By In Stuff

Browns 0-15

I had this scary moment late in the third quarter of the Browns’ typically humiliating 20-3 loss to the Chicago Bears Sunday. The Browns were down by 17 and were driving. On third and 3 from the Bears’ 20, quarterback DeShone Kizer dropped back to throw, faced down the pressure, and threw a little pass to Browns receiver Rashard Higgins who caught the ball for the first down as he fell to his knees.

Thing is, Higgins was not touched while he was on the ground — probably because nobody on the Bears figured he was worth covering. Higgins has already been waived and placed on the practice squad and brought back to the team this year; in his first game back he caught seven passes for 95 yards and flashed some real talent. It goes without saying this proved to be an illusion and he has been invisible ever since. Anyway, Higgins had the presence of mind to get back to his feet and start running toward the end zone.

“Fumble!” I heard myself shout.

I don’t know why I shouted it; Higgins had not fumbled. He had the ball in his hand and he was running toward the end zone …

“Fumble!” I shouted again.

And again, I was not sure why I was shouting this, he still had not fumbled, still showed no sign of fumbling …

“Fumble!” I shouted a third time.

And at that very instant, a couple of Bears hit him and sure enough, Rashard Higgins fumbled the ball into the Bears end zone where someone on the Bears recovered it to end the threat.

People, I really think I’m losing my mind. It’s like I have some sort of Last Jedi connection with the football dark side. My mind is unwillingly becoming one with the Cleveland Browns.

* * *

After the game, someone asked Browns coach Hue Jackson — now 1-30 as head coach of the Cleveland Browns: “Were you surprised there were so many self-inflicted wounds?”

Two thoughts: One is that you probably should not begin any question for Hue Jackson that begins with “Were you surprised,” unless the second part of the question is, “that your team actually won?” or “that your team didn’t turn over the ball today?”

Really? Were you surprised by the self-inflicted wounds? This is like asking that red-haired bad guy from the new Star Wars, ‘Were you surprised that Kylo Ren did that air-chokey thing on you again?” This is like asking the Coyote, “Were you surprised that the Acme product you just ordered blew up?” This is like asking Charlie Brown, “Were you surprised that Lucy pulled the football away from you?” This is like asking Papa John’s customers “Were you surprised that your pizza tasted liked a manilla folder with cheese?” This is like asking Hollywood, “Were you surprised that another Spiderman came out?” This is like asking Game of Thrones, “Were you surprised by the death?” This is like asking peanut butter, “Were you surprised that you were paired up with jelly?” This is like asking Twitter, ‘Were you surprised that Curt Schilling wrote something dumb and offensive?”*

*The other day, in order to make a different point, I wrote about how I was sickened by Chipper Jones Tweet (since deleted) that said Newtown never happened. Someone emailed me and said that this complaint seemed entirely contradictory to my plan to promote the Hall of Fame case of Curt Schilling. But it really isn’t. Chipper Jones is a lock for the Hall of Fame. If Chipper Jones was stuck on the ballot for years, and his support seemed to be dwindling, I would absolutely make HIM my pet Hall of Fame project because I strongly believe he was one of the greatest players ever. My point with Schilling is PRECISELY that while he offends me as a person, that has nothing whatsoever to do in my mind with his greatness as a baseball player. He belongs in the Hall of Fame. So does Chipper Jones. I just wouldn’t ask either to be best man at my wedding.

The second thought is that the Browns are now minus-28 for the season in turnovers, which is the highest (or lowest, whichever is worse) turnover rate since the NFL became the league we now recognize it to be. The record of 30 was set in 1965, when the Pittsburgh Steelers were laughable, when their three quarterbacks threw 35 interceptions in 354 passes, a gorgeous 10% interception rate (their TEAM quarterback rating was 39.3).

You will love this one: In the last four games, the Browns have turned over the ball 11 times, which isn’t great. But what makes it so very Brown is that over those four games they have forced, yep, ZERO turnovers. Zero. The Browns are minus-11 in their last four games.

The Browns actually DID force a turnover on Sunday, a big one. They trailed just 6-3 when they forced Bears rookie quarterback Mitch Trubinsky to make a terrible throw which got batted around a bit and ended up in the hands of Browns defensive end Myles Garrett. And then because Garrett is an athletic freak of nature, he ran away, broke a tackle or two, looked better than any Browns running back in years and scored the touchdown to give Cleveland the lead.

It goes without saying that Browns defensive end Carl Nassib lined up offside on the play. And it wasn’t close; he was like two feet offside.

Earlier in the game, Cleveland’s Jabrill Peppers lined up offside when the Bears faced a fourth down.

