If Saturday's dress rehearsal for the Browns in Detroit had been a Broadway play, it would have been shut down until further notice.
But since this is the National Football League, this show must go on. For better, if that's possible, or worse, the direction in which this train wreck appears headed.
Yes, it was just an exhibition game. And yes, it meant absolutely nothing. But there is something missing in the Browns' three exhibition losses. They have given a whole new meaning to the word lackluster. They played Saturday with all the enthusiasm of someone facing a root canal.
What we've witnessed thus far during the exhibition season is a team searching for an identity. Does it want to play aggressive football where you punch the opposition before they punch you? Or is this a finesse team that relies on talent?
Right now, the Browns are no closer to being prepared for the beginning of the 2008 NFL season than they were five days before the Detroit game when the New York Giants manhandled them. Their sorry performance in the loss to the Lions Saturday has to furrow a few eyebrows in Berea.
The offense was unimaginative and the starting defense, which managed to shut down the run (thank you, Shaun Rogers), showed how not to play Cover 2. Only the Grand Canyon was more wide open than the Detroit receivers against the Browns' marshmallow-soft zones.
It is easy to fall back on the excuse that the club was without the services of Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, Jamal Lewis and Joshua Cribbs on offense and safeties Sean Jones and Brodney Pool. But this team is not about excuses. Nor should it be.
Sure, that's a lot of talent not playing. But when the opposition is the Lions, those players' absences should be the equalizer.
Right now, the Browns need one enormous, extremely swift and well-placed kick in the gluteal area. It should be like that Diet Pepsi Max commercial that screams, "Wake Up, People!" in the Browns' dressing room.
The question remains whether coach Romeo Crennel will administer it. He should because his club is nowhere near ready to face the season with only one exhibition left against the Chicago Bears, another NFC team that does not play football in a shy manner.
And this one will not be a dress rehearsal since exhibition game No. 4 features guest appearances by the starters.
Based on what we've seen so far, it's hard to judge how good or bad the Browns are. I'd like to think it will better once the season commences, but evidence it's heading in that direction is painfully scarce.
The overall lack of quickness on both sides of the ball becomes more obvious by the exhibition game. They're getting whipped off the snap way too often. And if that doesn't set off alarms in Berea, then nothing will.
This is not where most people believed this team would be at this time. It is barely showing a pulse.
To be perfectly honest, it's tiresome watching the Browns on the wrong end of a beating. It's time to push back. It's time to ratchet up the aggression. It's time to start dishing it out instead of receiving. It's time to fight back. If that's possible.
The most disappointing aspect of the last two losses has been the performance of the offensive line. Playing like one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL instead of one of the best has to bother Crennel and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
Penalties also have become irksome. Just when some rhythm is established, flags fly at the most inappropriate time. That has got to stop. It's all about discipline and that begins at the top with the head coach.
"The first game we lost in the preseason, I had concerns, alright?" Crennel told the assembled media following the latest loss. "I had concerns the next game we lost and we lost this one and now, I'm concerned as well. Every game we lose, I'm concerned because if you lose generally you're not playing the way you need to play to win the game. And so we haven't done that, so we're concerned."
I guess Crennel is concerned. Maybe he needs a shot of Diet Pepsi Max.
Last season at this time, the Browns won three of the four exhibition games, but struggled mightily to get the ball into the end zone. Charlie Frye and Anderson scuffled and forced their coach to flip coins.
It looks as though they'll enter the 2008 season in roughly the same shape with a disjointed offense that desperately seeks any kind of timing and a defense that still can't pressure the quarterback.
"It's just an exhibition," say the non-worriers. "Relax."
Maybe so. It's not the losing that's bothersome. This team has been poorly prepared for the games. That rankles more than anything.
And unless they can just throw a switch and replicate 2007 offensively, the 2008 season figures to be painfully long because this defense isn't good enough to carry the team like the offense did last season.
It's unrealistic to believe Anderson, Edwards, Lewis, Jones, Pool and Edwards will climb into their uniforms and play as though this was the middle of the season. It doesn't work that way.
The Browns needed the work in the dress rehearsal. They didn't get it. Maybe it'll change when game-planning becomes part of the routine.
As for the Lions' loss, too many negatives to delineate. Except for two.
Is Travis Wilson still with the Browns? He is? Why?
And Rex Hadnot is not the answer at right guard. The underarm deodorant of the same name is better at protecting the quarterback than Hadnot. Hopefully, Ryan Tucker's recovery is well enough along that he'll be able to play some Thursday against the Bears.
OK, I lied. Make that three. When is the underachieving Kamerion Wimbley going to start playing like a first-round draft choice? He missed plays all afternoon. This is not a recording.
On the plus side, it appears as though Alex Hall could be a seventh-round gem. The outside linebacker is a player. He did not look out of place, especially when he put his hand on the ground and rushed the passer.
And let's not rush to judgment on Brady Quinn. Don't forget he's just entering his second year. He's going to make mistakes. Count on it. He's still got a very long way to go before the game slows down for him.
Quinn fans delude themselves into thinking he is going to step right in and make everyone forget Anderson. Not going to happen. Not yet at least.
The Browns better hope Anderson's concussion has quieted enough to allow him to start the season against Dallas on Sept. 7. Otherwise, what the Lions did to Quinn will seem like a picnic compared to what the Cowboys will bring.
Overall, based on what we've seen so far, the five-time-prime-time Cleveland Browns appear to be the not-ready-for-prime-time Cleveland Browns.