I’ve sort of stopped writing about the Cleveland Browns lately because, well, there’s really nothing interesting to talk about. They’re terrible. They are also injured. They are not developing an interesting young quarterback, they are not showing any signs whatsoever of building even a passable offensive or defensive line, their last half-dozen drafts have been unmitigated disasters and the one exciting playmaker they have on the team, receiver Corey Coleman, has been injured and missing.
They have also played FIVE quarterbacks this year.
So, no, there’s not really much to say … well, except for this: The one hope for 2016, the one thing for any Cleveland fan to cling to, was that new coach Hue Jackson and a new braintrust featuring Paul DePodesta would change the dynamic of pure incompetence that has dominated the Browns landscape for years. Jackson was a terrific offensive coordinator for Cincinnati. DePodesta is a smart guy with a feel for building stuff. You had to believe those guys would at least stop the backward running and get the team facing North.
You know what? I don’t believe it anymore.
There was a very short series at the end of the first half that left me cold. I so want to like Hue Jackson. I like his positive approach. I like that he will not make excuses. I like that he refuses to blame officials, even when they DO screw up, and that he refuses to complain about injuries, even when they DO pile on in an almost biblical storm. I so want to like him.
At the end of the first half of Sunday’s game against the Bengals, though, I saw him make the sort of coaching decisions that leave me with no choice but to believe that he does not have it. They were such small decisions that the CBS announcing crew did not even mention them. Then again, it seemed at times that the CBS announcing crew was watching other games on NFL Sunday Ticket.
With about three minutes left in the first half, the Browns somehow trailed by only four, 14-10, and they got the ball back at their own 25. And then, despite the fact that their quarterback was someone named Kevin Hogan, they went on an actual drive. I have not watched much Bengals football this year so I was surprised that they came into this game 2-4. What happened? I thought the Bengals were the best team in football for much of last season, and I remain convinced that if Andy Dalton had not gotten hurt, they would have gone to the Super Bowl. What happened?
What happened is this: The Bengals defense is horrendous. I don’t know the root causes behind that, but I do know that this guy named Kevin Hogan ran wild on them and as far as I know Kevin Hogan has never run wild on ANYBODY …
… wait, I take it back. He ran for 112 yards against Washington State last year.
So, there you go: The Bengals defense is like Washington State.
Anyway, the Browns chugged all the way down to the Bengals 38 with about 1:40 left. It was fourth down and three. Now, I don’t think we need to go into the mathematical maze to figure out what you do. You just look at a few basic facts:
Fact 1: The Browns are 0-6
Fact 2: It was fourth and 3.
Fact 3: Repeat -- the Browns are 0-6.
Fact 4: There was only like a minute left.
Fact 5: They were on THE BENGALS 38.
Fact 6: Might not need to say this again but -- the Browns are 0-6.
Fact 7: Their quarterback, a guy named Kevin Hogan, was running through the Bengals for some inexplicable reason.
So what do you do? Take into account all of it -- the desperation of the team, the field position, the clock, the incompetence of the Bengals defense -- and of course you:
TAKE A DELAY OF GAME PENALTY ON PURPOSE AND THEN PUNT!
Well, sure, what else is there to do? I mean, if you go for it there you could, you know, fail to make the first down. And then, oh my gosh, that would be a terrible disaster, because, um, why again? Oh yeah, because then the Bengals would be only 62 yards away from the end zone with one minute left! They might score a field goal or a touchdown and put you more behind. You might lose the game! You might miss the playoffs!
The Browns took a delay of game penalty and punted. They really did that.
The CBS announcers did not seem too interested in talking about it (they were much more interested in why Bengals coach Marvin Lewis wasn't calling timeout not knowing, apparently, that Marvin's hobbies include reading, studying history and sitting on a lead). Eventually they seemed to suggest that it was the right call or something because it gave the punter more room or something. They obviously were busy watching the Bills-Dolphins game.
But it gets worse, a lot worse. The decision to punt from well inside Bengals territory on fourth and three even though the team is 0-6 is just the sort of timidity you come to expect from football coaches. Sure, I wanted Hue Jackson to be different, but he isn’t, at least not yet. He’s coaching scared and as disappointing as that is, well, you look at the team he has around him and I’m not sure you can completely blame the guy.
