Browns ABC’s: Looking back at Another Brutal Campaign

From “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” by U2’s David Howell Evans, a.k.a. The Edge:

I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes
And make it go away
How long?
How long must we sing this song?
How long, how long?

After a lengthy immersion into the grisly details of the Browns 2015 season and the team’s infuriating inability to adjust, to adapt, to improve, the Sunday evening firings of Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine turned surprisingly unsurprising. There was always the argument to be made that the GM and head coach were only in their second year and, therefore, could have been given a longer probationary period to prove themselves. But for months, the stubborn and perplexing line of inquiry as to whether the team was progressing or regressing never seemed to turn the corner toward optimism.

So, fellow fans, if you can’t yet look away or close your eyes, here’s a capsule review of the 2015 edition of the Cleveland Browns, the team its founder, Paul Brown, used to market as “The Greatest Show in Football.” 

Joshua Gunter/NEOMG

Game 1. Jets 31, Browns 10: The Browns played so poorly against their first opponent of 2015 that they looked as if they were in an exhibition game, working on some new schemes, ironing out some wrinkles. Unfortunately, the game counted, not only as the Browns’ first loss, but as an ominous sign of where the season was headed.

Against the Jets, the Browns played tight, jittery, desperate, and without discipline. They looked like an expansion team — but with the added burden of knowing they’ve resembled an expansion team for the past 15 years in a city where there is precious little appetite for the kind of patience new franchises generally are afforded. 

The Browns’ first offensive possession of the season, a 17-play drive from their own 9-yard line, ended with Josh McCown’s ill-advised dive toward the Jets’ end zone and a copter-crash-fumble, followed by a totally unnecessary roughness penalty on Alex Mack. The Browns ended the day with five turnovers, four fumbles and an interception. They had 12 penalties for 109 yards. They gave up 154 yards rushing and put almost no pressure on Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Browns gained 104 yards on the ground, but their top two rushers were Johnny Manziel with 35 yards and McCown with 23. The Jets put plenty of pressure on Browns QBs and sacked Manziel three times.

As difficult as it may have been to believe at the end of the day on September 13, hindsight tells us Game One was an omen of things to come. Record: 0-1

Game 2. Browns 28, Titans 14: Against the Titans and with Manziel subbing for the injured McCown, the Browns jumped out to a 21-0 lead at halftime and then went into hibernation. Mike Pettine admitted being a bit conservative with the play calling in the second half, but the Browns came out of their “prevent offense” doldrums just in time to seal the victory with a second long touchdown pass from Manziel to Travis Benjamin. Record: 1-1

Game 3. Raiders 27, Browns 20: With the Browns at 1-1, McCown returned to his starting role against the Oakland Raiders. He may have been a bit rusty at first, but warmed up and made some impressive throws as the game wore on. The biggest factors in the game, however: Offensively, the Browns had no running game to speak of and McCown was pressured on virtually every passing play, getting sacked five times; defensively, Derek Carr was not hurried and went 20-for-32 with a 115.9 quarterback rating to go with Oakland’s 155-yard ground game. Record: 1-2

Game 4. Chargers 30, Browns 27: By the end of the Browns’ loss in San Diego on October 4, the team’s lapses and shortcomings were setting up and hardening like poured concrete. Although McCown went 32-for-41 with two TD passes and no interceptions for a 119.1 quarterback rating, he was nevertheless pressured a surprising number of times, even though this was supposedly a Chargers team devoid of a pass rush.1 McCown was sacked another four times in the game. This loss left the Browns dead last in total yardage allowed and next-to-last in rushing yardage allowed. And once again the Browns had a big problem with penalties … 12 of them for 91 yards, the worst of which was an offsides on a field goal attempt at the end of regulation that the Chargers missed from 39 yards, only to get another crack at it from 34. Goodbye overtime, hello loss. Record: 1-3

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Game 5. Browns 33, Ravens 30: On Sunday, October 11, in the Browns overtime win over the Ravens, Josh McCown set franchise regular season records with 457 yards passing and a third consecutive 300-plus passing yardage game. And no interceptions. The win put the Browns at 2-3 … and that would be as good as it would get for the season. The Browns’ offense was supposed to be the team’s weakest unit and quarterback was supposed to be the drabbest room, yet the quarterbacks and the passing game, especially with 36-year-old McCown at the helm, was turning out to be the only bright spot of the season. Unfortunately, the failure of the Browns’ offensive line to adequately protect the quarterbacks and to get a running game going were taking their toll. Record: 2-3

Game 6. Broncos 26, Browns 23: On October 18, the Browns lost an overtime game to the 5-0 Denver Broncos, 26-23. Behind the aging Peyton Manning, the Broncos’ offense was as bad as their defense was good, but the Browns defense still couldn’t stop them when it mattered most. The Browns had plenty of opportunities to hand the Broncos their first loss, but couldn’t capitalize. Josh McCown was hurried on almost every pass play and sacked four times by an outstanding Denver pass rush while Peyton Manning was not sacked once and, in fact, was rarely even hurried. Record: 2-4

