At this point of the season, Browns fans have to be asking themselves a lot of questions.
At the top of the list resides this one: "Is this a test?" Followed closely by: "Is this the football gods' way of testing just how tough Browns fans are?"
A strong third: "Why am I putting up with this poor excuse for a football team?"
Just when you think the Browns can't plunge any lower into the sinkhole that has become the 2009 season, they find a way mine new depths.
Mediocre football, even competitive football, would be welcomed with covetous arms by Browns fans because what they're getting now is so far beyond bad, it resides in a different solar system.
A quick check of the final statistics in their latest loss to the Green Bay Packers Sunday reveals just how agonizingly bad it was. The Browns racked up (sorry for the sarcasm . . . wait, no I'm not) 11 first downs against the Packers. An unbelievable five were via the penalty route. That is neither a misprint nor a typo. Almost half of their first downs came as a result of Green Bay's dirty laundry.
Yes, Browns Nation, your offensive warriors recorded an embarrassing six earned first downs in nine possessions.
The Packers tried mightily to keep the Browns in a game in which they were seriously outmatched and yet won by 28 points as the clueless Cleveland offense failed to score a touchdown. Again. For the fourth time in seven games this season.
In case anyone is keeping score, that's four offensive touchdowns in seven games. No matter where they are on the field, getting into the opposing end zone is a challenge that ends in abject failure.
In the last three games, the Browns' offense has amassed (yes . . . sarcasm) 23 points, rolled up 32 first downs and totaled 529 yards. To put that last figure in perspective, the Pittsburgh Steelers compiled 543 of total offense against the Browns eight days ago.
The ineptitude with which this team plays on offense has not only turned off fans, it has turned them away. From their television sets, from caring, from spending their hard-earned money.
The mortal enemy of any sports franchise is apathy. And the Browns are flirting dangerously with it. The only people hurting worse than the fans are the ticket brokers, who can't give Browns tickets away.
Right now, the fans are beyond angry. They didn't bargain for what has transpired since last January when Eric Mangini was anointed by Randy Lerner.
Speaking of Lerner, where is he now that his coach could use some support? If he's not asking questions – not the softball variety – of his coach, shame on him. If he doesn't see that a fan rebellion is on the horizon, double shame on him. A public relations disaster looms.
Soon, the owner will feel the sting of the aforementioned apathy when local television blackouts arrive due to lagging ticket sales. Maybe that'll get his attention because his football team's performances don't seem to.
The fans have had it up to here with this team for a large majority of the last 10 seasons with no relief in sight and they're not going to take it anymore. Who can blame them? Time to break out the paper bags.
Fans wonder how much longer Mangini sticks with Derek Anderson as his quarterback. How bad does Anderson need to get before the coach hands him the clipboard again – permanently this time – and replaces him with anyone? And yes, Brett Ratliff, that includes you.
Anderson no longer has Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Joe Jurevicius to whom he can throw. He's got Mo Massaquoi, Chansi Stuckey (rumor has it he really is on the Browns' roster), Joshua Cribbs, Mike Furrey and Brian Robiskie. Enough said.
It is time to see if Brady Quinn can become an effective NFL quarterback. Anderson, quite clearly, is not working out. He hasn't played this badly on a consistent basis since . . . well . . . never. It is painfully obvious he and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll are a bad match.
In fact, Daboll and his grade-school offense are a bad match. If this is the kind of offensive football fans have to put up with the rest of the season, who can blame them from turning to the Cavaliers?
Rob (I've stopped the run everywhere I've coached) Ryan is giving Daboll a serious run for his money in the bad coaching department. Another 200-yard game on the ground for a Cleveland opponent and 460 more yards of total offense. In the last two weeks, the Cleveland defense has surrendered 58 points and 1,003 total yards. Draw your own conclusions.
Every week, we hear from Mangini that the Browns had a good week practicing and preparing for upcoming games. If that's the case, they must lead the NFL in terrific practices. But then when one allows himself to stop and think about that, consider against whom the Browns are practicing.
There are whispers that say this team has given up. I don't buy that. They play hard. They try. They are playing as capably as they can. Only problem is they're not very capable.
So to expect positive results from this talent-challenged team is unrealistic. If you want to blame someone, blame the men who have reconstructed the roster since last January. No names need to be mentioned. You all know who they are by now.
The talent level has sunk so low, it has eclipsed the stumbling and bumbling of the 1999 expansion team. That team at least kept some games close. And scored some touchdowns along the way. This one can't score a touchdown even by accident.
Unfortunately, it's not possible for the Browns to forfeit the rest of the season. You know, just not show up for the game. Sort of what they're doing now.
With nine games to play, Mangini's toughest task now will be to make certain morale doesn't sink to unimaginable depths. He's got to make sure the locker room doesn't fall apart. If it does, mailing in performances will become commonplace.
Believe it or not, just one more game before the bye week and the halfway point of the season. Gone fast, hasn't it?
Up next, the Chicago Bears, who suffered a different kind of embarrassment at home against Cincinnati Sunday and most likely will look for someone to slap around this Sunday. How fortuitous for the hapless Browns.
After the bye, they return for a nationally-televised Monday night date with the Baltimore Ravens and a chance to show a much larger audience just how poorly bad football can be played.