What comes next, though, so boggles the mind so completely that I’m still not 100% sure it happened.
OK, so, the Browns punted the ball and the Bengals fair caught it at the 15 -- it was a lousy punt. Whatever. There was 1:03 left in the half. It goes without saying that Marvin Lewis sent out his offense to run the ball and run out the first half clock. It did seem to shock the CBS announcing crew, but that might have been something happening in the New Orleans-Kansas City game.
So, Dalton handed off to Giovani Bernard, and they slowly made their way back to the huddle, and the first half was going to end. I was grumping about the Browns punting that ball -- I mean, seriously, how bad do they have to be before a coach will go for it on fourth and three in the opponent’s territory -- when I looked up. The TV clock was stuck at 58 seconds.
“Hey,” I thought to myself, “why is the CBS clock broken?” Then I realized, no, CBS had it right. The clock really was stopped.
A whole series of thoughts then occurred in this order:
1. Did Bernard step out of bounds? (No, clearly not, he wasn’t close to the sidelines).
2. Was there a player on the field hurt? (No, the television camera was not focused on any injured player).
3. Did Marvin Lewis actually call timeout? (No, they were on their own 20 with 56 seconds left in the half -- a Supreme Court order couldn’t get Marvin to call timeout in that situation).
I was entirely stumped.
And then, someone from the CBS announcer crew casually said four words that made as much sense as if he had said “Egg Sedation Panda Pants.”
He said: “The Browns called timeout.”
He did not say it like, “HAS THE ENTIRE WORLD GONE MAD? ARE WE LIVING IN A UNIVERSE WITHOUT ORDER? IS UP NOW DOWN? IS GREEN NOW RED?”
No, he just said it like that, simply, the way you would say, “Oh, I left your keys on the kitchen table.”
The Browns called timeout.
Why? Why? Why? Um, why? You may ask: Why? The question is: Why? You have to wonder: Why? What's the letter after X? Why?
Why would the Browns call timeout? Why would the Browns, 30 seconds after not going for it fourth and three call timeout there? What possible purpose could have been ringing in the mind of Hue Jackson?
You might say: Oh, he called timeout to counter Marvin's conservative ways -- hey, if the Bengals were running out the clock, that might mean the Browns couldget the ball back.
Two things on that ... no make it three:
1. The Bengals picked up five yards on that run. It was second and five. What in the history of this team would lead Hue Jackson to believe they could stop the Bengals for two more plays and get the ball back?
2. What were the Browns going to do even if they DID get the ball back? Didn't they just prove they were too scared to go for it on fourth and three in near-field goal range? If you are too conservative to go for it on fourth and three, what possible series of events do you think can lead you to score when the other team has the ball with less than a minute left on second and 5?
3. Oh here's the important one: The Browns ONLY HAD TWO TIMEOUTS. So even if there was any merit to the idea of getting the ball back -- which there was not -- they could not stop the clock on third down anyway.
It's hard to imagine a dumber timeout. What followed had to follow. Of course, the Bengals picked up the first down on the next play, emboldening Marvin Lewis into calling his own timeout. Of course, the Bengals flopped around because they're just not good this year.
And then, of course, with the clock at 0:00, Dalton threw a hail mary that A.J. Green pulled down in one of the more remarkable catches you'll ever see. Touchdown Bengals.
The Browns future will rely on being smarter than 31 other NFL teams. That's the only hope. They are starting from zero -- maybe even less than zero -- and so they will have to acquire better talent than anyone else, develop it better than anyone else and coach it better than anyone else. Their hope is that they will get the first pick in next year's draft, and it will be a breathtaking quarterback* and they will build around him, a great offense, a punishing defense, and then they will match up with the best teams and minds in the sport.
*Early mock drafts have the Browns picking DeShone Kizer and isn't that just perfect? Wasn't he just BENCHED at Notre Dame? I mean, I know, that doesn't tell you everything, and Kizer is an exciting young player, but maybe they could take a quarterback who hasn't been benched.
Sorry, after watching that display from Hue Jackson, I have my doubts.