from Browns teams for lo these many, many years,

Moments after McCrane upped the Oakland lead to 34-28, Mayfield hooked up with fellow rookie Antonio Callaway, who up to that point was having a miserable afternoon with regard to holding on to  the football, on a 59-yard pass and run that led  to the go-ahead touchdown and a one-point lead.

And just like that, the Cleveland offense was back in business, One defensive stop later, it was time for Chubb, who ripped off a 63-yard run for the first Cleveland touchdown in the second quarter on a beautifully executed counter play.

This time, Chubb climaxed a three-play, 63-yard drive with a 41yard scoring burst to extend the lead to eight seemingly safe points with 4:20 left in regulation, especially after forcing a punt with 1:51 left and the Raiders back to struggle stage.

That’s where Hyde’s elbow enters the picture. Three straight handoffs to the big back supposedly garnered 10 yards and the Raiders by then had exhausted their timeouts. It appeared as though Oakland quarterback Derek Carr’s three-touchdown, two-pick afternoon wasn’t good enough to stop the losing.

Hyde appeared to make the first down at the Cleveland 19 by the nose of the ball after a measurement. The replay official reversed the initial ruling of first down, ruling Hyde’s elbow hit the ground before the ball crossed the plane of the first-down marker.

The Raiders began their final drive from their 47 after a 14-yard punt return. It was yet another special teams breakdown that led to good field position against a defense that was tired.  Whatever Cleveland momentum regained up to that point was gone.

It took the revived Raiders seven plays and 58 seconds to travel 53 yards, tight end Jared Cook, who had been a thorn all afternoon along with Amari Cooper, gathering in a Carr toss from seven yards for his second score of the day.

Browns fans at that point could almost sense what was going to happen next as the Raiders needed a successful two-point try to force overtime.  Sure enough, Carr lofted a fade to reliable veteran Jordy Nelson, who outfought Browns cornerback T. J. Carrie for the football.

By overtime, the Cleveland offense was completely shot (probably worn out from scoring so many points) registering its sixth three-and-out on its lone overtime possession in the 18-possession afternoon.

The Raiders went 70 yards in nine plays, converting two third downs along the way, McCrane putting an end to the misery with a 29-yard field goal.

The loss is difficult to swallow, especially since the Browns, who have struggled offensively for the better part of two decades, crashed the 40-point barrier for the first time since 2009, when they knocked off the Chiefs, 41-34, in Kansas City.

So the beat goes on, but this time Browns fans know better days are not that far off. The offense, once it jells, is capable of putting points on the board in a hurry. The defense, which was victimized by the offense against the Raiders with costly turnovers, is a lot better than it showed Sunday.

Sometimes, a losing experience like this can act as an object lesson to a young football team. Most of the important pieces are in place with this roster. It now is just a matter of honing them to turn a game like Sunday into a victory next time.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Will Mayfield ignore Gruden hyperbole?

 It’s an old, but tried and true, practice employed and copied by just about every head football coach on all levels down through the years. Never, under any circumstances, publicly denigrate the opposition no matter how bad they are.

After reading the words of Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden during a Wednesday conference call with the Cleveland media in the run-up to Sunday’s game with the Browns, you would think he is the president and chief cheerleader of the Baker Mayfield fan club.

“Mayfield . . . if you draw a line under that name, he’s the man,” said Gruden of the Browns’ rookie quarterback, who will make his National Football League starting debut against his winless Raiders in Oakland. “He’s the story I think right now is going to become bigger and bigger in Cleveland this year.”

And why exactly is that? “He does an excellent job of keeping plays alive and has incredible vision downfield,” said Gruden, who reentered the NFL coaching wars this year after a nine-year absence.

“I mean the guy has eyes in the back of his head.  So you’ve got to know he’s a great, creative player and the system they run involves a lot of skilled people they didn’t have last year.”

Anything else? “He has the magic about him,” Gruden effusively continued his hyperbole. “He has the charisma about him that really allows everybody on that team . . . to play at a higher level.”

High praise, indeed, for a quarterback who has played roughly 32 minutes of one NFL game. Played perfectly by the veteran coach. Pump up the most recent star player and mean maybe a syllable or two of his utterances.

Mayfield doesn’t seem to have the kind of intelligence that would believe bullroar like that. If its intention was to build up the kid’s ego to distract him, it is unlikely going to work.

Mayfield has displayed the ability to prevent outside interference from messing with the task at hand, a trait surprising in one so young and focused. He will face an entirely different situation Sunday than he did in the Thursday night victory over the New York Jets.

The Raiders, who will move to Las Vegas either next season or 2020, are an angry football team. Gruden’s return to the sidelines after nine years away from coaching has staggered out of the starting gate.

The club’s inability to hold on to leads is the biggest stumbling block, having led all three losses at halftime with two of those margins good enough to lead heading into the final quarter. Finishing seems to be the biggest problem. Sounds a little like the Browns the last several seasons.

Defense is the biggest area of concern for the Raiders, who have posted only three sacks and one interception thus far. Rushing the passer is relatively non-existent.

Gruden laments that he needs not only a pass rusher, but a great pass rusher. “It’s hard to find a great one,” he said. “It’s hard to find a good one. It’s hard to find one. . . . With college football, they aren’t dropping back to pass and throwing anymore.”

He’s partially correct. More than a few NFL teams draft college quarterbacks who excel in the run/pass/option game, which features the short- to medium-range game. Plays develop quicker, thus neutralizing a strong pass rush. (Mayfield is a prime example.)

The Raiders put less pressure on quarterbacks than any other team. Only a league-low 19 pressures on 98 dropbacks by opposing quarterbacks, figures that would look a whole lot different had Gruden not sanctioned the trade of edge rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears.

Mack, who epitomizes the great pass rusher Gruden longs for, is a game-changer who wanted more money than the club was willing to spend to keep him in the Bay area and now he’s wreaking havoc in Chicago.

