Mark Leonard: Two Annual Habits

A much-missed analyst returns to these pages with his thoughts on Sunday's debacle...

OK. Let's start by being positive.

The events of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend did little to harm the Cleveland Browns' 2007 draft position. The Skins won to move to 4-7. The Lions and Cardinals both lost, of course, and remain at two wins in what has now been 11 games. Tampa, Houston and probably Tennessee will remain abreast of the woeful Browns at 3-8.

Cleveland will wait until the final two contests vs. Tampa and Houston, respectively, to characteristically damage its draft slot with meaningless late-season wins---as if it matters where they choose. Somehow they'll nab the ones who'll help the least anyhow. 

Two annual habits upon which Browns' fans can depend.

What was impressive today was the touch and accuracy of Cincinnati QB Carson Palmer, as well as the comfort level he conspicuously enjoyed secure in his own pocket, confident he'd have the time to select judiciously among his many open targets. Then he'd put the ball consistently on the hands of his targets, performing like an All-Pro.

Conversely, the supposedly defenseless Bengals, who came in with the sport's worst-ranked unit, tormented the Cleveland backfield whether it was a run or pass being attempted. It was an embarrassment, a blowout, a humiliation, a travesty. But anyone who witnessed it knows as much.

The Bengals have been playing with unseasoned backups at three of their OL positions. As in the two highly-successful offensive performances leading up to today's contest, the Cincinnati attack was far from compromised. Meanwhile, the Browns, at full health and employing a veteran unit that has been together for most of the previous ten games, were thoroughly out-classed by a depleted and struggling Bengals' defensive unit.

One could also say the victors appeared to be the far better prepared, one whose schemes and execution contrasted greatly with the host's. As bad a day as this one was to be a Browns' supporter, it was similarly dismal for those calling themselves coaches of the club. This was not one to put on the resume, though preparing such a document might well become advisable for more than one on the staff.

Having to realize the San Diego Chargers have essentially been constructed during the same time frame as the Butch Davis-Romeo Crennel regimes---made possible by talents Cleveland's front office disdained in order to land the collection it is now losing with---tests one's loyalty and diminishes any temptations of optimism.

While Cleveland was assembling Gerard Warren, Kellen Winslow, Jr., Braylon Edwards and D'Qwell Jackson, for example, Charger GM AJ Smith was signing Antonio Gates out of nearby Kent State and drafting LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, Shawne Merriman and Marcus McNeill---essentially the core of what makes them so special. While it is true Rivers and DE Luis Castillo (among others) came to SD in the Draft Day deal that sent Eli Manning to New York and was off the board by the time Cleveland packaged a two with its seventh- overall choice to grab Winslow, Davis did this with WR Roy Williams, CB DeAngelo Hall and QB Ben Roethlisberger remaining on the board---each arguably a superior player than the now-impaired Winslow.

What is the point of lamenting rehashed old news following another divisional defeat? Because success in this sport is all about securing the best possible talent and finding a way to feature it most constructively. The evidence being provided, and clearly apparent again today, is verifying those objectives are not being met here in Northeast Ohio at the same time formerly-defective rosters in San Diego and Cincinnati have been repaired magnificently.

That should help wash down the disgusting taste of today's 30-0 whitewash, eh?

It's time to get busy, Mr. Savage. I, for one, am tired of waiting. It is the fans who should be paid for caring about demonstrations like today's, Mr. Lerner. As this proud franchise celebrates its 60th Anniversary, nothing does it greater disrespect than the recent legacy being created. The Cleveland Browns are becoming an irrelevancy, a laughingstock a hopelessness, something to align aside the Lions and Cardinals.

Shut out by the game's worst defense at home when the challenge should be to regain competitiveness with the divisional rivals? Hideously shameful, gentlemen.

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