Here I am, yet again, bearing bad tidings: The Cleveland Browns will lose every game this season.
Hysterical panic? Hardly. I live and work steps from Ford Field and I watched the 2008 Detroit Lions because the first NFL season to lose an entire 16-game schedule.
Those Lions were a better team than the dysfunctional and untalented product foisted on Browns fans this year. By the end of last season, Detroit was playing a difficult schedule against a slate of playoff-bound teams, but it wasn't playing terribly. The Lions were simply outmatched, but had they played the injury-riddled Browns, decimated both at quarterback and in spirit, they would have crushed them. The Lions were at least scoring touchdowns. The Browns were not, and other than a garbage-time score in Week 1, they're not scoring them this year, either.
A season later, a healthy and revamped Cleveland franchise has delivered a summer of bizarre theatrics by the retread head coach, abetted by a puppet general manager, and then 120 minutes of shameful, humiliating football. Is anyone truly surprised?
I should give them credit: The first half of the home opener against Minnesota wasn't as grotesque as everything that's followed. The defense looked sharp and one could excuse the offense for looking slow while working out kinks.
Problem is, it's been downhill since halftime of that game. The Vikings' coaching staff proved able to adjust while the Browns' braintrust simply believed they could keep doing the same thing that had worked in the first half – evidence of either mind-boggling hubris or gross stupidity.
Then Cleveland traveled to Denver and made Kyle Orton look like John Elway, and Brady Quinn did his best Mike Phipps impersonation. Seriously, Kyle Orton? He was a bust in Chicago, where quarterback careers go to die, and was so worthless there that they didn't blink twice at shipping him off as part of the ransom for Jay Cutler. And now he's led a bad Denver team to an easy victory over Cleveland.
This Browns team is a catastrophe, and there's absolutely no reason to believe they have a hope in hell of beating Baltimore this Sunday. The lone date on the schedule that gives us a shred of hope is Dec. 27 when the hapless Oakland Raiders come to Cleveland, and that probably will go down to the wire.
Perhaps this is all an ugly fluke and the real Cleveland Browns, despite a roster of New York Jets castoffs, will show up Sunday and shock the illegal and illegitimate NFL franchise playing in Baltimore. But I'm not willing to wager on that. No, this looks like one of those freight train-to-hell seasons like 1990 or 2000, where nothing goes right.
With a couple of exceptions, this roster is riddled with players who are not as fast, strong, disciplined or smart as the rest of the NFL. As I've stated before, it's a roster of mostly special-teams players, guys not good enough to start on offense or defense for other teams. For a decade, Cleveland seems congenitally incapable of drafting the best players, time after time passing up future hall of famers in favor of busts or mediocre talents.
And then we come to Brady Quinn. You can place only so much stock in the NFL quarterback rating system, but it is accurate enough to indicate a severe problem when Quinn's number is just 66.9, 28th in the league. Whether that's a product of his own skill limitations, the offense and coaching or a dearth of talent around him, remains to be seen. Maybe it's all of that.
In Quinn's defense, despite being in the league three seasons, he's still a rookie with just six starts under his belt. Cleveland, gun-shy after watching Tim Couch be destroyed, wanted to bring him along slowly but found itself in an unexpected controversy because of Derrick Anderson's surprise 2007 success. Then Quinn wins the job, under bizarre circumstances thanks to Eric Mangini's weirdness, and is thrust into the role on a team rebuilding for the eighth time in 10 years. Not a recipe for success, and a difficult set of circumstances to judge if he's a legitimate franchise quarterback or not.
If he wins some games purely on moxie and guts, we'll know we have a winner, but even the best quarterbacks are severely limited when the offensive line is a turnstile for defensive ends. Are we going to see a repeat of 1990, when the line proved so inept at pass blocking that it was forced to run block on pass plays because that requires less talent? The ghosts of Ben Jefferson and Ken Reeves have returned to haunt us.
So here we are, in Week 3 and looking at the total collapse yet again of this franchise. There's no reason to doubt the coaches, players, management and ownership is committed to winning, but they seem to be utterly incapable of executing it. The ineptitude and bad luck is systemic and ingrained in the franchise culture.
While that's de rigeur in Detroit for the past 50+ years, it hasn't been in Cleveland except for the past decade. I'm sure I'm not alone in watching our team unable to develop superstars while every other team seems to be a step fast, strong enough to break tackles and smart enough to not make the boneheaded plays we make.
And that has me angry. Angry at the players, at the coaches, at Randy Lerner … and there's nothing worse than impotent rage. There's nothing I can do about it. Not watching games punishes me, not them. Unlike Detroit, Cleveland has wonderful football memories that are from within our lifetimes. That's what's so shameful about this: We're helpless to do anything but watch what had been an elite professional sports team destroy itself and its reputation. We invest our time, money and emotion and our return is heartache, disappointment and belittlement at the hands of witless Steelers and Bengals fans.
I've been divorced twice, but this is a spouse I can't leave. I'm in for the long haul, and I know many of you are, too, even if we're the victims of a sort of emotion domestic violence each Sunday — and that's not a humorous exaggeration, either. There is a palpable, physical ache I feel inside when this team loses, and my mood and emotions are affected for some time afterward.
Is that weird and pathetic? Probably, but I've been that way since Bernie Kosar and Brian Sipe were the people I longed to emulate. But the abuse has to end. What further sacrifice to the Football Gods must we make?
Bill Shea is The OBR's Detroit bureau chief. He can be reached at DocGonzo19@aol.com