Offensively, the Raiders are much more dangerous – and careless – with the football. Quarterback Derek Carr has completed 76.6% of his passes, but has thrown only two touchdown passes and completed five others to the opposition. He has thrown for 642 yards and three scores in splitting a pair of games with Cleveland

His favorite targets are tight end Jared Cook, who has 18 receptions for 260 yards and wide receivers Amari Cooper (13 catches for 142 yards) and Jordy Nelson, coming off a six-reception, 173-yard afternoon in last Sunday’s 28-20 loss in Miami. Martavis Bryant, cut originally by the Raiders, is back and is a dangerous deep threat.

The ground game is handled by veterans Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin, both of whom are on the downward side of their careers. Lynch has scored all three of the Raiders’ touchdowns – they’ve scored only five total – infantry style. 

Two factors impact how this one turns out. The Raiders are due to bust out and the Browns, who finally broke their winless streak after 635 days against the Jets, face another losing streak, this one on the road.

It will be exactly 1,085 days (and 22 games) ago since the Browns recorded a road victory when they face the Raiders. It was Oct. 11, 2015 in Baltimore when they knocked off the Ravens, 33-30, in overtime on a 32-yard field goal by Travis Coons, his fourth of the afternoon.

There is no question the Cleveland offense is different with Mayfield at the helm. But the Raiders now have tape on the rookie even though it’s somewhat limited. It’s hard to tell if that will be enough to help form some sort of successful defensive game plan against him.

Everything in his one points to a Browns victory. They are a more talented team, a younger team, a hungrier team and a more balanced team. And yet there is that lingering thought that slams on the brakes and cautions not yet.

Seeing is believing. That was evident against the jets. But can Mayfield repeat, or come close to repeating, his performance against them? Winning on the road in the NFL is difficult to begin with.

Until Mayfield can show he can win in enemy territory, it is difficult to pick the Browns to win. But when he does, and he will, the landscape changes dramatically.  It just won’t be this Sunday.

Oh . . . and don’t forget about the spectacularly awful Browns special teams that have caused more problems in three games than most teams encounter in an entire season. Factor that into the equation and then . . . Make it:

Raiders 20, Browns 17

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

It is a problem that seems to be growing daily and acts as an irritant to the poobahs at National Football League headquarters.

How in the world is the league going to bring under control the nonsense surrounding the new application of the roughing-the-passer rule that seems to rankle just about everyone who plays defense?

It used to be that a sack was a sack no matter how the quarterback was brought down. In so many ways, that is no longer the case.

Initially, hitting a quarterback below the knees was outlawed. Too many leg injuries.
Striking a quarterback in the helmet or head was next on the hit list. Those no-nos were subject to a 15-yard penalty.

Even that wasn’t enough for members of the league’s powerful competition committee. Had to do something about players using their full body weight when taking down a quarterback.

Technically, Rule 12, Section 2, Article 9 of the NFL Rules Book is rambling and massively worded. Paraphrasing the next two paragraphs here to cover the essential part with regard to all the current problems.

A roughing the passer penalty shall be called and enforced if a player unnecessarily or violently throws the quarterback down or lands on top of him with all or most of his weight. The defensive player must strive to wrap up the passer with his arms and not land . . . with all or most of his body weight.

Note: When in doubt about a roughness call or potentially dangerous tactic against the quarterback, the referee should always call roughing the passer.

How to apply the new guidelines has become a problem spinning out of control, causing coaches to shake their heads in wonderment trying to figure out how to coach their men.

Officials on the field, it seems, have no idea what is and isn’t a weighty sack. Players are confused, coaches are confused. So, it seems, are the officials.

The league, it would appear, finally came up with legislation that has cut down on the number of helmet-to-helmet hits that causes numerous concussions. That one seems to be under control now as coaches have adapted and changed their coaching technique.

This one is more difficult, though, because of the interpretation of the rule. What constitutes most of a player’s body weight? Is it 90%, 75%, 60%? 50%? How does one make that determination? Therein lies the problem.

Officials, most notably referees because they are the ones closest to the quarterback and throw a majority of the roughing flags, are really only guessing how to interpret this rule. And it is not fair to them or the players by any stretch.

Tony Corrente and Craig Wrolstad are just two NFL referees whose judgment on these matters has drawn criticism this season. Don’t blame them. They are only carrying out what the rules book says. That’s where the problem lies.

Several years ago, Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News hit the nail on the head with regard to where the blame really lies.

“The real problem here isn’t with Tony Corrente or any other NFL zebra,” he wrote. “The bigger problem is, either out of concern over concussions or just wanting to codify every little nuance of the sport, the NFL has passed so many rules, the game has become impossible to officiate.”

Chimed in Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III, who has been flagged three times for legitimate sacks, “Unfortunately, this league is going in a direction I think a lot of people don’t like. I think they’re getting soft.”

Tweeted Minnesota Vikings safety George Iloka: They should just change the name of the penalty to ‘tackling the passer’ instead of ‘roughing’ the passer #smh

The more teams are burned – Myles Garrett of the Browns was incorrectly flagged in the season opener against Pittsburgh – the greater the outcry among owners. And that is probably when fans will see the application of this rule either changed or be called less frequently.
*       *       *
Now that Baker Mayfield is the starting quarterback for the Browns, look for the rookie to spread the ball around a lot as offensive coordinator Todd Haley opens up the playbook.

Based strictly on his first 32 minutes in his new role, Mayfield seems to be a quick study with a learning curve that has no limits. The fact he reportedly studies voraciously can’t help but prepare him to achieve more than a modicum of success.

Haley can now reopen the playbook, which appeared to be dumbed down by game three for Tyrod Taylor, with Mayfield in charge. Based on his showing in the come-from-behind Jets victory last Thursday, the kid appears to have a firm grasp of some of Haley’s complexities.

He can make throws Taylor only dreams of. All of which means receivers like Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, David Njoku and, yes, even Duke Johnson Jr. will be that much more involved in the game plan.

