First Impressions, Game 6 (@Jacksonville)

1. Bleccchhhh!!!!  This is something like the way Mike Ditka’s New Orleans Saints– and their fans– felt in 1999. Except for one thing: That game was decided in the last few seconds– this was over in the second quarter.

Because the Browns have had a history of dramatic comebacks, they kept people wondering if they could pull something out. But they didn’t show any signs, at any point, that they were going to.

2. To state the obvious: In the wake of a disappointing loss, some people always reach for the Jonestown-flavored  Kool-Aid. Others leap to make excuses,  The reality, as it usually is, is somewhere in between. The following points are relevant to the discussion:

A. Losing to Jacksonville is not cause to break out the Kool-Aid. In 2013, it happened to Houston (twice), Tennessee and the Browns.

In fact, since the Jaguars beat the Browns– on the road– last year, everyone screaming about the loss should be required to answer the following question: “Why did you expect the outcome of the 2014 game to be significantly different than the 2013 game?”

And, yes, I know I expected it. I’ll explain why in the review.

B.  Beating a team in their home stadium is difficult. Nobody got too excited about that aspect of the Tennessee game, but a road win is always an accomplishment. The last five times the Browns have done it:

So this could have been the first team since Eric Mangenius’s 2010 aggregation to to win twice on the road.

Since the remaining road games come against Cincinnati, Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina and Baltimore– all of whom (Cincinnati to a lesser degree) have a history of laying eggs at unexpected times– it still might be, if they can fix the flaws.

C. Jacksonville’s confident behavior shouldn’t have been a surprise. This was only the first entirely winnable game on its schedule. It had played (2013 wins in parentheses; road games in bold):. Indianapolis (11) Philadelphia (10), San Diego (9), Pittsburgh (8), Tennessee (7) Washington (3)

Five of those losses had been to teams who had won at least there more games. Four came on the road.

This Browns won the same number of games a year ago. Jacksonville beat them in a head-to-head battle in 2013. And the Jaguars beat the Browns in Cleveland. Why wouldn’t they have expected to win?

D. The reason the Browns probably took the game lightly is because almost nobody in a position of authority understood point “C”. I’m not kidding about that:

  • Except for Soon-to-be-Former Kicking Teams Coach Chris Tabor, not one of the coaches was here a year ago.
  • Travis Benjamin and The Stiff In Johnny Footballs Path (yes, that just got resurrected) were rehabbing injuries
  • Ben Tate, Miles Austin, Andres Hawkins and Jim Dray were on other teams.
  • Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell, Taylor Gabriel, Ray Agnew and Joel Bitonio were in college.

Alex Mack and Puff Gordon aren’t with the team. That leaves Joe Thomas, “Poke” Cameron, John Greco, Mitchell Schwartz and Gary Barnidge to sound the alarm.

Same deal,  to a lesser degree, defensively. Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner won’t say “I don’t want to let these guys beat us again!” It would have to be Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, Tashaun Gipson or Craig Robertson.

This is not an excuse for taking an opponent likely, but nothing can take the place of the memory of a loss.

E. Jacksonville was the first 4-3 team on the schedule. The 3-4 alignment puts men directly on the center and two tackles– meaning, the Pro Bowl player, the Hall of Famer, and the #2 pick.

The 4-3 puts guys on the two tackles and the two guards– who are a rookie (albeit a #2 pick) and a 31-year-old on his third team.

Now that I think about it, three of the four teams Cleveland played in pre-season (Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago) also played the 4-3. Sounds like they need some work on this alignment.

3. Next Steps: After the game, a friend said “Second straight game Tate has stunk it up. West is a bust too. Why don’t they give it up and go with Crowell?”

That’s absolutely not not the correct reaction to the game. The Browns made an extraordinary number of mistakes. What they need to do is:

  • Eliminate the ones that are inexcusable and easy to correct– like getting a punt returner who knows not to try to catch a punt at the goal line.
  • Work on the problems that might be correctable– such as making line calls (Mack was doing that), blocking assignments against a 4-3 and which back gets how many carries.
  • Determine how many of the problems are uncorrectable– and will need to be upgraded via free agency or in the 2015 draft.

At some point, you do begin to prepare for the 2015 season. But the Browns still should beat Oakland and Tampa (both at home)– and Houston (at home) and Atlanta & Buffalo (on the road) are winnable.

Baltimore is possible (though less likely; the game will be on the road); they beat Cincinnati at home and were in the road game for a while.

Cleveland probably will not go 11-5, but 8-8 is certainly achievable. They need to achieve that.

3. Messaging 101: The real cost of the game is that it comes perilously close to ending the honeymoon that Mike Pettine and his staff have had locally.

I’m not going to do one of those Terry Pluto “I feel for the fans– how terribly they suffer” raps, but it is important to remember certain facts:

  • The last time the Browns were a good team– had two consecutive winning seasons– was 1988-89.
  • Pettine is the tenth coach, Ray Farmer the ninth GM (that’s counting Mike Lombardi twice) and Jimmy Haslam the fourth owner.
  • The other local franchises (to different degrees) are inept. One’s business model is working voodoo on ping-pong balls; the other tried to build a juggernaut out of papier mache`, coathangers, duct tape and bungie cords.

The only things these clowns have ever been good at is attitude. Every single one had raging superiority complexes; they all said “Sit down, shut up and prepare to worship the awesomeness that is me.”

So if Pettine, Ray Farmer, Jimmy Haslam, Kyle Shanahan or Jim O’Neill imagines that he will get– or that he deserves– more leeway than any of their predecessors, they’re sadly mistaken.

The amount of leeway extends to the remainder of the season– and, depending on the results, maybe 2-3 years beyond that.

But it is not difficult to win in the NFL– the barriers that historically existed are no longer in place. Learning to win is a process, and it’s not always short. But the number of teams that improve in year one or year two are too large to believe the “Patience” alibi that hacks like GM Mike Holmgren preached.

The Browns just lost to a winless team– they have another one coming up this Sunday, They had better, for their sakes, not lose that game.

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