Then there was the time the Browns were actually driving, so much so that my dark side brain actually thought, “Hey, this is a good drive,” and then Kizer threw the single worst interception imaginable, one where he made a terrible read and a terrible throw, the Kizer two-step.

How could anyone ask Hue Jackson if he was SURPRISED by any of this? At this point, all of this such a part of the Browns makeup you simply have to assume they practice it.


* * *

I didn’t love the new Star Wars. I expected to love it. I went in with every intention of loving it. I had prepared myself to love it by reading the almost unanimously gushing reviews. I didn’t love it. The reviews I’ve seen are so over the top sensational that I assume my not loving The Last Jedi is a personal failing.

This has nothing to do with the Browns … except for this: Whenever I see a Hue Jackson press conference these days, I get the same feeling that I had watching the new Star Wars — a feeling of “Am I the one going crazy?” I don’t think there are any spoilers here: I saw The Last Jedi and thought it was boring. I saw entire scenes and thought, “Why was that in there?” I sat through the entire first half and thought, “When does this movie begin?” I watched what they did with the Fin character I had loved in The Force Awakens and thought, “Why did they do that?” I saw the reemergence of Luke Skywalker and thought, “Why did they make him like that?” I saw Rey, awesome Rey, my super favorite Rey who I couldn’t wait to see again after she stole The Force Awakens and thought, “Did they run out of ideas for her character after only one episode?”

And I saw all the critical raves, the “This is the best Star Wars ever or at least since Empire,” plaudits, the “We finally got Star Wars back,” cheers and, yep, I must be the crazy one.

The Browns are apparently bringing back Hue Jackson as coach next year. This could be a smokescreen, I suppose, but the Browns sure are ACTING like they’re bringing back Hue Jackson next year. The owner Jimmy Haslam has said they’re bringing him back. The new GM John Dorsey has, at least publicly, said stuff that suggests they’re bringing him back. Rumors fly in Cleveland that Jackson will hire an offensive coordinator next year — he has been his own offensive coordinator this year because apparently just coaching the Browns isn’t a big enough job — and that suggests that he will BE ALLOWED to hire an offensive coordinator next year.

And then there’s Hue Jackson’s confidence. He does press conferences after losses that do not just avoid the topic of his future in coaching but actively, somewhat aggressively, embrace the idea that CERTAINLY he is coming back, WHY WOULDN’T he be coming back, IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING he’s coming back.

“I have their total trust,” he said of the players after Sunday’s latest debacle, “and they have mine.”

“Today wasn’t our day,” he said in general after Sunday’s latest debacle.

“I looked in their eyes,” he said of his confidence in a better future after Sunday’s latest debacle.

 

And yes, I can’t help but think I’m the crazy one. Like The Last Jedi, I desperately wanted to like Hue Jackson. When the Browns hired him from Cincinnati, I raved — I had watched him closely in Cincinnati and loved what he did with Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense. When he came to Cleveland, the Browns were an absolute mess (it goes without saying), and he talked confidently about making them winners. He made no excuses for their fiascos. He always took the blame — in fact the three words, “I take responsibility” have been in perhaps every single Hue Jackson press conference since the start. I keep waiting for someone to make a Hue Jackson “I take responsibility” mashup.

These are good qualities, and Hue Jackson has a lot of good qualities. Trouble is, you can’t just keep saying “I take responsibility,” when your team loses 30 of 31 games, something no other team in NFL history has ever done, and you don’t ACTUALLY take responsibility. What does it mean to take responsibility? If I take responsibility for a fender bender, it means my insurance pays for the bump on your car. More directly here: If I take responsibility for getting all of us lost, that means that I plan on leading us out of this place.

And how will I do that? I don’t know — I have a terrible sense of direction — but I can assure you one thing: I would CHANGE something. I would ask for help or craft a new plan or hire a sherpa or admit my failings and put someone else in charge.

What I wouldn’t do is the exact same things week after week after week after week that got us lost in the first place.

“Again our guys continue to fight,”Hue Jackson led off his press conference on Sunday. He always leads off his press conferences this way. No, really, always, I looked.

This week: “Again our guys continue to fight, continue to work at it, but it’s just not good enough.”

Last week: “Well, not a good day at the office … As a football team we’re just not where we want to be but as I told our guys, we’re going to keep working, keep fighting hard.”

The week before that: “Again, it’s unfortunate, our guys, as always every week, I know it’s a broken record, they fight hard, do a lot of good things.”

And the week before: “Again, I saw a team that continues to fight but, just like them I am too, you’re tired of hearing about fighting, you want to win.”

