The Cleveland Browns continue to daydream that they are still alive, but after a dreadful loss at home to a bad Carolina Panthers team that arrived in Cleveland in complete disarray, it is finally time to admit the reality.
The Browns just don't belong in the postseason.
This is a team that has won just 2-of-6 home games this season, and those two victories were nail-biters against the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals - two teams with a combined record of 4-20. Those are not the characteristics of a playoff team.
After Sunday's loss, veteran cornerback Corey Fuller was asked if he could explain his team's 2-4 home record. Fuller looked dumbfounded.
"We are 2-4 at home?" He asked. "That's not good enough. You wonder why the fans boo, but they have a right when you come home and play like that after you play well on the road. Point blank, we are professional, paid athletes. We have to get the job done at home. That's the bottom line. If we want to make the playoffs, we have to play better at home."
After dropping the Saints in New Orleans last week for their third consecutive road win, the Browns returned home to what should have been a perfect situation for a team riding high and hoping to continue a run at the playoffs.
Carolina came to town mired in an eight-game losing streak. In the last two weeks, the Panthers' problems were compounded by suspensions and arrests of key players. The frustration even spilled out in fist fights during the team's film sessions.
"This was a team we know we should have beaten," said Browns quarterback Tim Couch.
Unfortunately, nothing is certain for the Browns in Cleveland Browns Stadium - a home destined to be forever haunted by the specter of Dwayne Rudd's season-opening blunder.
When Rudd tossed his helmet four months ago, he did more than just cost his team a victory. He set the tone for the entire season. On the road, the Browns radiate an air of confidence that they can play with anyone. At home, they are a schizophrenic mess, always waiting for the next disaster.
As painful as Rudd's bizarre mental lapse and the resulting loss to Kansas City in the season opener might have been, the Browns reached a new low Sunday.
Butch Davis swore his team did not overlook the lowly Panthers. After the game, Davis said he "clearly believed the leaders, the captains of the team, the coaching staff" had the team ready to play.
But the major blunders that destroyed the Browns on Sunday were turned in by the leaders, captains and the coaching staff.
Ironically, the one player who did show up against the Panthers was a rookie - running back William Green, who rushed for 94 yards on 24 carries.
Meanwhile, veteran right tackle Ryan Tucker was so vexed by Panthers' rookie defensive end Julius Peppers, that he jumped early on two straight third down plays in the third quarter. The false starts turned two manageable third downs into a 3rd-and-11 and a 3rd-and-13. Tucker is a captain, a leader.
After Tucker's first false start, a mental lapse by veteran running back Jamel White spoiled an important drive. A perfectly timed screen pass gave White a chance to convert a big first down for the Browns' struggling offense. But just one yard shy of the marker, White decided to cut back across the grain instead of running forward for the first down. White had no idea where he was on the field, and when he was finally tackled short of the first town, he forced his team to punt near midfield. White is a team captain, a leader.
Carolina's offense converted a big fourth down late in the fourth quarter when Browns strong safety Robert Griffith missed a tackle on running back Dee Brown in the Panthers' backfield with 5:39 remaining. Brown fell forward for three yards on the 4th-and-1, allowing the Panthers to run almost two more minutes off the clock.
Griffith is a team captain, a leader, and a big-money free-agent who was brought to Cleveland because of his reputation in run defense.
A dismal 12-of-27, 130-yard, three-interception performance by Couch, another captain and team leader, and some questionable timeout management by the Browns coaching staff contributed to the Browns' nightmare.
Young teams like the Browns need to rely on their veterans, their captains and team leaders and their coaching staff to put them in position to win big games down the stretch during a playoff run. Their incompetence Sunday against a bad team proved that the Browns have no business even thinking about the playoffs.