Johnson, in particular, needs to handle the ball more than he has this season. You don’t maximize his value with only 15 touches in three games. His best position is “just get me the ball.” He is more than capable, as he has shown in the past, of doing the rest and doing it well.
*       *       *
Finally . . . Mayfield, after the Jets victory: “It’s not the only win we’re going to celebrate.” Haven’t heard confidence like that from a Cleveland quarterback since the days of Bernie Kosar. . . . More Mayfield, on the victory: “I didn’t come here to win just one game and I didn’t come here to start the next. We’re building a franchise here and we’re turning it around. . . . Never listen to the outside noise.” . . . One last Mayfield, on becoming the 30th starter at quarterback since 1999: “It’s 2018. I don’t really care.” . . .  Hue Jackson has ruled out the possibility of Taylor being moved. The San Francisco 49ers are looking for a quarterback after losing Jimmy Garoppolo for the season with a torn ACL. Makes sense to hold on to Taylor since Drew Stanton would be the only quality backup if General Manager John Dorsey overrules his coach and deals the veteran.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Mayfield now the man

 Now that Baker Mayfield has been anointed the 30th starting quarterback for the Browns since 1999, it’s time to greet the news with a dose of reality.

What fans saw last Thursday night against the New York Jets was refreshing, to say the least, and somewhat awe-inspiring with regard to where the future of this franchise lies.

Coach Hue Jackson saw that, too, on the field and on tape. His decision to elevate Mayfield to the top spot on the depth chart was not only inevitable, it was maybe the easiest he’ll make all season.

From the moment the top selection in this year’s college draft trotted onto the field to the moment he trotted triumphantly to the locker room, magic wafted over the field en route to the Browns’ 21-17 victory.

It was almost as though the epiphany Browns fans have longed for all these years was taking place right before their eyes and the eyes of those who watched on national television.

Fans, especially those who have suffered with the ill-fated fortunes of the Browns over the last two decades, have a tendency to overreact when they witness the kind of football Mayfield played against the Jets.

Omigoodness, many must have thought enthusiastically as the rookie played the game of football in a manner with which they are not familiar. If this is any indication of what lies ahead, let me back on the bandwagon, some said, especially those who jumped off long ago when all hope seemed lost.

Therein lies a possible danger, though. Immediately latching onto a rising star such as Mayfield, who does indeed seem to have a star quality about him so early in his professional career, might be a little premature.

Reality unfortunately has a way of balancing the scales in unforeseen ways when it comes to predicting the future of someone as young as Mayfield. In the National Football League, fortunes turn suddenly. One game, or in this case half a game, is not the measuring stick of the future..

That’s not to say the kid won’t go out to Oakland Sunday and reprise his heroics in the Jets victory, lighting up the place against the Raiders. At the same time, it is entirely possible he might even surpass it.

It is also possible the Raiders will be ready for him now that they have tape on him with a sliver or two of insight as to some tendencies he might have inadvertently shown. Falling short of expectations is a distinct possibility.

There is no question, however, that he will take a certain amount of quiet swagger into this game probably along with some nervousness, which is to be expected. But strong personalities such as his have a way of overcoming those nerves.

The fact he is now the man, which is not surprising at all, comes at a time when this offense is in desperate need of a positive infusion. It was not getting it from Tyrod Taylor.

As cold as this sounds, it was a blessing in disguise the veteran quarterback was concussed late in the first half. There is no telling what Jackson would have done had Taylor been cleared from concussion protocol in the Jets game. Now we’ll never know.

When Mayfield grabbed his helmet and rushed onto the field several minutes later, he did not have time to think. Now he will have the benefit of a full week of taking all the reps with the starters. That in theory should make a difference.

It will be only step one of 13 for Mayfield, who will play the rest of the season with a bull’s-eye on the back of his uniform. Therein lies the big test, the one that will determine once and for all whether he is “the one” fans have been waiting for all these years.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Monday leftovers (Saturday edition)

 Time to pump the brakes on who gets the call at quarterback when the Browns resume the season a week from Sunday out in Oakland against the Raiders. At least for now.

The charade will continue right through to Monday when coach Hue Jackson reveals his choice after laboring in thought over the weekend. He wants to first review the tape from the come-from-behind 21-17 victory Thursday night over the New York Jets. That is his right.

Then he wants to talk to his quarterbacks after making that decision. Also his right and probably the smartest move considering the egos of quarterbacks, especially those in danger of losing their jobs.

This one won’t be easy for Jackson because he has the unpleasant chore of informing Tyrod Taylor, the man he all but promised would be the starting quarterback most, if not all, of the season that he will begin clipboard duty in Oakland.

Taylor was brought to Cleveland to be the bridge quarterback to Baker Mayfield, the wunderkind selected with the first overall pick in the last college football draft.

Well, that bridge collapsed late in the second quarter of the Jets victory, the first for the Browns in 635 days, when Taylor was sacked for the third time and suffered a concussion.

Is there any doubt whatsoever in Browns Nation that Jackson in his Monday news conference will name Mayfield as the new starting quarterback – No. 30 since the 1999 return – regardless of where Taylor stands in concussion protocol?

Of course not. The way the team and crowd responded to Mayfield’s professional debut was evident from the moment he stepped on the field late in the second quarter and immediately put points on the scoreboard.

Jackson will have to travel through an emotional minefield with Taylor, who will not be a happy camper at all with the decision. And he shouldn’t be. He’ll probably wonder about Jackson’s commitment to him.

At the same time, the young veteran has been around the National Football League long enough to know situations like this happen. Those are the vagaries of the most important position on a football team.

It will be interesting to see how he takes this publicly. Will he be the good soldier and say he’ll do anything to help Mayfield in order to make the club better? Or will he sulk, angry that he unfairly lost his job due to an injury?

It’s pretty safe to assume, though, this probably will be Taylor’s only season in Seal Brown and Orange as he continues his trek along the highway of journeymen.

Jackson, whose job is dangling tenuously on a slim thread to begin with, knows he has to win now or else he will be an ex-head coach. Mayfield, at least based on his pro debut, gives him the best chance of winning.

It became extremely obvious once Mayfield entered the game that the offense ran much smoother and more effectively. There was a spark absent with Taylor running the huddle.

The offensive line, which seemed to just go through the motions under Taylor, began opening holes and protecting the quarterback a whole lot better with Mayfield. Taylor scrambled half the time because he had trouble finding open receivers and looked unsure in the pocket.

Don’t know how he does it, but Mayfield seems to have a sixth sense of lurking danger in the pocket and uses his feet to maneuver around and through it to give himself more time and a better passing lane with which to work.

Taylor seems reluctant to take chances, maybe because he doesn’t have a strong arm and trust himself to make high-risk throws. Not Mayfield, who completed five or six passes through tight windows with laser-like precision.

