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December 19, 2012 - Zach Baker
Let's put the Browns' situation in baseball terms.
Just go with me on this one.
There's the mound, there's the pitcher. The baseball represents the pulse of Browns fans. Home plate in this case will represent true optimism. Every spot behind the mound is negativity.
The pitcher started his pitch when the Browns beat Pittsburgh, and the next two games pushed the pitch closer and closer to the plate. Win over the Raiders? The ball started to pick up speed. The rout of Kansas City? Faster still. When T.J. Ward intercepted Kirk Cousins in the first quarter of Sunday's game with Washington, and Trent Richardson scored a touchdown a few plays later to give the Browns a 7-0 lead, the ball had just about reached the plate.
Thing is, there was a batter at the plate, and his name was reality. He swung at the pitch and connected. And as the game went on, the ball sailed deeper and deeper. By the fourth quarter, when the Browns were losing 38-21, the ball had sailed into the center field bleachers.
By the end of Sunday's game, the good feelings the Browns created over three weeks had all but evaporated. Pat Shurmur? Fire him. Quarterback Brandon Weeden? Send him back to the Yankees farm team. GM Tom Heckert (a sacred cow for Browns fans?) That support has certainly dwindled.
I felt like most after Sunday's game-- I was ticked. But time has allowed me to reach out to my sports writer side, rather than my fan side. So here are some things:
* The Browns are not worse than they were a week ago. Maybe wins over a couple of bad teams, the Raiders and Chiefs, artificially inflated what the Browns had in their fans' eyes. There still is as much young talent as their was on the team a week ago, still as much promise. But the Redskins are red-hot right now, so much so that not even a start by Cousins could derail their momentum. The Browns ran into a buzz saw.
* If there was one target for Browns fans after Sunday, it was Weeden. The quarterback has been under plenty of scrutiny this year, because of his erratic play.
Oh, come on, it's because of his age.
If the QB was 23, I think most would be pleased with his development. But because he's 29, he's not allowed to use the rookie crutch, because his window for improvement is expected to close faster.
I don't know if a guy who hasn't absorbed the hits of an NFL quarterback, who hasn't played as much football, and who has plenty of ability, should be judged differently than a regular rookie. Some quarterbacks, like Rich Gannon, Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham, were still at the top of their games well into their late 30s. Also, Bernie Kosar didn't develop as a stong NFL QB until year two.
Don't believe me? Watch the Browns-Dolphins 1986 playoff game in the Orange Bowl. Marty Schottenheimer didn't trust Kosar at all in that game, and insisted on running almost every play.
And people who want to see Colt McCoy at quarterback? Did you watch Colt last season? I always felt Colt was a smart guy, but he didn't have the physical gifts to be a top-flight quarterback in the NFL. I don't know about Weeden, but after watching McCoy continually underthrow receivers, I'm willing to stick with him.
* The defense was bad against the Redskins. Can't sugarcoat it. It was their first bad game of the season. But I'll give them a pass because every team, every unit, has a bad game every now and then.
* Pat Shurmur is growing on me as a head coach. I think he's had to weather a lot of storms since he arrived, but I honestly believe he is learning, just like the players, how to win in this league. I do see improvement this year. I don't think Joe Banner will be able to lure Nick Saban or anyone like him. Every good coach has to start somewhere.
It likely won't happen. But I would like to see Shurmur get a third year.
Same for Heckert, if only because I don't want any Mike Lombardi in my favorite team's ranks.
Like I said, some things don't change.
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