And the week before, we will let a photograph and headline tell the story:

 

And the week before: “One thing I’ll say again about these guys, they ain’t gonna quit, they keep playing.”

And the week before: “I thought our guys had a little more pep in their step, fought hard, gave if everything they had.”

And the game before (bye week skip a week): “Obviously, first half, I thought our guys fought extremely hard, made some plays defensively, did some good things.”

And the week before: “So obviously we’re an 0-7 team, fought hard, had chances to win … I asked our guys to be the best version of themselves they can be, and I thought they did that, they gave everything they had, the defense fought hard …”

I did not intend to go all the way back to October with this, but I kept watching the first 30 seconds of each press conference to see if he Hue would talk about his guys fighting hard … and he kept on saying it every week. The streak finally broke on October 15 but that’s in part because Hue Jackson didn’t even give an opening statement that week, he went right to questions because that was the week he decided to start now emergency quarterback Kevin Hogan and he had to spend his press conference explaining that fiasco.

Hue Jackson just keeps saying the same things, keeps coaching the same way, keeps losing. I don’t believe for one minute the Browns are fighting hard, no matter how many times they say it. The Browns do not have significantly less talent than the Bears. They got outplayed, outworked, outcoached and outclassed. And outfought. There was a moment with about eight minutes left when the Browns trailed by 17 and faced a fourth and ten from near midfield. They punted. Why would they have punted? What possible good could punting do? They were winless on the year, they were down three scores, the fourth quarter was halfway over. Do you punt there if you care AT ALL?

I so wanted to like Hue Jackson. And I should say: I do believe Browns management failed him by not drafting and acquiring good players. I do believe that he has the raw skills and tools — calmness, football imagination, a blunt unwillingness to make excuses — that could make him a good head coach. I even believe it’s possible that, given the chance, he could be part of a Browns turnaround if John Dorsey changes the culture enough that the Cleveland stops trading down and missing trade deadlines and instead drafts good players and signs good players this offseason.

But it really comes down to this: I also believe that the Browns could not have been significantly worse than 1-30 if I was coaching them. I don’t ask for much as a Browns fan, I really don’t, but I’d like the head coach of the Cleveland Browns to be a lot better at the job than I would be.

 

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24 Responses to Browns 0-15

  1. Chris H says:

    “Today wasn’t our day.”

    Nope, your day was Dec 24, 2016. That appears to have been the one.

  2. Bradford says:

    It’s not just you, Joe. I’m a good friend of a movie director with excellent judgement and he told me today that the new Star Wars is only so-so. That was a bummer since my family and I plan to see it in the theatre (it’s STAR WARS) and I have no doubt that he’s correct. Based on reading your movie reviews, your judgement is good too. I’m sad to hear they failed on Rey and Luke. All else would be forgiven if they got those two right. *sigh*

    And thanks for putting this out so quickly on Christmas! What a pleasant surprise.

    Merry Christmas, all.

    • robert says:

      I live in a tiny town in Ontario, Canada The closest thing to us which would be called a city is Toronto, over an hour away. So, we drove in and saw the new Star Wars, which was mildly above sleep-inducing. I’m a great Star Wars fan, but by the time I got home – that one hour – the only thing I could remember about it at all were a few scenes involving the late Carrie and a slightly interesting new love story featuring a new character – she was quite good. So, while the critics up here raved away. I claim solidarity with Joe. Much ado about very little. The two hours on the highway weren’t worth it.

      • Bradford says:

        Which tiny town, brother? I grew up in Sutton, Ont. and spent most summer weekends going to old car shows all over the province or playing rep baseball and hockey in all the tiny towns.

    • Dave says:

      After it was over (and we were a long time getting there), I turned to my wife and said, “Love Boat. Lots of vignettes, and you never see all the guest stars together at one time. They just file past the crew to say goodbye.” And don’t get me started on the political correctness, capped by Laura Dern’s brilliant plan to hole up in a giant safe space with no exit. I can hardly wait to see which white male they emasculate and kill off in the next one.

  3. Richard says:

    When Higgins got up and started to run, the announcer got excited. As a long time Browns fan, my thoughts were “yeah, but when is he going to fumble?” When there was a flag down as Garrett remarkably ran for the end zone we all knew who the penalty was on. In the crucial(?) short yardage play I looked at the tv and ho,hum Peppers is lined up way offside. Why don’t the coaches up above see this and… it goes on and on. Finally this weekly torture is going to end next week. The worst part-I pay extra to DirecTV to watch this in California! I’m dumber than Hue Jackson.

    Merry Christmas!

