King: Back to the Crossroads

The Browns situation in 2009 bears some eerie similarities to last year. And in some ways, it's much worse... Steve King offers his perspective, based on decades of experience on the Cleveland Browns beat.

Same time, next year.

For the second time in as many seasons, the Browns have reached a crossroads after just three games.

At 0-3 last year, they started back on the right track year – at least for a little while – with a 20-12 win over Cincinnati, but with the Bengals looming again on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, it will be much harder for the 0-3 Browns to stop the bleeding this time.

For one thing, the Bengals are much better than they were last year, or in any season since 2005, when they went 11-5 to win the AFC North and make the playoffs for the first time in a decade and a half. They're 2-1, but they're a whisker away from being 3-0. They lost to the Denver Broncos in the opener on a fluky tipped pass at the end of the game, but passed the acid test by coming back to beat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field and the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati last Sunday for the first time since 2001.

And for another thing, the Browns don't seem even as good as they were last year, when they finished a disappointing 4-12. Worse yet, it appears as if they're getting worse as the season goes on.

They got blown out in the second half en route to losing 34-20 to the Minnesota Vikings in the opener, got blown out in the fourth quarter on the way to losing 27-6 to Broncos two weeks ago and finally got blown out from the get-go last Sunday in a 34-3 nightmare at Baltimore.

The Bengals are headed one way, while the Browns are headed the other. You wonder, even at this early juncture of the season, if they're too far away to even see one another.

It's one thing to get routed on the road, but it's another thing entirely to get routed at home. And while the Browns got defeated soundly by the Vikings, they didn't get embarrassed in that game at Cleveland before completely collapsing on the road the next two weeks. Now they're back at home again, bruised, battered and beaten, and we'll see if they pull it together and give a better accounting of themselves. We'll see if there's any pride left, and if not, then this already long season could get even longer.

We'll be looking, specifically, for a sign of pride on offense. The fact everybody is piling on the Browns defense for the way it disappeared against the Ravens is laughable. While the defense did nothing well, it's the offense that has done nothing well for nine games now going back to last season. No offensive touchdowns that count. Not one.

And, as we've said before, in a league where every rule change in the last 30 years has been made to enhance offenses and scoring, a team has positively no chance to win if it can't get into the end zone at least part of the time. Field goals won't cut it forever, or even very long, no matter who's kicking them.

The Browns erred big-time in yanking Quinn at halftime of the Ravens game. They panicked. It was way, way, way too soon to make a decision like that, especially with the myriad of problems elsewhere on the offense. Name a spot, and the Browns are struggling there. And that includes play-calling.

The Browns have shackled Quinn in every way, shape and form, so it's not a surprise he's looked as bad as he has. Let him throw downfield. Let him run some no-huddle. Let him use his smarts to out-think the opposition. Those are the things he has always done best going all the way back to his days at Dublin Coffman High School outside Columbus. Not letting him do them do now is a disservice to him and his teammates.

To think Derek Anderson will do any better is foolish. He has proven time and time again what he is and what he can do, and it doesn't translate to consistent winning football. Too many interceptions. Too many forced throws. Too many poor decisions.

That will never change. History tells us so.

Quinn has little pro experience and, with his track record, clearly offers the best chance to improve.

But no matter what decision head coach Eric Mangini makes on Wednesday when he announces the starter against the Bengals, it will mean little in the long run since he has already re-ignited a quarterback controversy that overshadowed this team in training camp and the preseason, and has done so consistently throughout this expansion era.

So on one hand while the Browns will try to get their first win on Sunday, on the other hand everybody on the roster, especially the two men involved, will have to fight through the distractions caused by the indecision at QB. And that's the last thing the Browns need now.

But in the bigger picture, how did things get to this point? How did things deteriorate so much so quickly?

Just about 14 months ago, fans greeted the Browns on the first day of the 2008 training camp with chants of, "Super Bowl! Super Bowl! Super Bowl!" And they did so with good reason, for the experts agreed with them. After scoring 402 points, the third-most in club history, in 2007 en route to finishing 10-6 and just barely missing the playoffs, the Browns looked primed to take the next step.

Now the Browns are 180 degrees away from that. They can't score – or win – no matter how hard they try, and as a result, some are saying they may even be the worst team in the league.

Ouch.

It hurts to hear that. It should really hurt the players, especially after the lethargic way they played in Baltimore. We'll find out if indeed it does – and if so, just how much – on Sunday.

While the Browns are looking to repeat the history from the fourth game of 2008 and try to save their season, at the same time they need to distance themselves from the history of these last nine games, all losses, dating to last year.

Sure, it's a crossroads, maybe more so, in a lot of ways, than a year ago. We'll see which way the Browns go.

And, at this point, there's nowhere to go but up.


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