Passan: Into the Murk

Despite a two-game winning streak, the Browns remain far from a good football team and Eric Mangini's fate remains murky. Mike Holmgren, if he takes over, still has a lot of work to do.

Let's talk a little false sense of security.

Because that's what Eric Mangini probably experienced after the Browns overcame themselves and defeated the Kansas City Chiefs, 41-34, Sunday.

Considering what has transpired this season, yeah, it no doubt gave the head coach the warm and fuzzies to beat the Chiefs and head into next Sunday's game against Oakland with a two-game winning streak.

Two victories in a row!! What's going on here?

Hey, maybe that corner most fans looked for earlier in the season has been turned. Better late than never, no?

Could it be that the players are trying to save their coach's job? Can his job be saved? Or is his fate already sealed?

With the specter of Mike Holmgren saying yes to Randy Lerner any day now and the future direction of the club hanging in the balance, Mangini still has to feel somewhat uncomfortable despite the consecutive victories.

He won't admit it, of course, as he dangles out there in an area so murky, he has become somewhat of a sympathetic figure as his owner tries desperately to right a ship that has sailed off course way too long.

If Holmgren does, indeed, agree to take over the football operations of the Browns in who knows what capacity, how will he deal with Mangini? Will the beleaguered coach emerge with his job intact? Especially if the Browns win out and wind up with five victories?

There are too many ifs at this time to unlock a mystery that is likely to remain unsolved until the offseason.

One more if. What if Holmgren says no to Lerner? That's entirely possible even though the owner reportedly has offered him just about everything except a chunk of the club.

Now that the team appears to have achieved a modicum of stability compared to its horrendous start this season, arguments that support Mangini's retention naturally have surfaced. Why get rid of a guy when the players seem to have bought into his system and recorded positive results?

It's been nearly a month now since fans complained that the team quit on its coach. It was false back then and the club's subsequent performance has substantiated that notion.

But the question remains as to whether the club's recent efforts are too late to save Mangini's job.

The guess here is that, yes, it's too late and Mangini will be gone if Holmgren agrees to head east and take on the daunting task of turning the Browns into a winning franchise. And it will be the correct move.

Mangini took over a teetering franchise and made it worse. He must pay the price.

Don't let this teeny-weenie winning streak fool you. This is not a good football team. It's not even close.

Sure, it's nice to see guys like Evan Moore and Marcus Benard and Brian Schaefering come off the practice squad and contribute. And it's gratifying to watch Kaluka Maiava and Jason Trusnik bolster the injury-depleted linebacker corps and play well. But they're not the future.

If Holmgren is the man, massive changes will be made. Count on it. That is why Lerner wants to make the move. He wants to change the culture of his club.

All Mangini can do now is focus on the next game. And then the game after that. He can't be bothered by all the surrounding nonsense, although it's got to be increasingly difficult to block it out.

Remaining, however, are the inconsistencies that plagued this team early on when even scoring a touchdown was an achievement.

One week, the defense sparkles as it beats the daylights out of the Pittsburgh Steelers, allowing just two field goals. Then against the lowly Chiefs, it hemorrhages 27 points. And it might have been a lot worse had Kansas City receivers not dropped at least seven passes.

Several weeks ago, the pitiful Detroit Lions hung 38 points on the defense in a loss. Go figure.

It certainly baffles defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who could only shake his head in disbelief as he watched his men fail to stop the Chiefs a good portion of the afternoon.

In five games since the bye, the Browns have turned the ball over just three times, only once in the last four. Meaningful statistics that represent progress. Or so we thought.

Then against the Chiefs, they regurgitated the ball thrice. It isn't often you see a team lose the turnover battle as badly as the Browns (3 to 1) and still win a game.

Beating teams like the Chiefs should not be difficult. It shouldn't take record-breaking performances by the peerless Joshua Cribbs and Jerome Harrison, who looked more like the Galloping Ghost than The Ghost against Kansas City, to achieve it.

Harrison's virtuoso 286-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Chiefs nearly doubled his season total. It causes one to wonder how the Browns could go 1,139 minutes and two seconds between touchdowns scored by a running back after Chris Jennings reached the end zone against the Steelers last week.

It also causes one to wonder why Mangini relied so heavily on Jamal Lewis this season when he had a weapon like Harrison languishing on the bench – and sometimes on the inactive roster – on game day.

Another causal factor in what very well could be a one-and-done season for the coach.


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