That can’t be taught. Either you have it or you don’t. Jackson had to see that, if not on the field, then certainly on tape. He saw it in training camp, in exhibition games and then up close and personal in money games.

Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, who watched Mayfield’s performance against the Jets from his NFL Network perch, was impressed. After the game, he gushed about the rookie, then gave him a nickname.

“Baker (Money) Mayfield,” he said repeatedly and loudly. “Baker (Money) Mayfield.” That one might stick around a while.
*       *       *
Mayfield said something extremely interesting to the NFL Network crew after the game and might provide some insight, shed some light into what makes him seem special. He said it almost as an aside during a conversation.

 “I’ve always told myself I’m different,” he said, as if he sets himself apart from the crowd, as if he expects himself to do things well and is supremely confident in his ability to do so.

It’s not a swagger. It’s a quiet confidence that he will always find a way to do what needs to be done. And if he doesn’t initially, he will continue until he unlocks the mystery. Sort of an actions speak louder than words thing.

That confidence seemingly, at least based on the brief time he had the huddle against the Jets, translated into a show of entertaining offense that has been missing from this franchise for a very long time.

With Taylor, it was almost cross your fingers that he doesn’t make a mistake. With Mayfield, it’s uncross those fingers because you just know he’s going to make positive plays.

Taylor is not the future of this franchise. Mayfield is present and the future. He is also the new face of this franchise.
*       *       *  
Time once again to check in on the Browns’ special teams, which haven’t been special at all since Amos Jones was named special teams coordinator. It seems as though something goes wrong every time the Browns play a game. Thursdays game is no exception. It might have been the worst this season.

Let’s start with penalties, which has been a constant annoyance, it seems, every time the Browns are on the receiving end of a punt. Fans have become accustomed to yellow laundry flying every time Jabrill Peppers or Jarvis Landry wait for a punt to fall.

Against the Jets, it was two holding penalties and an illegal block in the back, all of which drives the starting line of scrimmage closer to the Cleveland goal line. Of the club’s five total penalties, three were against special teams.

Continuing with the punting game, Britton Colquitt had a punt blocked for the second time this season. Jets linebacker Kevin Pierre-Luis crashed past Nick Chubb of the Browns and blocked it, setting up a short field at the Cleveland 28. Five plays later, Isaiah Crowell scored the first of his two touchdowns for a 7-0 lead.

Why, for goodness sakes, is Chubb playing the wing on the punting unit? He’s a running back who probably hasn’t played special teams since he was a freshman at Georgia, if then.

After the second Crowell score, the ex-Brown committed an obscene act with the football and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The Jets kicked off from their 20, but the best the Browns could do was return it only 19 yards to their 26.

One more kickoff blunder. Newcomer Greg Joseph booted a kickoff out of bounds before it reached the end zone after putting the Browns on the scoreboard for the first time with a field goal late in the first half. The Jets started the drive at their 40, but the Cleveland defense fortunately produced a three and out.

That’s five special teams mistakes by a team that can ill afford any mistakes by this unit. It’s getting worse by the game. Is it any wonder Arizona Cardinals fans sent Browns fans their condolences for having signed Jones after he spent five painful seasons (for Cards fans) in the desert?

Is anybody at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. paying attention to what’s going on with the not-so-special special teams? It’s about time they do.
*       *       *  
Taylor’s final stats in what in all likelihood will be his final game as a Cleveland Brown: 14 pass attempts, four completions for 19 yards; four runs (two designed) for 22 yards; and three sacks totaling 22 yards, in effect negating his rushing yards.

In his six possessions, the Browns totaled 79 net yards, only 48 yards and two first downs on the first five, and each ended with a Colquitt punt. The longest drive, No. 6, lasted 31 yards and concluded with Taylor sacked and heading to the concussion tent.

It was a sad display of quarterbacking and had to make one wonder whether offensive coordinator Todd Haley was the real culprit. Mayfield came on and almost immediately dispelled any such notion.
*       *       *
The Jets had a field day blitzing the daylights out of Taylor. It was noticeably quieted and rendered relatively ineffective soon after his departure, Mayfield acting as the antidote with his ability to get rid of the ball quickly. That’s when the Cleveland ground game – and offensive line – came alive.
*       *       *
A New York Post writer at the game was impressed after the game when Mayfield headed for the locker room. He labeled the exit “an ear-splitting roar, the chorus of a smitten fan base.”
*       *       *
The bad news now is the Browns have 10 days to enjoy this victory. Concentrating on the Oakland game might not be that easy. It will be interesting to see how long it takes to come down from that high. It will be up to Jackson and his coaches to keep their men grounded and refocus for the Raiders.
*       *       *
Finally . . . A few pundits around the nation now wonder whether the Browns are the new America’s team. First, it was the success of Hard Knocks. And ratings for the Thursday game were the highest in three years on the NFL Network. . . . Former Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas, who joined the NFL Network crew, on Mayfield: “This is not a false messiah. He is a legitimate franchise quarterback.” . . . There was an unusual name at the top of the tackles list for the Browns. Tackle Larry Ogunjobi led them with eight. The kid gets better by the game. . . . Rookie wide receiver Antonio Callaway caught four passes (on 10 targets) for only 20 yards. But Taylor underthrew him twice or else he would have added two touchdowns to his stats. Have to trust his speed.  Landry had eight receptions (on 15 targets) for 103 yards, That’s 25 targets between them out of 37 total. passes.. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. watch: After Jackson said Johnson would be a bigger part of the game plan, he touched the football only four times (two runs, two catches) for 33 yards. Someone is fibbing.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

It's now Mayfield's team

The Baker Mayfield era as quarterback of the Browns was born Thursday night as the kid introduced himself to the National Football League and a national television audience with a spectacular debut.

If the club’s No. 1 selection in the last college football draft does not have the huddle against the Raiders in Oakland a week from Sunday and the 12 games that follow, coach Hue Jackson should be fired on the spot.

What Mayfield did in the Browns’ 21-17 come-from-behind victory over the New York Jets, which shattered a 19-game winless streak, more than qualifies him to show once and for all he can make a successful transition to the NFL.

