First and Ten – wait, make that First and 15
1) Well … this Cleveland Browns season comes to this. The Browns head to Pittsburgh for the finale with Thad Lewis as the quarterback. At least it appears that way. Brandon Weeden left the Denver game with a shoulder injury and there is no sane reason to have him play. Colt McCoy showed up Wednesday morning with a shoulder injury. He and Weeden sat out Wednesday’s practice and Lewis took first-team reps. Yes, it has come to this. What a way for this long and miserable season to end.
2) This really is a catastrophic way for Pat Shurmur to finish. He left himself open to second guessing by calling timeouts late in the loss to Denver and then throwing four times, which led to Denver unleashing its rush and Trent Richardson getting hurt and McCoy telling the media in Denver he was trying not to get knocked out. (It’s very possible that McCoy’s injury happened in that series as well.) Those who were in the locker room on Sunday in Denver said that players were seething at the decisions, which they felt put them at risk. Three days later McCoy showed up with a sore shoulder as the team prepared to face the team that knocked McCoy into oblivion a year ago. Shurmur said he was playing out the game in Denver, and actually said he was trying to win the game. But this is the same coach who punted from the Indianapolis 41 earlier in the season. And, down 22 in Denver with no timeouts and less than two minutes left it’s hard to figure what would or could be gained. New ownership — which has left the present regime waiting until season’s end to hear what happens — can’t be happy with the way this is coming to a conclusion.
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3) If this sounds familiar, it is. Eerily so. In 2008, the Browns were without Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and Ken Dorsey and trotted Bruce Gradkowski out of mothballs to face the Steelers in the finale. The result: Gradkowski had a 1.0 rating, Jerome Harrison led the team with two catches for minus 1 yard and Pittsburgh won 31-0.
4) Now … for some reason I think Thad Lewis is not a bad player. He’s shown up in preseason games, and he’s been with the team for some time so he knows the system. He might not be bad — but already Shurmur is playing the “he can’t play because he’s never played” card, publicly at least. Speaking of the offense under Lewis, Shurmur said: “We’d have to pare it way down.” This means quick turnarounds, short outs, runs that go nowhere because the defense knows the offense won’t try to throw, dumpoffs and taking few chances — unless Shurmur is playing coy. I compare this to what Bruce Arians always told me, that if a guy can play he can play so you treat the young quarterback like he can play and you help him by running the ball and protecting. That’s a tall order against the Steelers defense, but … if the guy can play he can play.
5) Then again, this is the lineup the Browns will take to Pittsburgh (potentially): Lewis at quarterback with Josh Johnson backing him up. Montario Hardesty at running back, Buster Skrine at cornerback (with Dimitri Patterson starting in Miami) and Eric Hagg and Tashaun Gipson at safety. Good grief.
6) And here I thought there would be little to write about today as the Browns head to the end of another long, overly dramatic and ridiculous NFL season. Can this mercy killing just be over with, please?
7) If anyone can find and/or justify a reason to play Weeden or Richardson in this game, they’re smarter than I. Of course, that’s not saying much. If anyone that matters in Berea has any inkling that Weeden or Richardson are the future of the team — and they really should — then putting them at further risk of injury does not seem wise. Especially given this will turn into a glorified preseason game at the end of the season. Winning would be nice — it is Pittsburgh after all — but it means nothing, especially to a team that seems less than a quarter-step from a complete re-start in the front office, coaching staff and locker room. Playing the pair borders on lunacy. But given the history, would we expect anything less.
8) Ben Roethlisberger was asked on the conference call with the Cleveland media if the thought of being swept by the Browns for the first time since 1988 meant something. “You’re the first one that’s brought that up,” Roethlisbeger said. Which indicates the difference in attitude between the wannabe Browns and the been there Steelers. Pittsburgh competes for playoff spots, the Browns hope to beat the Steelers. It’s a glaring example of the pathetic difference between the two teams and their following.
9) The weekly update on the self-promotional “Road Tested” TV show includes this: Jimmy Haslam admitted he had himself and Joe Banner photoshopped into the team picture this season. That simply seems interesting. Then there was the time the show devoted a segment to Tom Heckert planning for the draft, which is the ultimate irony because Heckert might not be here after the season. Asking him to be part of a segment like that is almost unusual punishment — I won’t say cruel because he is well paid.
10) Shurmur also stuck to his guns about not talking about injuries. With one game left in the season, he played the “we’ll see” card a few times about his quarterbacks. This is generated by the preposterous belief that keeping information from going public will help a team win games. Which is poppycock, pure and simple. Teams that prepare well, play well, call games well and are smart and fast win games. Teams that hide injuries most often do it for ridiculous reasons that amount to excuses. If you want to win the game, then go win the game and quit with the never-ending charade of “competitive advantage” that is only fueled by what seems an unlimited supply of NFL arrogance. NBA coaches will talk about how they plan to guard a guy before a game. NFL coaches won’t admit a guy is playing. A pitching coach will discuss how to pitch to a key hitter before a game. NFL guys won’t admit he’ll throw a pass. The absurdity is nearly overwhelming, especially since it’s about a 5-10 team that is heading to its 54th loss in five season. The fans deserve so much better.
11) Watching Shurmur at these news conference has also become downright painful. It seems the whole world knows his fate, but the Browns trot him out there and let him be the team spokesman right to the finish. He keeps talking about the future, and the process and all that stuff, and it just sounds so hollow. Especially when Shurmur talks about how the process this season will help next season. Which he did Monday when he said: “I do think that we’re building a team that’s relevant. You have to be relevant before you can be a playoff team. Then once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. We’ve seen that. It’s somewhat of a journey. That’s just the way it is. We’ve had to make this journey, this year with change and looming change. That’s what you push through.” And when he said: “We’re working a lot of young players that in my opinion are going to provide a great foundation for this team. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
12) The thing is, he’s right. Provided some of these same players are back in 2013, the Browns did set a foundation for the future with this season. Miserable as it is now, the expectation would be that Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden and Mitchell Schwartz and Josh Gordon and guys like that will be better next season than they are now. Or should be at least. The Browns last season struggled through Colt McCoy. This season they committed to a bunch of new guys. They went through the painful year, and perhaps with some better decisions or better play in key parts of some games it might not have been that painful. But what they did should — emphasis on should — set things up for the future.
13) Which leads to the million dollar question: Does the new regime turn the team upside down, shake it all out and re-fill the box? Or does it try to take advantage of some of the good that was done this season and supplement with more players. It’s hard to argue Gordon got better as the year went on. Greg Little too. Weeden struggled at the end, but showed some ability. Richardson broke a team rookie rushing record, but has to have a better season in ‘13. The offensive line has talent, and the defensive line has depth. Supplement this roster with a couple more talented defenders and it should be much more competitive. But shake the box empty and start over and it could be another one of those long seasons. Again.
14) Until then, we all get to hear a coach who no doubt knows his fate say things like … “I don’t like talking about injuries” … and “we’re playing a division opponent” and … “it’s always good to finish the season with a win.”