In all too familiar fashion, the Cleveland Browns wrapped up their season with the stands filled with black and urine-colored clothing. I wasn’t there, so I can’t comment on the smell, but I have some suspicions. Ultimately those kinds of verbal barbs are all we as a city can muster because the Steelers won the game 13-9 despite a chance to win it with a hail mary as time expired. Seneca Wallace put it up and it hit Greg Little in the hands, but with all the activity in the end zone it rolled harmlessly to the turf. The ball dropping harmlessly to the turf is probably the proper way for a season like this one to end to keep in the stylistic theme and tones set all year.
Seneca Wallace had an O.K. game meaning that he looked like the backup he is. He made some plays, most notably with his feet, and also made some mistakes. No mistake was bigger than his horrible interception toward Evan Moore that Troy Polamalu jumped to give the Steelers the ball at the Browns 43 yard line. That interception eventually led to a 7-yard Isaac Redman TD run that made it Steelers 13, Browns 6. He had another series in the second half that looked like it could have resulted in multiple interceptions. If there is a QB controversy with the Browns next season, it should not involve Seneca Wallace unless it is for a backup slot.
If there is anything especially great about this game it is that the Browns were still playing hard. It might just be coincidence, but it seems to me that the level of energy and hitting that the Browns were bringing probably helped knock Steelers out of the game left and right. Guys were getting hurt in every quarter for the Steelers. Most notably, Rashard Mendenhall left the game pretty early in the first half with what appeared to be a clutch of his knee. In a meaningless game against a rival, all you can ask of your team is to play hard and physical. The Browns did that, at least.
The highlights of the game belonged mostly to Jabaal Sheard and Joshua Cribbs. Cribbs said that this was the Browns’ Superbowl and he acted like it.
Cribbs’ day included 7 receptions for 91 yards on 10 targets. Cribbs’ first down catch on the final drive gave Seneca Wallace a chance to put the ball in the end zone one last time. Cribbs also appeared to be on nearly every single special teams tackle in kick coverage, including one especially big hit on Antonio Brown.
For Jabaal Sheard it was another sack to bring his season total to 8.5 to lead the team. Great stuff from the rookie. Phil Taylor had a more uneven season on the line, but it is worth noting that Sheard and Taylor starting every game is the first time that’s happened since Tampa had two rooks do it in 1992. That just goes to show how young this Browns defensive line is and how much better they could get if they were able to play this much and this well in their rookie seasons.
Those are the kinds of nuggets we are left to try and make the best of as the Browns fall to 4-12 for the year and disappoint by even some of the more modest expectations. It isn’t crushing right this second because we’ve known all we needed to know about this team and what they need in the future since much earlier on this season. Hopefully Tom Heckert and his staff have a good handle on it too as they enter into the most important off-season since the Cleveland Browns drafted Tim Couch first overall in 1999.
Should they get a QB? Should they trade up? What about free agency? At some level it really doesn’t matter what the Browns do this off-season. They need to get from point A to point B. I don’t care if they take a car, bike, or drag each other down the freeway in a kayak. How’s that for a visual? The Browns need to use all the avenues available to them to fix this team and get it headed in the right direction.
Next year, they won’t be able to hide behind youth, a lockout, a first-time head coach or the previous coaching staff not giving them an adequate look at a wide receiving corps. The Browns will now get all the blame and credit for what happens to them this upcoming season as they seemingly have all the pieces in place coaching and front-office wise that they wanted. For now, the Browns can be proud that they played hard all the way to the end despite meaningless contests down the stretch. That storyline won’t be good enough for anyone this time next year unless the team passes the eye test at minimum.