He not only lifted the Browns to their first victory in 635 days, he lifted an entire city from an emotional standpoint at the same time. Fans refused to leave the Factory of Sadness they were so happy. Breathing in the aroma of victory is something Browns fans haven’t enjoyed often since 1999.

Makes no difference how Mayfield plays from now on, this is his team now. He’ll have his ups, his downs, his inconsistencies when opposing teams gather tape on him. But he is without question a far better choice right now than Tyrod Taylor.

If it hadn’t been for a concussion Taylor suffered late in the second quarter of a game that was slowly slipping away due to the incompetency of the offense he was operating, Mayfield probably would never have entered the game.

Normally in the NFL, a starting quarterback doesn’t lose his job to injury. In this case, though, the injured quarterback is at best slightly better than average. He proved it with a sluggish first half, during which the Jets jumped out to a 14-0 lead.

The underdog Jets were quicker on defense than the plodding Cleveland offensive line and blew up the Browns’ defense with a ground game that ate up chunks of yardage as ex-Brown Isaiah Crowell scored a pair of touchdowns. It was a rout in progress until Mayfield entered the game.

No matter what Taylor did with Todd Haley’s offense, nothing worked. It took seven attempts to complete his first pass. He twice badly underthrew speedy and wide open wide receiver Antonio Callaway. Mayfield has the arm to make those throws and Callaway has two long touchdown catches.

The offense gained a meager 79 yards on its first six possessions under Taylor with Britton Colquitt culminating each one with a punt, one of which was blocked. Fans grew progressively restless and began chanting Mayfield’s name.

When Taylor entered the tent in concussion protocol, the game turned. Mayfield officially introduced himself to the NFL with 102 seconds left in the first half and almost fumbled away an opportunity to do something Taylor failed to – put points on the scoreboard.

He was strip-sacked on his third play, but left guard Joel Bitonio fortunately recovered the ball. Two plays later, newcomer Greg Joseph made his first contribution to the offense with a 45-yard field goal to slice the Jets' lead at the half to 14-3.

The defense took the cue and played a much stronger and opportunistic second half, waiting until Mayfield and the offense caught up. And it was that side of the football that triggered the comeback midway through the third quarter.

Rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, who is developing a reputation for making big plays, stripped the ball out of Robby Anderson’s arms after the Jets wide receiver rambled 17 yards with a Sam Darnold pass, recovered it and made his way to the New York 8.

In his only fail of the game, Mayfield was unable to move the ball and Joseph sneaked a 27-yard field goal just inside the left upright. After the defense limited to Jets to a four-and-out, Mayfield atoned for his only mistake.

He was four-for-four passing for 67 yards, hooking up with Jarvis Landry twice for 17 and 29 yards, the latter  a spectacular catch just inside the New Yok 10 as he was running sideways and twisting his way to the 1, from where Carlos Hyde scored on the first play.

The Browns caught a big break on their first two-point attempt, which failed abysmally as Jackson went for the tie. Offsetting penalties created a second attempt, which turned out to be nothing short of wondrous and wonderfully creative.

Duke Johnson Jr. took a direct snap and pitched the ball to Landry on what initially appeared to be a reverse to the left side of the formation. But the wide receiver slowed down, pulled up and found Mayfield, who sneaked into the left flat all alone, with a soft left-handed lob. The crowd went nuts.

These weren’t the Cleveland Browns. The Browns don’t run plays like that, especially successful ones. And just like that, it was 14-14 and the momentum definitely swung to the Cleveland side of the field.

Darnold, however, converted two third downs in a 12-play drive before the Cleveland defense stiffened and forced a 28-yard Jason Myers field goal with nine minutes left in the regulation.

That’s when Mayfield, with another dose of good fortune, stepped up and all but clinched the starting job, engineering a 15-play, 75-yard scoring drive that took 6:52 off the clock.

On the fifth play, Johnson gathered in a short pass, danced for 15 yards and fumbled. Rashard Higgins covered the loose ball and chipped in with a 19-yard reception on the next play.

Mayfield kept the drive alive with a 10-yard hookup with Callaway on third down, moving the ball to the Jets 16, from where Hyde initially scored his second touchdown of the game. But it was wiped out when Landry was caught blocking a defender in the back.

He made up for it on the next play with a 12-yard grab before Nick Chubb ripped off a seven-yard run to place the ball at the 1. It took three cracks, but Hyde finally got that second score over right guard.

That’s when the Cleveland defense more than made up for its first-half malaise, twice picking off Darnold twice in the final two minutes as the Jets desperately tried to yank this one away in what normally is atrocious Cleveland luck in the final moments of a game.

Joe Schobert made the first, athletically diving for the ball at the New York 27, Then Terrance Mitchell sealed it with the third Cleveland takeaway of the night, giving them 11 on the season.

That began the unbridled joy as the players joined with the fans up close and personal in the stands in celebration of what those fans hope is finally a swerve in the right direction after all those years of abject misery.

Mayfield wound up 17-of-23 for 201 yards, but three of those incompletions were drops of perfect passes. His only hiccup was the fumble. The most important discovery, however, was how much better the offensive line played in front of him.

As television play-by-play man Joe Buck said, “The ball seems to come out of Mayfield’s hand differently than Taylor’s.” It sure does. It’s quicker, clearly more accurate and much more alive, arriving at its destination a lot faster.

When Taylor entered that tent, his days as starting quarterback of the Browns ostensibly ended. It’s not official, of course, until Jackson makes it so.

But that little formality is certain to come sometime between now and a week from Sunday when Baker Mayfield officially becomes the new starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, their 30th – and most likely last for a while – since the return in 1999.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Browns-Jets series had historic start

 The date was Sept. 21, 1970. It was a warm early fall evening down by the lakefront in downtown Cleveland. Seventy-five degrees for the beginning of what was to become a sports institution.

Until that eventful night, the National Football League had only experimented with playing a game on Monday night. Until then, it was the usual Sunday schedule with an occasional Saturday night thrown in.

But this evening was going to be special to where it eventually changed the television viewing habits of the fastest growing sports audience. These were the grass roots years of what has become a giant in the world of sports television..

Helping launch the newest phase of the NFL were the Browns and New York Jets, teams that had never played each other until the merger between the NFL and American Football League in 1970.