  4. John Nacca says:

    I am a New York Giants fan, been a fan since 1970 (I was 8). I don’t “live and die with them” but pretty close. Never really been a big fan of Eli (I think his name is greater then his talent), although the benching decision was way out of line for what he brought to the team for all those games. They have a ton of holes themselves, and since this is the NFL you can fix a lot of them pretty fast and go from bad to good (or even great if you get lucky like New England).

    I however as a fan have been fortunate that the cycle that is the NFL has come around to my team four times. Four times in my life I have been rewarded with watching confetti rain on my team’s starting QB, and have the Commissioner at the next year’s draft say “With the 32nd pick in this year’s draft, the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants select….”

    Not just you Joe, but look at fans of the Lions. Or the Chargers. Hell I live 90 minutes from Buffalo and at least the Browns have been to the playoffs since the last time the Bills made it there. Look at Eagles fans, or Vikings fans. Falcons fans or even Dolphins fans, or heck even J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS fans. Some of those fans have never seen their team win a title because it happened so long ago.

    Here is the one difference. Those teams, while going through bouts of dysfunctionality (either ongoing or over time) have had some sort of success. Could be a one-year thing like Stan Humphries beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh, could be Mark Sanchez before the butt fumble, could be Don Strock and the hook-and-lateral.

    As a Giants fan, the one thing I do not fear is a stretch like that. They are owned by a stable family who finally grasped the concept of structure in a franchise long after many teams did (not like Mike Brown who won’t even hire a GM and for years ran the most barren scouting department). Yes they are a dumpster fire this year, but I trust their system to make good moves and build the team back to being at least competitive. As a Browns fan, I could NEVER EVER see that vision. They have never (at least since the Marty days) shown any type of “thinking” that even to a casual fan would say “hey that’s very un-Browns-like”. I mean how many times does an MLB team hire a FOOTBALL guy to run their franchise?

    I am torn with reading this diary. On one hand, you Joe are my favorite all-time writer; even IMO better then the great Bill James. On the other, I truly truly wish you could have the chance…just once in your life like I wished growing up, when the Giants fans flew banners over the stadium in protest”….to feel the confetti rain onto your head for yourself.

    • Pat Hobby says:

      The Tigers made Bo Schembechler president of the team from 1990-1992.

      • John Nacca says:

        Good call on Bo…wasn’t his tenure marked by the firing of Ernie Harwell?

        I am not sure how much power Bo actually had over the team, not disagreeing with you for pointing him out, I just think the Browns F.O. had a bit more say in personnel then Bo did

  5. Brad says:

    Should have kept Mike Pettine. Even with the crappy talent he had, he never lost 30 of 31. And Joe is right about the new Star Wars. Saw it the other night and wondered many of the same things, like what was the purpose of that whole sequence? Bottom line, it might be the fourth or fifth best Star Wars flick. Special effects are good, the rest of the movie is….yawn.

  6. rabidtiger says:

    I thought that the Pythagorean formula would indicate that the Browns underperform and that if they have a record of losing more games than they should, year after year, perhaps we should guess at a failure more of leadership than of playing ability. Player ability from team to team “should” vary randomly, or more randomly than it apparently does, if every team drafts with the same knowledge of the year’s crop of college players..

    When I researched the expected win total in pro-football-reference.com as calculated by the formula, the figures bore me out, at first. As I went backward in time from 2017 to 2000, actual win totals fell short of expectation every year back to 2010, except for 2014. This was the winningest year of the group, 7 actual wins compared to 6.9 expected. The amount of shortfall did not appear random, with the greatest shortfalls coming in the losingest seasons. (The past two years have seen 1 real victory, with 6.4 expected.) Actual wins exceeded projections in 2009, 2007, 2005, 2002, 2001, and 2000.

    The actual win totals in years that exceeded expected victories ranged from 5 to 10, with one exception, the 3 victories of 2000. That year, the Browns were expected to win 1.5 games. The actual win totals in years that did not meet Pythagorean expectations ranged from 0 to 5 with no exceptions. I take this to mean that if you are halfway good, you win some with good luck and lose others with bad luck. If you are bad, other teams stomp on you as hard as they have to, to win. The NFL tends not to gift bad teams with lucky wins.

    Some further thoughts: 1. Does below-average coaching make close losses more likely? (Are close wins an art form practiced by Svengali head coaches?)

    2. Is garbage time in the 4th quarter a significant way for a losing team to rack up points that would not be scored if all strategy and playing was as intense the first three quarters? If so, the discrepancy between formula and results may be explained.

    3. Is a period of catastrophic failure followed by another of exceeded expectations? Will players tired of losing learn how to win? What would a study of the Patriots teach us?.

