Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns go out with a whimper

The Browns ended the 2010 season on Sunday in much the same way they have ended several seasons in the past decade – getting abused at the hands of the opponent.

It really isn’t a surprise the Browns lost to Pittsburgh on Sunday – the Steelers are better and healthier – but more the way they lost in the 41-9 debacle.

A Browns team that has been competitive all year long seemed to have the fight go out in them early, as Colt McCoy was intercepted on a tipped pass on the first possession and, before you knew it, the Steelers were up 14-0.

Maybe the players were following the lead of the coaching staff. After falling behind 14-0, McCoy drove the Browns 85 yards to the Pittsburgh two-yard-line. The Browns targeted Robert Royal twice in the end zone (the guy who came into the game with 5 receptions and 4 drops on the year) but both passes were incomplete.

Facing fourth down the Browns opted to kick a field goal, just like the did early in the Buffalo game. Why is anyone’s guess. Maybe coach Eric Mangini wanted to spotlight kicker Phil Dawson in what could have been his last game in a Cleveland uniform.

You are 5-10, you are on the other team’s two-yard-line, why not go for it? There is nothing to lose there. At least when they faced the Bills they were going against one of the worst defenses in the league and could expect more scoring opportunities. That clearly is not the case against the Steelers.

Obviously when you give up 41 points those lost points don’t really make a difference, but if the Browns would have punched it in who knows how things would have played out the rest of the half?

The defense had a horrible day. Coming into the game the Browns were the only team in the league that had not given up 30 points this season. The Steelers took care of that in the first half as they took a 31-3 lead into the locker room.

Pittsburgh scored on its first five possessions and rolled up 418 yards in offense.

Perhaps defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who will reportedly interview for the head coaching job in Carolina, was already making dinner plans for The Pit and couldn’t be bothered to put together a solid defensive game plan.

“I thought we got beat in all three phases,” Mangini said in published reports. “They had a better plan than we did and when that happens against a team like this, you have a day like today. It’s difficult to feel any positives in the wake of what happened.”

We certainly echo that sentiment.

So in a season where the Browns were once 5-7 and dreaming of a .500 finish, the Browns instead finish 5-11 for the second year in a row and are now 2-10 under Mangini in the division.

Unfortunately the team had its worst performance by far in the last game of the season. Right or wrong, the memory of today’s game will linger with people more than the wins earlier in the year against New Orleans and New England.

And if the four-game winning streak to end last season was supposed to be a sign of progress under Mangini, what are we to make of the four-game losing streak to end this season? Was the losing streak a function of a tougher schedule – much like last year’s was built against teams with nothing to play for? Should one weigh more heavily than the other in determining the fate of Mangini and the coaching staff?

“I’m sure everybody thinks there is a possibility [of a coaching change],” left tackle Joe Thomas told The Plain Dealer. “We knew that was the way it was going to be coming into the season, so I don’t think anything was different.”

We’ve all seen this before. Chris Palmer’s final game was a 24-0 loss to the Titans in 2000, the last in a five-game losing streak. Romeo Crennel finished his final season with a six-game losing streak in 2008 that ended with a 31-0 loss to Pittsburgh.

As discouraging and disappointing as today’s game was, we really don’t relish the thought of starting over again with a new coach. A lot of what was wrong with this season can be fixed with improved talent and by bringing in an experienced coordinator on offense.

Just look at the Chiefs this year as an example: they brought in Charlie Weiss as offensive coordinator and the team improved from 25th to 9th in offense. Romeo took over the 30th ranked defense and improved them to 11th this year.

There’s little reason to believe the same can’t happen here in Cleveland with another strong draft, a little patience and more experience in the offensive coordinator position.

Here’s hoping Mike Holmgren sees things the same way.

We may find out soon enough.

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