The game, of course, was a sellout. In those days, the Browns sold out on a regular basis in that cavernous stadium with teams competitive enough to warrant such box office success.

With ABC Television cameras poised to give birth to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s latest and boldest innovative move, the nation was treated to a wildly entertaining football game. It was an entertainment spectacle as well in the TV booth with Keith Jackson, Howard Cosell and Don Meredith.

The big-market Jets with quarterback Joe Namath against the Browns, one of the NFL’s bellwether franchises. It was the perfect cap for the first weekend of the season (they played a 14-game schedule back then).

The Browns constructed a 14-0 first-quarter lead on a Bill Nelsen-to-Gary Collins connection and short Bo Scott run and made it stand up in the 31-21 victory, although the Jets made it interesting with a late charge.

Namath strafed the Cleveland secondary for nearly 300 yards, but was intercepted three times, the most damaging a 25-yard pick six by linebacker Billy Andrews with less than a minute left in the game. 

The Jets piled up 454 yards, but the three interceptions, a fumble recovery by the Browns and Homer Jones’ 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half proved too much for them to make up.

The Browns went on to finish 7-7- under coach Blanton Collier that season; the Jets were 4-10 under coach Weeb Ewbank. MNF went in to become a weekly TV staple for avid football fans and remains that today even though ABC relegated it to ESPN a few years ago.

And now, these two teams meet again for the 26th time Thursday night on the same lakefront one day shy of being exactly 48 years to the day since that historic first game. And once again in the national spotlight on the NFL Network.

There are numerous good story lines for this one. Sam Darnold, the USC quarterback many fans wanted the Browns to take with the top pick in the last college draft, is under center for the Jets.

The kid has experienced an up-and-down beginning to his professional career with three scoring passes and three interceptions, but has connected on 66% of his passes for 266 yards a game. The Jets whacked Detroit, 48-17, before losing their home opener last Sunday to Miami.

What makes this scenario extremely interesting is that Baker Mayfield, who became General Manager john Dorsey’s choice with the first overall selection, will watch Darnold, most likely all the while wishing frustratingly that he was out on the field instead of Tyrod Taylor.

Three ex-Browns dot the New York roster. Isaiah Crowell, the Browns' hot and cold running back the past several seasons, is the Jets’ top runner. Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, who bolted for Washington last season, is one of Darnold’s favorite targets. And cornerback Buster Skrine leads the Jets in tackles with 14, all but one solo.

The Browns, who trundle into this one with a 19-game winless streak and 4-45-1 record in their last 50 games, own a 13-12 advantage in the series, but the Jets have won the last five in a row.

On the Cleveland front, the Josh Gordon/placekicker turmoil has quieted somewhat. Getting the club’s complete attention will be Hue Jacksons biggest challenge as he tries to prevent moving closer permanently to the exit door at 76 Lou Groza Blvd.

As the losses continue to pile up, Jackson’s job security is headed in a completely different direction. It’s only a matter of time before Dorsey becomes fidgety enough to make a move regardless of where the Browns are on the schedule.

The struggling Cleveland offense will face a Jets defense that has allowed only one touchdown this season. The thinking, though, is that Taylor is familiar with the Jets’ defense, having faced them twice a year for the last three years with the Buffalo Bills.

This very well could be a game decided by the better defense. The Browns have not played a bad game yet on that side of the ball and would be looking at an unbeaten record with any kind of help from their teammates on offense.

The Jets are just as opportunistic as the Browns on defense. They have swiped five passes already with one pick 6 by former Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee, and have limited opposite running backs to just 87 yards a game.

The Browns will try to shut down a New York offense that averages 372 yards a game and runs the ball 42% of the time. When Darnold puts it up, his favorite receivers are Quincy Enunwa, who missed all last season with an injury, Pryor and Robby Anderson.

And finally . . . this is an official alert for the Browns’ special teams, who have played about as poorly as possible thus far: Watch out for Jets return ace Andre Roberts, who has already returned one kickoff for a touchdown and averages 22 yards a punt return.

Because the two teams excel more on defense, look for a low-scoring affair with turnovers being the deciding factor. Punters Britton Colquitt and Lac Edwards will get a lot of work.

It will be a battle of field goals between Greg Joseph, who replaces the departed Zane Gonzalez, and Jason Myers. Imagine making your professional debut on national television.

Each team scores one touchdown (stingy defense) and Joseph overcomes early jitters to outkick Myers, booting the game-winner with less than a minute left in regulation to avoid the possibility of yet another overtime and snaps the way-too-long winless streak at 19. Make it:

Browns 16, Jets 13

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday leftovers

 They are only two games into their schedule, but one thought has become crystal clear about the 2018 Browns. This is not a bad football team.

That is something one could not say for at least the last five years and probably beyond that. That’s not to say it is a good team. It’s just not embarrassingly bad.

It is definitely a step in the right direction as this franchise desperately attempts to apply a tourniquet to the bleeding. Based on the heavily massaged and reconstructed roster, this team is going to win games this season.

The talent is there. General Manager John Dorsey has elevated the skill level on both sides of the football to the point where the Browns are no longer the team you can kick around on a weekly basis between September and December.

Most of the players on this team have no idea their club lugs around a few losing streaks. All they know is the team, as now constituted, is one with the enough talented pieces and parts to be not just competitive, but winners.

That day is coming. It might not happen next week or the week after that, but it will arrive. And once they figure out how to win, that’s the day a frustrated fan base begins to finally rejoice.

You could sense it in the season-opening tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many of the players were angry even though it was the first time in 17 games they didn’t lose. And Sunday’s 21-18 gut-wrenching loss down in New Orleans had to hurt as much as the tie because they knew they played well enough to win both games. Not tie and lose.

“That’s a good football team in there,” intoned coach Hue Jackson after the game. That wasn’t idle talk, designed to make them feel better or a morale boost after a tough loss.

No, they actually played well enough to win. They made plays that had to be made. There was a crispness, particularly on defense, that epitomized the way the game is supposed to played on that side of the ball.

The offense, which is getting untracked seemingly in slow motion, is still a work in progress, but there are signs that progress is being made. For example, quarterback Tyrod Taylor is getting more comfortable with the dumbed-down offense of coordinator Todd Haley.