    4. How responsible is the staff and front office? If player A goofs up constantly, is someone in management capable of finding a better player B and getting him playing time? Is there a fatalism, a carelessness that leaches from the top down? Why do the Browns draft the wrong quarterback so often? Is Kizer going to improve noticeably in 2018 and following years if given the chance?

  7. Domhnall Gleeson is actually a pretty good actor (e.g. Ex Machina), just gets to play the moron in Star Wars

  8. Rick says:

    In 1996, the Jets were Cleveland Browns bad: 1-15. Head Coach Rich Kotite mercifully resigned after the season and has not been seen in the NFL since. At some point, if Hue Jackson really wants to take responsibility he needs to fall on his sword and resign like Kotite did.

    I’m with you on Stars Wars Joe. It had its moments, but most of it seemed pointless to me, or same old same old, and I couldn’t understand what the fuss was about. But the Star Wars fans I went with raved about it, and I felt like I must have seen a different movie.

  9. Matthew Clark says:

    A manilla folder with cheese!

  10. scsilveira says:

    Your posting was the Christmas gift that kept on giving. The “were you surprised” paragraph evoked, and surpassed, Jim Murray; I read it out loud to three people, cracking up all of them. From great suffering, great art!

  11. Pat Hobby says:

    It the Browns did quit, how would anyone know?

  12. Dale says:

    Just saw The Last Jedi, and while I thought a sequence in the middle was unnecessary, it was exceptionally well-made and included a few scenes that are as good as anything in the series. If Joe found it boring, that most likely had to do with his personal expectations (or maybe he just had a bad day). Either way, no movie is going to please everyone, and that’s ok. I’ll never see Hamilton, either.

  13. Fifi says:

    Just interrupting to remind everyone that Joe hates football and doesn’t watch it any more and doesn’t care about it any more.

    Carry on.

  14. jackiel says:

    I am tired of people – Joe included – blindly stating that the Browns are a talentless football team. Look around the AFC. Is Cleveland less talented than Miami, the Jets, Indianapolis, Houston (the ex Watson and Watt version)? Of course not. Miami has a checked out QB, a decent offensive line, some talent at the offensive skill positions, and a defense that has trouble stopping anyone. The Jets have perhaps the least offensive talent in the league. Indianapolis is a truly horrid team – they can’t score or stop anyone. Houston hasn’t been able to score all year without Watson at QB and they give up 350 yds per game on defense despite playing in the offensively challenged AFC South and having the offensively challenged NFC West on the schedule this year. Yet all of these teams have won 3 or more games this year.

    Conversely, Cleveland has a good offensive line, good running backs, and decent receiving options now that Gordon is back. The defensive line is good, the linebackers are fast, and the safeties are solid. A lot of the guys drafted by the previous regime will have 5+-year NFL careers. However, there is a high probability that Cleveland will go winless this year despite having enough talent to win 3-6 games.

    Why is Cleveland a candidate to go 0-16? It’s coaching. For some reason, Hue refuses to make life easier for his raw rookie QB by establishing the run in the first half and calling plays with easy reads. Instead, he won’t hesitate to call 40 passes per game, have receivers who aren’t in AJ Green’s class run AJ Green’s routes, and then throw Kizer under the bus with the media afterward. On defense, they have the safeties play so far back that they are literally asking the opposing team to complete 7-10 yard passes. Frankly, if someone accused Hue of tanking this season to get Sashi & Co. fired, they wouldn’t be wrong. He’s delivered the worst coaching job in the league this year, including Ben McAdoo.

  15. Nickolai says:

    Joe, you are not alone in disagreeing w/ the critics on The Last Jedi. It’s got the lowest Rotten Tomatoes audience score of ANY SW movie, including the god-awful prequels! I think the critics are the ones who are crazy on this one…

    http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/visualizations/star-wars-last-jedi-one-of-the-biggest-rotten-tomatoes-audience-vs-critics-score-splits-ever/

    • Dale says:

      You do understand that trolls have brought down the Rotten Tomatoes score. It’s completely invalid, just like any other internet poll that allows people to vote as often as they like.

      • Paul says:

        The new trendy thing is to rip on the new Star Wars movie. It’s very good on its own merit. Compared to the prequels, it’s the Godfather.

  16. Joe says:

    Thanks Joe, these Brown posts have been the most enjoyable thing I’ve read in 2017. Kinda bummed there’s only one more game.

  17. Hamster Huey says:

    Joe could definitely have written this better, but I have to think the conclusion would have been the same: http://www.espn.com/blog/cleveland-browns/post/_/id/24481/if-the-0-16-lions-of-2008-played-the-0-15-cleveland-browns-the-winner-is

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