What did you think the Browns were going to do this year? The most optimistic predictions I heard in the pre-season ranged around the 8-8 mark.... hoping to avoid double-digit losses and make some progress over last year. With the 2014 NFL Draft promising somewhere between 5-11 NFL ready QBs, we just wanted to get through the season and get the franchise QB that every fan dreams about. Even the trade of Trent Richardson after Week 2 was billed as being a way to help us get that QB. No one thought this team would win the division or make the playoffs and no one, me included, thought that BW was our future. What changed?
Brandon Weeden is who we thought he was as a QB. He has skills, and if he can "manage the game" (meaning don't make any mistakes!) we'll be ok. We have a great defense, a solid punt returner named Travis Benjamin, a true #1 WR in Josh "Flash" Gordon and a great pair of TE's in Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge. Plus WRs Davone Bess and Greg Little have been good. The addition of RB Willis McGahee is even turning out to be ok. This team won't be blowing the doors off the competition but surely they can be .500.
And yet today my twitter timeline is full of folks calling for Brandon's head, screaming that he can't lead us to the playoffs, that he can't make the big plays, take this team onto his shoulders like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning and lead that last-minute, game-winning drive. Well, who said he could? Today's stupid INT that killed a promising drive seemed to take the air out of the team and I understand being frustrated. But to say that's the only reason we lost? Come on! Did we watch the same game? I listened to the game when it was on and just finished watching it on my DVR and here's what I've come up with...
You don't want to see the stats because they mean nothing, right? Like first downs: Lions 24 Browns 23. Like total offensive yards: Lions 366 Browns 395. Like passing completions: Lions 25/43 Browns 26/43. How about rushing: Lions 28 for 118 yards, Browns 21 for 126 yards. Well. If stats mean nothing, lets look at game situations....
- Turnovers: Lions 1 Browns 2. Fair point. Lions got 7 points as a result of a turnover.
- Time of Possession: Folks are claiming the defense was gassed because of how much time they spent on the field. Hmmm. Let's look at ToP by Half. First half was pretty balanced but second half: Lions 19:25 Browns 10:35. Ouch. Fair point. Yet how tired was defense when they gave up these TDs?
- First Quarter: Score is 0-0. Second Lions drive of the first quarter, they start on their 42, move the ball down the field. A pass interference penalty gives them the ball on the 7 yard line. A second PI penalty gives them the ball on the 1. And then touch down Lions.
- Third Quarter: Score is 17-7. First Lions drive of the third quarter, they start on their own 21, move the ball down the field. Reggie Bush breaks a run for 39 yards, and later catches a pass for 18 yards and a Touch Down. How tired was the Browns defense if this was the first Lions possession of the second half? Score 17-14.
- Field Position. In the first half, Browns had six offensive possessions, two started from their own 26 - scored on both. Started the other four at the 20 or worse and scored once. In the second half, Browns also had six offensive possessions but never started a drive any closer than their own 20. Credit Lions kicker for keeping them in the end zone and not allowing a run-back but still... let's look at the 2nd half drives:
- First drive: punted on 4th and 1, drive contained a -5 yard penalty
- Second drive: punted on 4th and 4, no McGahee rush attempts
- Third drive: punted on 4th and 19 after Weeden got sacked
- Forth drive: punted on 4th and 12, drive contained -15 in penalties and a Greg Little incompletion that I still think should have been a catch.
- Fifth drive: moved ball 40 yards and was starting to click when Weeden threw an ugly INT
- Sixth drive: moved ball 86 yards - including overcoming another sack - when they just ran out of time.
OK - that 4th quarter interception when we were only down by 7 really leaves a bad taste in Browns Fan's mouths and it's easy to see why Weeden gets all the blame for the loss. And he should take some of the blame. I'm not saying he shouldn't. All I am saying is that poor defense, bad penalties, crappy field position also contributed to the mess that was the second half. And I'm asking you to try and see that while Brandon absolutely made mistakes, that doesn't mean he shouldn't start another game. His first half was really good, the whole team played well, everything clicked, and the score at half-time showed that. I have no idea what happened when they came out to start the second half but frankly, it was like a different team came out onto the field.
And part of me blames Brian Hoyer and the AFC North. After only 2 games, we all got caught up in the story of the Local Kid who gets to live his dream by starting for the Browns. And we anointed him the Second Coming of Bernie Kosar. Add to that the fact that the Steelers were 0-4 and the Ravens/Bengals were not looking dominant or impressive, well, Browns fans started to "Up the Ante" on this team. And that just isn't fair. Heck, if we take a close look at the teams we beat this year so far, well, two of them just aren't good.
Bottom line: THIS TEAM IS WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE. They are a .500 team with some very talented pieces. I understand the mentality that the QB is responsible for everything that happens on the field. As the team Leader, it's his job to take the blame. But as fans, we are responsible to take a good hard look at our team and see them for who and what they really are. A lot of work was done in the off-season on the defense and it shows. We need more work on the offense. We need to be patient as fans and stop reacting with anger and craziness when they let us down. We need to manage our expectations. Heck, we travel to Green Bay and Kansas City for the next two weeks. It's going to get harder before it gets easier.
But 8-8 is absolutely possible. We have Jacksonville once and Pittsburgh twice this year. That would give us 6 wins. We might be able to get a couple more. Who knows? But I still have faith in this Team. I have faith that the ability Brandon Weeden showed in the first half can be extended into the second half of a game. That the other problems we have can be corrected.
Because for two quarters today, football was fun. The Cleveland Browns were a Real NFL Team.