The Long Road Back

What went right and what went wrong for the Browns in 2009, per the folks at the Sports Xchange.

Ten and a half years of mostly bad football hit rock bottom for the Browns on Nov. 1 in Chicago. In the moments after losing 30-6 to the Bears to fall to 1-7 and 2-15 over a 17-game span, Browns owner Randy Lerner announced his plan to reshape the structure of his football organization by hiring "a serious, credible leader." Strange to say, the Browns never had one in their first 11 seasons, only two of which produced winning records.

That leader turned out to be Mike Holmgren, a man with a proven track record in 17 seasons as a head coach of the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, but one who has never had the complete authority Lerner handed him. Holmgren was named president on Dec. 21 with two games to play, but he wanted to wait until the day after the season ended to take office.

It was a strange year by any standards, low-lighted by a quarterback derby neither player won convincingly and the general manager being fired halfway through the season. The three biggest stars on offense - tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., wide receiver Braylon Edwards and running back Jamal Lewis -- are gone.

What went right: After a 1-11 start the Browns won their last four games. Jerome Harrison, after toiling in obscurity for three seasons, exploded with 286 yards rushing against the Chiefs, 148 yards vs. the Raiders and 127 yards against Jacksonville in a 23-17 victory.

By the end of the season, 32 players on the roster were not on the team at the end of 2008. The constant change with injuries and waiver pickups stunted growth on offense and defense, but once new players such as tight end Evan Moore and linebackers Jason Trusnik and Matt Roth settled in, the Browns started playing better.

Lewis went on injured reserve (post concussion syndrome) with five games to play. Instead of creating a void in the offense, the move silenced a divisive voice in the locker room.

What went wrong: Coach Eric Mangini was hired to instill discipline in a team that sorely needed some. He took it to an extreme. He made the rookies "voluntarily" ride a bus 10 hours to work his football camp in Hartford, Conn. He overworked the players, according to Lewis -- though the NFLPA investigated and found nothing amiss -- and he mishandled quarterbacks Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. If nothing else, the Browns should have come out of this season knowing what kind of quarterback Quinn can be. They still do not know, or if they do, they know he is not the answer.

George Kokinis, Mangini's hand-picked GM, has taken the Browns to arbitration in front of commissioner Roger Goodell, alleging Mangini made personnel decisions that, according to his contract, Kokinis was supposed to make. Kokinis is seeking $4 million.

Mangini provided no extra legs for punter Dave Zastudil and kicker Phil Dawson in training camp. Dawson missed five games with a calf injury and Zastudil missed the last eight games with a knee injury.

The Browns finished strongly. Mangini can tell Holmgren the team is heading in the right direction. But the sprint to the finish line might not save his job.


--FB Lawrence Vickers took out two Jaguars with one block on a 14-yard touchdown run by Josh Cribbs.

--TE Robert Royal caught two passes after catching just one in his previous 11 games.

--LB David Veikune was put on injured reserve Saturday with a knee injury.

--CB Eric Wright made his fourth interception of the season to set up a field goal by Phil Dawson.

--LB Kaluka Maiava had 1.5 sacks after the rookie got one in his first 15 games.

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