It took Haley a couple of games to realize he was no longer working with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and what worked in Pittsburgh the last six years was not going to work in Cleveland.

It’s unfair to expect those on board now to perform beyond their capabilities. Their better-than-expected performances thus far is a strong indication the coaching staff has made as much of an adjustment to that end as the players have made to the coaches.

Because of the massive turnover of personnel, a large majority of this team deals with losing and adversity much differently than their predecessors, who sort of got used to it and expected it.

It is incumbent then for Jackson and his staff to take advantage and win the games they should win and help them go out and prove what he said after the Saints loss: “That’s a good football team in there.”
*       *       *
There are probably a few members of Browns Nation lamenting the departure of Josh Gordon, who was shipped to the New England Patriots Monday for a fifth-round draft pick next year.

The talented wide receiver will be missed for sure because of what he can do on as football field. But he won’t be missed after leading a soap-opera-like life when you never know what to expect from him. It took six years to finally wear out the Browns’ patience.

It will be interesting to see how he gets along with stern Pats coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. It is a marriage that brings together three very headstrong individuals. Let’s see if Gordon can adjust to the Patriot Way.

It is also a blessing in disguise for Browns rookie receiver Antonio Callaway, who flashed with a brilliant 47-yard touchdown catch of a Taylor prayer against the Saints.

Up to now, there was little or no room on the play chart for the rookie. Most of the reps belonged to Jarvis Landry and Gordon, as it should have been. But now that Gordon is gone, time for Callaway to step up and show why he was a fourth-round pick with a first-round grade.

His off-the-field problems in college drew enough red flags at draft time. He fell precipitously until Dorsey decided to take a flyer on the speedy, field-stretching wideout.

If his performance in the Saints game is any indication, Callahan has already made his first down payment of thanks. He was targeted only four times by Taylor (that will increase) and caught three balls for 81 yards, including the 47-yarder that temporarily tied the game at 18-18.

As he learns the finer points of being a professional wide receiver, he’s going to get even better. He is already the fastest of the receivers. Once he learns to smooth out his route running, there’s no telling how good he can be. It never would have happened with Gordon still around.
*       *       *
For those of you (including myself here, I guess) waiting for Taylor to fail to the point Jackson sits him down, that’s not going to happen any time soon. He hasn’t done enough to warrant such a move.

Disappointing a little, sure. Most of us want to see Baker Mayfield. The sooner, the better to get on with the future. It’s going to take monumentally bad quarterbacking to uncuff the rookie.

The fact Haley has uncomplicated the playbook somewhat for Taylor and places him in a more comfortable situation with regard to successfully operating the offense, it could be as long as a half season before then unless, of course, injury becomes a factor.
*       *       *
Myles Garrett was kept awfully quiet by the Saints’ defense, which double-teamed him all afternoon. The big defensive end had one solo tackle. That’s the negative.

The positive? It opened opportunity after opportunity for tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who plays next to Garrett, to make plays. And make plays he did with four solo tackles, two sacks (a third was wiped out by an iffy penalty against safety Derrick Kindred) and a couple of quarterback hits.

It was easily the second-year pro’s best game and it came against a pretty good offensive line. It gives future defensive coordinators something to think about when trying to figure out who to double on passing downs.
*       *       *
The signing of Greg Joseph to replace the released Zane Gonzalez as placekicker brought a huge ho hum and a collective “who?” by fans Monday. Some fans had hoped Dan Bailey, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys, would be in the Browns’ crosshairs.

Maybe he was, but there was no way the veteran was going to sign with the Browns no matter how much money they offered. He wanted to kick for a contender. That’s why he signed with the Minnesota Vikings Monday, probably for less money.

Joseph spent the summer kicking for the Miami Dolphins after signing as a free agent out of Florida Atlantic. He was perfect on three field-goal attempts (including one from 54 yards) in exhibition season before being waived.
*       *       *
Why do I get the feeling Haley has no idea how to use Duke Johnson Jr.? Submitted for evidence: 11 touches in two games for 35 yards. Eleven touches? That’s nearly what he averaged in one game last season. Thirty-five yards? He averaged that in one half of a game last season.

The versatile fourth-year running back is a weapon, but Haley doesn’t seem to realize it. He is a bundle of talent being relatively chained to the bench with an emphasis on the running game. Johnson is much more valuable when he’s on the field far more than 40% of the time.

He was on the field for just 37% of the Browns’ offensive plays against New Orleans. He can’t make plays when he’s on the sidelines. Jackson needs to help Haley remember to call his number more than he has. Much more. He’s way too valuable to be a relative spectator.
*       *       *
Finally . . . Once again, special teams were a factor in the New Orleans loss. Gonzalez, of course, shouldered much of that blame, but another flag flew on the punt return team, the dreaded illegal block in the back. It has become almost expected. . . . Two more takeaways against the Saints (both caused by cornerback Terrance Mitchell) boosts the season total to eight in two games, only five behind last season’s total of 13. . . . If you watch Callaway’s big catch closely, notice he catches the back half of the ball before gathering it in as he races into and then out of the end zone. Great hands. . . . There were only seven punts in the game. Britton Colquitt’s 39.3-yard average was disappointing, He’s better than that. . . . Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas is having a terrific season. Drew Brees has targeted him 30 times this season. The ex-Buckeye has caught 28 of those for 269 yards and three touchdowns. . . . All three of Brees’ sacks were of the coverage variety.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Yet another woe-is-me loss

The Browns have suffered some awful dispiriting, gut-wrenching, temper-losing, items-throwing losses over the last 20 years. There are so many, it would be difficult to rank them.

A new entry for entrance into that category emerged Sunday down in New Orleans, where they lost a 21-18 heartbreaker to the Saints in a game they played well enough to win.

Major fingers of guilt will definitely be pointed at placekicker Zane Gonzalez, whose terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day turned into a nightmare that kept his team from smashing an 18-game winless streak and a 21-game road losing skein.

His afternoon started well with a pair of 39-yard field goals to help give the Browns a 12-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter as the defense bent a lot, but did not break. And then it all went (pick your adverb) the rest of the way.

