Fourteen years ago today was one of my most memorable experiences as a Browns fan. On December 19, 2004, the Cleveland Browns played host to the San Diego Chargers. The lightning bolts were coming off a four-win season and had a ton of pundits thinking they could be even worse. They were led by former Browns head coach Marty Schottenheimer and had a tight end from Kent State by the name of Antonio Gates—a kid who didn’t play a lick of football during his time in the MAC.
This game was easily one of the coldest tailgating experiences I was ever a part of. It was a game-time temperature in the teens, but as anyone knows, how it feels along the lake is much different than what those silly thermometers say—the wind chill was at minus-10. It was snowing so much that canned beers were almost immediately frozen over upon opening. Tailgate games of catch essentially turned into throwing an all-too-cold football like it was a grenade, merely hoping the person on the other end could haul it in with their skiing gloves. (Hope was fruitless more often than not.)
Upon entering the game, my buddy Dan and I got in touch with a high school friend who was working in the club level. Said friend agreed to leave the door to the south club open, looking the other way just long enough to let the two of us get inside. The Browns were really, really bad, but thinking was that there was a San Diego team playing above their heads who was traveling across the country to play in foreign elements, with an early kick-off, while the Browns were closing out their season at home. If there were a time for the underdog to sneak out a win, despite Butch Davis being relieved of his duties just weeks earlier, this would be it.
The snow continued to swirl and the win continued to blow. Dan and I posted up at one of the bars near the east end of the stadium—this was before all the new renovations. We each had a stool in front of a television, and we ordered coffee and Baileys while watching all the people who dared to actually sit outside come in to warm up before heading back outside. As the game went on, and LaDanian Tomlinson (who was just in his fourth year with the team) racked up yards on the ground while Gates did it through the air, it got to the point where more folks were coming in and not heading back out. We were offered money for our bar stools as if they were court side seats at a Cavs game. In hindsight, it may have been a better idea to take that money and find other seats at another bar, but we were in our early 20s and would have just spent it on beer. It wasn’t worth the hassle.
The Browns converted on just two of 14 third-down plays. Whle the Chargers were penalized just once on the game, the Browns drew seven flags for 55 yards. Gates would haul in a 70-yard touchdown pass, his 12th of the season, ushering in the era of dominant, insanely athletic tight ends. The final score was 21-0 as the Chargers amassed their first shutout since 1993. The half-full stadium was a fraction of such by the time the visitors were handed their divisional championship gear. The Browns’ quarterback at the time was Luke McCown. Terry Robiske, the team’s interim head coach, would go on to say “Sorry. This season turned ugly” following the game.
Yet here we are, still looking for ways to stop dynamic tight ends. The Browns are 6.5-point underdogs heading into their final home game of 2016, just 1.5 points fewer than 12 years prior.
LOSER: Robert Griffin III
After a decent start (in terms of efficiency, anyway), Griffin quickly reminded fans of who he was. He completed just two of his six passing attempts thrown farther than nine yards downfield and simply dumped the ball off for gains that would fall short of the first down marker due to the Bills playing off the line. He provided nearly 50 yards of rushing, including a touchdown, but the Browns need a quarterback of the future, not a guy who exploits soft coverage to pad his rushing stats.
Hue Jackson, the man who hitched his head coaching wagon to Griffin, has already gone as far as to not name the veteran as his starter for what is easily the Browns’ last gasp at a win in 2016. “I’m going to look at everything,” said Jackson. “I just have to. I owe these guys the best opportunity to win in the locker room. With the effort they’re giving me, I have to give back to them as a leader.”
Now he owes it to them? This “era” has become more frustrating than many of those which have preceded it, and there have been a lot of them.
LOSER: Hue Jackson
Jackson officially sounds like a man who is out of options. It reminds me a lot of the time Byron Scott decided the Cleveland Cavaliers would start to utilize a zone defense—in an NBA game. Once it was recognized, all teams would do is set high screens, draw out the Cavs’ big men, and then pass to a cutter along the baseline or wing for an easy two. It was right out of an intramural playbook. Meanwhile, here’s Jackson saying things like “I have to make sure I’m putting the right people out there.” This is all coming before Week 16 of a winless season.
LOSER: Ray Horton
The Buffalo Bills ran for 280 yards as a team. They did it with draws. They did it with off-tackle plays. They even did it with a bizarre reverse play that almost saw the wide receiver fumble the ball but still have enough time to collect his bearings before he had merely turned up field and gained a chunk of yardage.
Oh, and if last week wasn’t enough of a notice on that whole tight end thing, here’s an idea of what your defense has let happen on the regular this year.
Jimmy Haslam said he’s keeping things in place for next season, but its to the point where it would surprise me more if Horton was retained than if he were let go. I’m a big believer that Chris Tabor shouldn’t even be employed at this point in the season and Horton is that much worse.
WINNER: Jamar Taylor
Taylor was thrown at four times and allowed just two catches for 21 yards. Decent way to capitalize on that shiny, new contract.
LOSERS: Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson (as a runner)
One week after establishing a ground game, both running backs (and Griffin) were out-rushed by Tyrod Taylor. It’s not entirely their fault as there were just 13 carries between them, but in a ground-and-pound game that featured the other team destroying the trenches offensively, you would’ve liked to have seen more from these two.
WINNER: Duke Johnson (as a pass catcher)
While Terrelle Pryor led the team in targets (8), it was Johnson who hauled in a team-high five receptions for a team-high 62 yards. Much of this can be attributed to the Bills simply taking away the deep ball, but if there’s anything that keeps Johnson on this roster next season, it’s his ability to serve as a release valve for a young quarterback.
WINNER: Demario Davis
Eleven total tackles, 10 of which were solo. While I’ll have to re-watch to see what the average depth of the tackles were (there’s a good chance he merely gobbled up volume a la D’Qwell Jackson), that someone—anyone—was able to tackle in this one was a silver lining. Honerable mention to Christian Kirksey (9) and Ed Reynolds (8) for their tackle totals as well.
LOSER: Ibraheim Campbell
His overall numbers were OK from a tackling perspective, but this play is Exhibit No. 4,563 as to why the Browns cannot win football games. On a second down, they went from forcing the Bills into a third-and-long with the game within reach to allowing a fresh set of downs after a half-assed attempt at a safety blitz. You don’t seen contenders doing this shit.
LOSER: Jamie Collins
I really, really want the Browns to re-sign this guy, but they desperately need a coordinator who can put him in positions to succeed. Last week was solid. This week, not so much.
WINNER: Emmanuel Ogbah
Kid is quietly climbing the ranks for rookie Browns defenders, leading the entire team in sacks for 2016. While he’s not exactly forcing people to forget about the team passing on Khalil Mack in 2014, he’s proving to be at least someone worth keeping an eye on for next season. It’s amazing to think of how low the expectations are at this point, but Ogbah is doing everything we wanted Nate Orchard to do a season ago.
LOSER: Nate Orchard