After Sunday's 30-12 loss in Houston, it's officially safe to acknowledge that the 2011 season is virtually over for the Cleveland Browns. The pure exactness of the Texans' domination painfully highlighted the abysmal extent of the Browns' shortcomings. Beyond the headline-inducing triumvirate of poor quarterback play, tepid play calling and dramatic injury absences, the Texans exposed the Browns as a physically, emotionally and creatively inferior team.
In the process, whatever slivers of hope still lingering after a 2-1 start were conclusively swept away – leaving Browns' fans in an all-too familiar expansion holding pattern. Neither committed to the present or secure about the future, there's very little tangible hope to be found in what is turning into another lost season.
While it's logical to suggest that yet again the Browns may be emerging from the nascent stages of another painful rebuilding "process," such a realization has to be checked against the past dozen years of total ineptness. Or, history is not on a Browns' fan side – even for an optimist who would suggest that Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Greg Little are signs of eventual progress.
Instead, every logical Browns fan has now collectively entered the crushing emotional nether region that is characteristic of a lost season. At 3-5 and possessing an offense incapable of creating more than a five-yard underneath route, the Browns now find themselves as a likely candidate to engage in a series of excruciatingly boring and ultimately meaningless games. Yet, because of their early success against other similarly flawed teams, such failure will not be enough to earn the likes of drafting a future quarterbacking star in Stanford's Andrew Luck.
Of course, no one has any clue what type of player Luck could become. Or, considering the current offensive scheme in Cleveland – Luck could perhaps be limited to a baffling series of six-yard out routes.
Anyway, the point is simple – as of right now, Browns fans have nothing to look forward to. Either through entering the "Suck for Luck" campaign or simply via offering semi-watchable football, these current Browns don't offer much in the form of entertainment. Even from a front office and sideline perspective, the 2011 Browns are basically an impotent sub-species of sport. With all major franchise decision-making components firmly in place, we can't even distract ourselves with speculation regarding the next coach and/or general manager.
So – left to our own devices, what is a Browns' fan to do? Despite all the succinct Twitter jocularity to the contrary, every die hard Browns' fan feels obligated to continue following the same path laid out over decades – regardless of the now vapid product being offered.
As a fairly relevant aside, even a gritty defensive effort against the Seahawks was upstaged by the emergence of Captain Cleveland dancing in the Stadium stands for Fox's cameras. The surprisingly rhythmic efforts of Captain Cleveland were easily the most entertaining event of a game – a win, nonetheless – marked by prehistoric offenses, blocked field goals and an endless display of two-yard rushes.
Unfortunately for the Browns, Captain Cleveland can't play quarterback. Although in an equally entertaining and completely illogical comparison, wouldn't it be great if the NFL's version of Captain America – Tim Tebow – did?
At this point in the season, could we do any worse considering the circumstances?
As exactly half of this audience agrees, let's consider just what the Browns would be getting with Tebow. That is – unless you want to yet again bore yourself with formative debates regarding Colt McCoy's arm strength.
From a pure football perspective, the Browns would first be gaining a bigger body capable of withstanding the dozens of savage hits delivered to McCoy. In terms of basic physics, Tebow vs. McCoy would represent a contrast between moving forward and falling back. Or in other words, given the state of the Browns' offensive line, lack of wide receiver speed and lifeless play calling, a mobile and aggressive Tebow could at least extend the plays that currently appear dead on arrival.
As for passing skills – which of course symbolizes Tebow's fatal flaw – the departure from McCoy wouldn't be dramatic. Again – given the circumstances surrounding the Browns' offense – Tebow would likely produce the same mostly efficient, yet completely innocuous numbers as McCoy. Perhaps the only exception here would be found in Tebow missing a wide-open, downfield receiver – assuming such a situation ever presents itself in Cleveland.
But we've heard this debate before. Tebow is a flawed quarterback – or not a quarterback at all, according to some of his most vigilant detractors. However, despite his limitations, Tebow is exactly what the Browns need – at this exact moment.
While it's doubtful to suggest that Tebow could immediately improve the Browns' current record, it is painfully obvious that the Browns need some kind of spark to propel them through the remainder of the season. At one point in the season – seemingly forever ago against the Dolphins – it appeared that McCoy could prove to be such a thing. However, McCoy has become nothing more than a tragic symbol of the Browns' offensive ineptness over the past month.
Or, if "Tebowing" is the act of extemporaneously praising a higher power after a victory, than "McCoying" must translate to lying prone in a fetal position.
Regardless of any on-field projections, Tebow would easily fill a void created by the youth movement among the Browns' current roster and coaching staff. In an almost effortless manner, Tebow could offer Browns' fans the kind of hope that has been extinguished over the past several weeks. Much like McCoy against the Dolphins, Tebow has already christened his NFL career with woefully bleak starts and dramatic fast finishes. If anything – Tebow would offer Browns' fans an incentive to keep watching.
For the rest of us – those who are at varying degrees professionally invested in the Browns – just imagine the possibilities. Currently, both the old guard print barons and the more opportunistic blogs that comprise Cleveland media have employed a hands-off approach regarding Mike Holmgren and to a lesser extent – Shurmur and McCoy. In a journalistic world governed by not jeopardizing access, no one in the Cleveland media is brazen enough to directly challenge any immediate or long-term decision made by the Browns' current power brokers. Hence, the status quo is rarely challenged.
Yet, in a journalistic world that is also fueled by hot-button issues, endless debates regarding Tebow's viability as an NFL quarterback would provide the kind of fruitful page view candy completely foreign to these parts. Endless fan polling and throw-by-throw analysis would become staples of a wondrous new media source – one completely enriched by the cottage industry fluff that is attached to Tebow. In terms of a national identity, the Browns would once again prove relevant – just mere months after the inexplicable rise and fall of Peyton Hillis.
Of course, this entire idea of Tebow somehow arriving in Cleveland is nothing but baseless projection. Although the Internet would literally break if such an event occurred, the Browns are entrenched in a rigid West Coast Offense project – while the Broncos are enjoying every entertainment perk previously outlined.
Needless to say – both teams are currently 3-5 and can only boast a modest amount of talent.
Yet in terms of pure entertainment, it's clear that the Browns again find themselves overmatched. While Tebow arriving in Cleveland can only be shelved in a fantasy section, the Browns' current unique state of weightlessness demands some sort of intervention – if not a prolonged distraction.
Otherwise, we're going to have to watch this team try to play football.