The Browns ended the 2009 season with four consecutive wins.
They are one game from ending the 2010 season with four consecutive losses.
The complete reversal of fortune shows where the Browns are as a team. While fans might lament that Cleveland has played opponents close, the Browns also just as easily could have lost two more games to give them a 3-12 record. Against Baltimore on Sunday, Cleveland scored the first touchdown, then was outscored 20-3 the rest of the game.
That is a fair reflection of the Browns, a 5-10 team that is one game against Pittsburgh from repeating a 5-11 season. But while last season ended on an up note, this one is ending on a down note.
That is especially true in light of wins over New England and New Orleans in midseason. Those victories raised the bar of expectations, but those hopes were slammed down with losses to Cincinnati and Buffalo.
Whether that means the door slams shut on Eric Mangini's future in Cleveland will be decided after the season finale against the Steelers.
REPORT CARD vs. RAVENS
PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus -- Colt McCoy's three interceptions were killers. The first two led to 10 Baltimore points; the last ended the Browns' last-gasp scoring threat. It was a tough day to throw, with wind whipping through the stadium on the lake, but McCoy made things worse with questionable decisions. It's not unexpected from a rookie facing a very good defense, but it does show McCoy has more growth ahead of him.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- No, Peyton Hillis cannot do it alone. And Mike Bell is not an adequate backup. Hillis has had an outstanding season, but the past month to six weeks, defenses have loaded the box to stop him and double-teamed the tight end. That formula has slowed the offense to a crawl while Hillis has struggled with the beating he has taken all season. The Browns need to hope that Montario Hardesty returns from a knee injury next season, because they need a legitimate complement to Hillis.
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- Joe Flacco's 102 yards were extremely efficient, with two of his throws going for touchdowns. Flacco struggled when he tried to throw deep, so Baltimore relied on the run and on short passes. It was a smart way to play in the conditions, smarter than the Browns tried to play. The result: a Baltimore win that probably was more decisive than the score indicated.
RUSH DEFENSE: D -- Three Ravens backs ran for 145 yards, with Ray Rice leading the way with 92. More important, the Ravens ran 33 times, sticking with the run even if it wasn't producing big plays. Cleveland's run defense the past month has become a liability, as teams have recognized the best way to stifle Rob Ryan's creative alignments on passing downs is to keep the defense weary by running the ball and avoiding third-and-longs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- The bounce of the football hurt this unit when Phil Dawson's onside kick went out of bounds. That summed up the Browns' season: They try something special, it backfires. With this team, any special teams mistake is magnified, so Dawson's kick -- which should just be one play in a game -- loomed as a big momentum-turner. It's not fair to the dependable Dawson, but that's the game.
COACHING: D-minus -- Eric Mangini's clock management at the end of the first half was downright bizarre. Mangini actually let 45 seconds run off the clock in the final two minutes, reasoning he could get some points and not let the Ravens have time to score. Not only was this disrespectful to his defense, it cost the offense. Mangini let too much time run off, which meant the Browns settled for a third-down field goal with six seconds and two timeouts left. Those kind of sideline decisions haunt Mangini, but three losses in a row haunt him more. The Browns have one more chance to find a win, but the finish shows that playing hard is sometimes simply not good enough.