Gonzalez, who very well might an ex-Brown by the time Thursday night’s nationally televised game against the New York Jets rolls around, missed two extra points and field goals of 44 and 52 yards. The latter would have forced the club's second straight overtime game.

It was a game the Browns seemingly had under control heading into the final quarter despite an offense that looked as though the main goal was to get back to basics. The ground game plodded most of the afternoon, piling up yards grudgingly. The passing game featured safe, high-percentage throws in an effort to keep the chains moving.

Clearly an emphasis was placed on keeping dumb mistakes that draw flags to a minimum. Not once was the offensive line called for an infraction. It was basic football at its most boring. Cleveland quarterback Tyrod Taylor rarely attempted to stretch the field.

So when Carlos Hyde scored to give the Browns a 12-3 lead on the first possession of the second half, Gonzalez’s first extra-point miss didn’t seem to matter. The defense, which forced two more turnovers to give it eight for the season, was clicking and the lead, although slim, seemed safe.

But when the second-year kicker missed his 44-yard field-goal attempt at the start of the fourth quarter that would have given the Browns a 15-3 lead, murmurs of concern could be around Browns Nation. In other words, “Here we go again.”

That’s just the way Browns fans think. Don’t blame them. Think the worst and if it doesn’t eventuate, enjoy. If it does, they have learned by now how to deal with it. It has become commonplace to think the worst because this franchise has delivered the worst since returning almost 20 years ago.

And this time, as has happened all too frequently in the past, the worst arrived in the last 14 minutes of the game, the Saints erupting for 18 points against a Cleveland defense that began tiring.

Drew Brees got solid help from running back Alvin Kamara and wide receiver Michael Thomas, the latter snagging a little two-yard screen pass to culminate a 10-play, 66-yard scoring drive to pull the Saints to within two points.

Taylor was picked by Saints free safety Marcus Williams two series later and the rejuvenated offense turned it into an 18-12 lead, Thomas scoring his second touchdown of the afternoon on a five-yard fade over rookie Denzel Ward after the Browns had held that lead for nearly 51 minutes.

Nearly three minutes remained, but this team, unlike others in the past beaten down by adversity late in games, had one more card to play. It came in the form of something this franchise almost never deals in: a miracle.

With unexpected improbability. Taylor connected on a beautiful 47-yard scoring strike with rookie Antonio Callaway with 1:16 left to tie the game. A miracle. And when Gonzalez missed his second extra point, a second straight overtime game loomed.

Even if he has been successful with the point, all it took for the Saints to win was a field goal, anyway.

But defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who called an extremely aggressive game up to that point, strangely and unexpectedly went conservative, playing zone in the secondary with so little time left in regulation. Perhaps he thought Saints coach Sean Payton would go conservative and take his chances in overtime.

Uh, no. That’s not Sean Payton, especially with Brees as is his quarterback. Seventy-six seconds with two timeouts in his pocket is almost like a lifetime to the veteran, who has a truckload of comeback victories.

Two passes to wide receiver former Clevelander Ted Ginn Jr., one a 42-yard catch and run during which no Cleveland defender was close enough to touch him for about 20 yards. ate up 50 yards and put the ball within the range of Saints kicker Will Lutz, who had earlier missed a 44-yarder. This 44-yarder was true.

An yet, this iteration of the Browns did not meekly go away.

With only 21 seconds to work with, Taylor connected with Jarvis Landry and Callaway against the Saints’ prevent defense to move the ball 41 yards to the Saints’ 34. With eight seconds left and no timeouts, coach Hue Jackson gave Gonzalez a chance at redemption from 52 yards.

Redemption left town, though, as Gonzalez, who had hit on two of three attempts from 50 or more yards last season, was wide right as he tried to compensate for his previous wide-left misses.

The only positive from the outcome of this game is that the Browns are moving that much closer to the time when they will win games like this. Unfortunately, that seems a bit far-fetched right now.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Sad ending

 In a peculiar and ill-timed move, the Browns Saturday announced they plan to release troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon Monday.

In a statement issued on the eve of their Sunday game in New Orleans against the Saints, General Manager John Dorsey said, “For the past six years, the Browns have fully supported and invested in Josh, both personally and professionally and wanted the best for him. But unfortunately, we’ve reached a point where we feel it’s best to part ways and move forward. We wish Josh well.”

In the end, it turned out to be like an ill-fated romance that blossomed and then withered over a period of time. The Browns' patience with him finally gave out. It was inevitable due to numerous bumps along the way.

The talented wide receiver’s well-documented battle with alcohol and drugs severely hampered a promising career and the Browns, to their credit, kept hoping he would straighten out his life, giving him chance after chance after chance.

Reportedly, Gordon arrived tardily at the team’s facility in Berea Saturday and was “not himself,” NFL sources told Doctors who examined him, again reportedly, were concerned he had either slipped in his battle with alcohol or was close.

That was when the club finally pulled the plug on their long, soap-opera-like relationship with Gordon, who has been suspended by the National Football League for 56 of his 97-game career. He has suited up for just 11 games since the end of the 2014 season.

Technically, he will remain Cleveland property until the team officially actually releases him Monday. But now that word is out, there are reports several teams have expressed interest in trading for him rather than waiting until he becomes a free agent.

It truly is a sad ending to what could have become a terrific story if only he had managed to control his sobriety. Now, he will be some other team’s problem.

In some ways, Gordon will always be known as the wide receiver who shocked the NFL in his second season, recording some of the most remarkable and dazzling statistics for one of the league’s worst teams.

Playing in 14 games, he caught 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns for the 4-12 2013 Browns. That's nearly 117 yards a game. The Browns were 4-10 when he was in uniform.

What made those numbers so remarkable was it took the combined efforts of three different quarterbacks – Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer – to accomplish it.

In some ways, Gordon’s eventual departure is sort of a cleansing. Now the club can move forward minus the Gordon baggage as they attempt to rekindle a part of their history that was awash with success.

Gordon needs a fresh start in many different ways. This was a relationship that just wasn’t meant to be in Cleveland, except for that one rather exciting glimmer of hope five years ago.

He leaves with 180 receptions for 3,106 yards –more than half of those yards were gained in one season – and 16 touchdown, and a fan base wondering what could have been.