In the roller coaster ride that is the 2008 season for the Cleveland Browns, it has become all too obvious that the club should start making plans for next season.
If Sunday's showing against the Washington Redskins is not enough evidence to prove that notion, then nothing will convince Phil Savage and his minions that this season is not salvageable.
And the flicker of hope that burned brightly after the big victory against the New York Giants six days earlier has been doused by a performance against the Redskins that reeked of a disturbingly pungent odor and was reminiscent of what we saw in the first four games of the season.
Except this time, there are no excuses for why the offense, for the most part, disappeared. It was as healthy as it has been since the exhibition season.
No excuses for why offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski returned to his playbook of the 1-3 start. Where was the creativity? Outside of Josh Cribbs running the ball once on a direct snap, it was a vanilla-based offense. Steve Heiden once again disappeared. And Jerome Harrison was truly The Ghost.
It looked as though Chudzinski dumbed down the game plan out of respect for the Redskins' defense. Whatever happened to the notion that you play your game and not kowtow to your opponent's strengths?
And no excuses for why the Browns still cannot prevent opponents from gaining huge chunks of yards on the ground. If anything, it's getting worse with no solution in sight.
No, Sunday's game was a litmus test for the rest of the season for the Browns and they flunked big time in the 14-11 loss. This was a game they needed badly to win to validate the Giants victory. It was a game they could have won, should have won but in the end didn't deserve to win.
It looks in retrospect as though the team that throttled the Giants was, indeed, full of imposters. It played against Washington much more like the team about which we have grown to frustratingly gnash teeth. You know, the one that looked pathetic in the first month of the season.
The bottom is line is this: When it came time for someone to step up on offense and make a play when it counted against the Redskins, no one stepped forth. Not Derek Anderson; not Braylon Edwards; not Kellen Winslow Jr.; not Jamal Lewis; no one.
Anderson, reverting to his form of the first four games, looked awful, uncertain and somewhat confused by the Redskins' combination defenses. (Crank up the Brady Quinn-should-start machine again.) It was mostly, but not entirely, his fault. He didn't receive a whole lot of help from his receivers, who added five more drops to the season total.
And who had four of them? All innocent receivers take one step back. Not so fast Braylon Edwards.
"We might have underestimated the Redskins," said Edwards after the game. "The defense played tremendously and we've got to give them help. I was a little frustrated early in the game and it messed me up."
Doesn't take much to mess him up. So talented and yet, so fragile. And how do you underestimate a 4-2 team with victories in Dallas and Philadelphia and a home victory against 4-2 Arizona?
That's what makes it hard to believe this team will be anything more than a bunch of talented players underachieving.
What the Browns need is someone who can lead them, inspire them, get them to play at or above their capabilities. That someone is not Romeo Crennel. A better coach might have made a difference in this very winnable game.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to come to the conclusion the Browns are not a good team when it takes seven attempts to score a touchdown after it's first and goal at the one-yard line.
Or waste nearly 30 precious seconds by not spiking the ball after reaching the Washington 37 when driving toward what they hoped was a tying field goal in the final minute with no timeouts remaining. No timeouts left and a first-and-10 and Anderson is busy calling a play as the clock runs down. That's bad coaching.
A spike stops the clock and allows the team to regroup. Anderson needed help and didn't receive it.
But in the end, that's not what lost the game. All it did was serve as momentary hope the Browns could at least get to the tie and nudge the game into overtime.
No, this game was lost long before that. It was lost when the Browns began consecutive first-quarter drives at the Washington 46 and 45 that produced consecutive three-and-outs. Six plays, three yards. Embarrassing.
If that wasn't a broad enough clue as to what awaited the Browns the rest of the game, nothing would be.
It was a game that made Cinderella's stepsisters look decent. It was beyond ugly and the perfect game for product-placement advertising by the makers of No-Doz. It's fairly safe to say the 14 possessions, 13 punts and missed Washington field goal in the opening 30 minutes won't make the ESPN highlights package. Yikes.
It served as the backdrop for a good argument during halftime. Was the game scoreless at that point because of good defense or bad offense? Yes and yes.
The Redskins, coming off a bad loss the week before, were ripe to be taken. And they played that way in the first half, looking just as miserable as the Browns before showing signs of life in the second half.
Still, it took pure luck for the Browns to even be in this one in the end and drop them yet again into the land of false hopes.
When cornerback Eric Wright punched the ball out of Clinton Portis' arm one play after the Redskins slammed the door on the Browns four times from the one to maintain a 14-3 lead with six minutes left, the door to possible victory was knocked back open. That came after Portis ripped off 24 of his 175 yards on the play.
Sure, the Browns cut the lead to three a few plays later, but the frustrating end was inevitable. As they drove down the field in the final minutes, the nagging feeling that something would go wrong wouldn't go away.
But enough of the negatives. Let's take a look at the bright side. The Browns had zero pre-snap penalties.
It could have been a lot worse.
Well . . . maybe not.