I've thought quite a bit about what to say about this game. To be honest, I'm still not sure what to say. So, here are some disorganized thoughts about the state of the Cleveland Browns.
This Christmas Eve game was billed as a fan appreciation day. The Browns can call it that and give away prizes and such, but the biggest thing they could have done for the fans is to play a decent game against a terrible opponent that was 0-7 on the road. That didn't happen.
This has to rank up there with some of the saddest Browns seasons ever. I lived from 1983 to 1990 in Champaign, Illinois. While I got to see the glory days of the Bears under Mike Ditka, I missed a lot of the glory days of the Bernie Kosar era, though many of those games were on in Champaign. When I returned to Ohio, I looked forward to seeing the Browns on a regular basis. I saw the Browns play in person during the Kosar era, but usually not in Cleveland.
Then I watched the 1990 season unfold. Early that year, the Browns lost some close games. When they took on the 49ers in San Francisco and lost in overtime, they fell to 2-6. The Browns, perennial playoff contenders throughout the late 1980s, packed it in after that. I had the misfortune of having tickets to the Buffalo game. Bud Carson decided to shake things up by benching Kosar and starting Mike Pagel. On a cold November day at the old stadium, I sat amid a sea of Bills fans as the Browns lost 42-0. To this day, that was my worst experience at a Browns game, only a shade worse than the 41-0 spanking last Christmas Eve.
Other Browns seasons have been bad. There was 1981, the year when we all realized the magic of the Kardiac Kids was gone, starting with getting blown out on Monday night by the Chargers on opening weekend. There was 2000 when a careless injury during a drill allowed Tim Couch to be injured after seven games. The Browns limped through the rest of the season with quarterbacks like Doug Pederson and Spergeon Wynn. There was the promising, painful 1995 season when a decent team tanked due to the circus that became The Move.
To me, 2006 is in the same class as these lost seasons. But in some ways, it is worse. We've watched a team full of young players run amok. We've watched over the hill veterans break down. We've watched players looking like they just want to avoid injury play out the string. We've watched a head coach, a good man, slowly circling the drain. We've watched an organization that seems to have no idea how to conduct itself.
It's been 11 years since Cleveland was betrayed by an owner looking for a way to escape his own bad decisions. Somehow, it seems more painful that what the fans that fought so hard have gotten back an funhouse mirror reflection of the storied Cleveland Browns.
In this stinker of a game against Tampa Bay, there were a few bright spots. Players like Kamerion Wimbley, Leon Williams, and Josh Cribbs continue to play with effort. I know the Browns played with eight backups on defense. Some, like Daven Holly, have played over their heads much of the season. But when normally reliable players like Steve Heiden and Phil Dawson blow plays they've made 100 times before, you know things aren't going well. Maybe Derek Anderson would have survived this contest if not for the horrendous play of right tackle Nat Dorsey.
It was good to see Romeo Crenell show some emotion finally, but it is too little too late. He has all the marks of a dead man walking now. I won't be shocked if he walks away from this mess of a team after Sunday, his lifetime dream in pieces around him.
After next week, there will be plenty of time to evaluate how to sort through the wreckage of 2006. There will be time to evaluate and debate draft picks and free agent signings. For now, there is still one game remaining to get through. The Browns will remind us Sunday why Ken Dorsey should not be an NFL quarterback. They will show us once again that this organization has become a joke, and a cruel joke at that.
A merciful end to an awful season. I'm actually looking forward to it being over.
The season is short. Bark hard!