View Full Version : Browns continue to founder

10-18-2009, 03:00 AM
Browns continue to founder in 11th season since returning as an expansion team
Sunday, October 18, 2009
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It would be easy to trace the maddening travails of the Cleveland Browns to 1999, the year they returned as an expansion franchise to the National Football League. That was when they made quarterback Tim Couch the first overall pick in the draft, even though they had no offensive line, no running back and no wide receivers to complement him.

Or to 2000, when they drafted Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown with the first overall pick, only to see his career immediately interrupted by injuries. Or to 2001, when they passed on a chance to draft LaDainian Tomlinson and instead selected defensive tackle Gerard Warren with the third overall pick.

Even in 2004, with the sixth overall pick in the draft, they passed on an Ohio-born quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger because they had signed journeyman Jeff Garcia in free agency and instead selected tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. Like Couch, Brown and Warren, Winslow had a limited and somewhat checkered career in Cleveland before moving on to another team.

But, for sheer despair, there have been few moments that define the nature of Cleveland's foundering franchise any more appropriately than what happened Dec. 23, 2007, in a wind-blown game in Cincinnati, a moment in which the Browns and even thousands of their diehard fans came to Paul Brown Stadium expecting a playoff-clinching victory and instead went home with a numbing defeat.

In a 39-second span near the end of the first half, Browns quarterback Derek Anderson threw two of his four interceptions from deep in his own territory that the Bengals, heavy underdogs and playing without several injured starters, converted into a pair of touchdowns and a 19-0 halftime lead. The 19-14 defeat kept the Browns from clinching a wild-card playoff spot and allowed the Steelers to clinch the AFC North title, even though both teams finished 10-6.

The Browns lost a tiebreaker for the wild-card spot with the Tennessee Titans because the Titans (4-1) had a better record against common opponents than the Browns (3-2). One of their common opponents: the Bengals.

"I thought they were on the up-and-up; they were a team on the rise," said Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior. "Then, it seemed like the bottom fell out after that season."

It did, and it all happened so quickly. Just like that, the team that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin labeled the division favorite for 2008, the team that seemed ready to reclaim its storied and bitter rivalry with the Steelers, started tumbling like a boulder in a landslide and never stopped. The Browns finally hit bottom when the offense that landed five players in the Pro Bowl a year earlier failed to score a touchdown in the final six games last season -- an ignominious trend that has continued this season.

"The question is, was '07 the mirage and '08 the reality?" said former Browns tackle Doug Dieken, a mainstay on the offensive line during the 1970s and now a member of the Browns Radio Network. "I think '07 was a case where the ball bounced our way more times than not that year, but we also had some people who made some plays. The offense was pretty high-octane. A year later, we went the last six games without a touchdown. That's pretty brutal."
Little patience

No matter how hard they have tried, no matter that they have gone through five head coaches and enough organizational changes to make George Steinbrenner blush, the Browns just can't seem to get it right. And they really can't seem to get it right against the team they will face at 1 p.m. today at Heinz Field -- the Steelers (3-2), who have beaten them 11 consecutive times (17 of 18 overall since 2000), the Browns' longest losing streak to an NFL team.
Historical Unwind

In their 11th season since returning to the league and one season removed from tying the Steelers for the division title, the Browns have another new coach (Eric Mangini), another new general manager (George Kokinis) and practically a whole new roster that includes 29 players who were not with the team in 2008.

Patience and consistency are not thy name, at least not in Cleveland.

"Instead of looking at the situation and saying, OK, it's Murphy's law, this team can come back, the schedule will ease up, the decision was made to start over," said former general manager Phil Savage, who, along with coach Romeo Crennel was fired after the 4-12 season last year. "That's why you see so many changes with the team."

Even when they made the playoffs in 2002, a benchmark moment for an expansion franchise looking to build a foundation, the Browns used their 36-33 loss to the Steelers in a wild-card playoff game at Heinz Field -- a game in which Tommy Maddox threw for 367 yards and produced three touchdowns in the final 12 1/2 minutes -- as a reason to dismantle their defense. They fired defensive coordinator Foge Fazio and got rid of all three starting linebackers, Earl Holmes, Dwayne Rudd and Darren Hambrick.

The following season, when injuries along the offensive line forced the Browns to use 16 different combinations and a quarterback controversy brewed between Couch and Kelly Holcomb, they lost three of their first four games and slipped to 5-11.

"We were pretty doggone good," said Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who was the Browns offensive coordinator at the time. "We had a young offense, four No. 2 draft choices who were dynamic receivers, two solid quarterbacks and a No. 1 running back [Lee Suggs] who was OK.

"But they fired Foge after that playoff game and they revamped the defense. Next year, they revamped the offense and -- pfffft! -- I was out."

That is the way decisions have been made with the Browns, a problem that seemed to worsen with the death in 2002 of owner Al Lerner, who brought the franchise back to Cleveland. There has been little stability, even less patience, and a propensity for self-immolation.


Butch Davis, who took the Browns to the playoffs in 2002, was forced to resign in December, 2004, less than a year after he was given a two-year contract extension.

Romeo Crennel was given a two-year contract extension following the 2007 season when the Browns finished 10-6, then fired a year later. His greatest sin: Never beating the Steelers (0-8).

Savage, who drafted Braylon Edwards, Brady Quinn and Joe Thomas and traded for nose tackle Shaun Rogers, was given a five-year contract extension after the 2007 season. Like Crennel, he was fired a year later.

"It's a tough place to be in this league, in Cleveland," said defensive end Nick Eason, who spent three years with the Browns (2004-2006) before joining the Steelers. "They've had a lot of first-rounders and guys who can play, and they just can't put it together.

"When you're in an organization like that and you come to an organization like the Steelers, the opposite happens. It's a problem of theirs that we don't have here, and never will have. I'm glad to be a Pittsburgh Steeler."
Reversal of fortune

Savage seemed to be making all the right moves, beginning in 2007 when he drafted left tackle Joe Thomas with the third overall pick, then traded away a No. 1 pick in 2008 to take quarterback Brady Quinn with the 22nd overall choice. After the Browns finished 10-6, he tried to beef up the Browns' defensive line by trading high-draft choices for tackles Corey Williams (Green Bay) and Shaun Rogers (Detroit).

Off-season injuries to Williams and cornerback Devin Holly (knee) and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius' staph infection teamed with preseason injuries to Anderson (concussion), running back Jamal Lewis (hamstring) and Pro Bowl receiver Edwards (spiked ankle) and conspired to get the Browns off to an 0-3 start in 2008 that included a 10-6 loss to the Steelers.

But, after winning three of their next four games, their season turned irrevocably in a five-day span in early November when the Browns blew a 14-point third-quarter lead to the Baltimore Ravens and a 13-point third-quarter lead to the Denver Broncos in a Thursday night home game. The Browns won one more game the rest of the season.

"We went from possibly being 4-4 to 3-5, and that's when the season began to unravel," said Savage, now a radio analyst for University of Alabama football. "In my opinion, the pivotal moment for us was when we were 3-4 against the Ravens and had that 14-point lead and we couldn't close them out.

"That was the beginning of the end."

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stlrz d
10-18-2009, 09:54 AM
Ha ha...I think they meant Browns Continue To Flounder.