Game 7. Rams 24, Browns 6: The Browns’ loss to the St. Louis Rams on October 25 was a continuation of the stubborn Browns problems: Poor protection of the quarterback (numerous quarterback hits and four sacks allowed), 11 penalties for 98 yards, four turnovers, 158 yards rushing for the Rams. The accumulation of hits McCown took finally forced him out of the game with five minutes remaining. By now, the question was whether the Browns’ shortcomings were growing pains of a young and developing team making progress, or those of just a very bad team. Record: 2-5

Game 8. Cardinals 34, Browns 20: The Arizona Cardinals (now 13-3) are one of the best teams in the NFL in 2015, but on November 1 the Browns led them at halftime, 20-10. However, the Browns were shut out in the second half and lost, 34-20, with Josh McCown again getting pummeled frequently and having to leave the game. The Browns defense allowed almost 500 total yards. Record: 2-6

Game 9. Bengals 31, Browns 10: On Thursday night, November 5, the Cincinnati Bengals beat the Browns with Johnny Manziel starting for the injured Josh McCown. Although the Bengals led 14-10 at halftime, the outcome was never really in doubt. The Bengals were able to do whatever they pleased offensively and, defensively, they blanked the Browns in the second half. The three sacks of Manziel added to the already alarming sacks allowed total. Record 2-7   

Game 10. Steelers 30, Browns 9: On Sunday, November 15, Ben Roethlisberger was supposed to sit out due to injury. But when his sub, Landry Jones, got hurt, Big Ben came in from the bullpen in long relief and got the W. Johnny Manziel went 33-for-45 with 372 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and a quarterback rating of 95.8, but much of that yardage was inconsequential, with the Steelers giving up the underneath stuff while keeping the Browns out of the end zone. After the first quarter, the game wasn’t in doubt. The Steelers added six more sacks to the Browns’ distressing offensive line stat sheet, the Browns committed another 12 penalties for 188 yards, and the Browns’ defense put almost no pressure on the Steelers’ quarterbacks. And citing that laughable penalty yardage total, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette referred to the Browns as the “Cleveland Clowns.” Well hardy, har, har. Record: 2-8

Game 11. Ravens 33, Browns 27: On Monday night, November 30, after a bye week, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Browns on the last play of the game by blocking a field goal and returning it 64 yards for a touchdown. This was yet another game in which Josh McCown was injured and had to leave the game. He was replaced by Austin Davis. Record: 2-9

Game 12. Bengals 37, Browns 3:  Six days later, on December 6, the Bengals manhandled the Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium, 37-3, in a manner that showed the distance between the Browns and the top teams in the NFL. The contrast was especially apparent at the line of scrimmage and in the defensive backfields. Offensively, Cincinnati was again able to execute just about every play in their playbook as the Browns’ defense put no pressure on the quarterback. The Browns quarterback, Austin Davis, was hurried and hit numerous times. Record: 2-10

Game 13. Browns 24, 49ers 10: This third and final Browns victory of the year, on December 13, turned out to be rather insignificant because it was against another team hitting rock bottom this season. It made some news because Johnny Manziel was released from the dog house and given the opportunity to start the final four games. Given the horrendous protection afforded Browns quarterbacks thus far in the season, the plan for Manziel to play four consecutive games seemed rather optimistic. And as it turned out … Record: 3-10    

Game 14. Seahawks 30, Browns 13: The Seahawks, after two consecutive appearances in the Super Bowl, had an off year in 2015. They finished at 10-6. That’s an off year for the Seattle franchise. On December 20 in Seattle, the Seahawks rushed for 182 yards and Russell Wilson passed for another 241 yards, while the Browns could muster only 230 total net yards. Seattle recorded 28 first downs, the Browns managed only 15. This was another lopsided loss.  Record: 3-11

Ed Zurga / AP Photo

Game 15. Chiefs 17, Browns 13: This was the game in which Johnny Manziel ran for 108 yards, almost as many as he gained through the air. His passing game was not at its best (13-for-32 for 136 yards and one interception) but the Browns’ impressive ground game (232 yards) kept them in the game until the very end. Even the Browns defense seemed to come alive somewhat, albeit against a fairly weak Kansas City offense. The Chiefs managed only 258 total yards. In the end, however, as impressive as Manziel’s difficult-to-defend run game was against the Chiefs, he absorbed several bone-crunching tackles, at least one of which resulted in a concussion that meant his 2015 season was over. Record: 3-12

Game 16. Pittsburgh 28, Browns 12: The final game on January 3, turned out to be the eighth lopsided Browns loss of the year. In arguably half their games, they weren’t competitive. The game served as a fitting bookend to the season, along with that ominous first loss to the Jets. Against the Steelers, the Browns once again could not pressure Ben Roethlisberger, while the Steelers pressured Austin Davis on nearly every pass play. Davis was sacked seven times. Big Ben went 24-for-36 for 349 yards. Davis went 24-for-46 for 240 yards and two interceptions. Another telling stat for the game (the symmetry of futility): The Steelers scored four touchdowns. The Browns scored on four field goals. Final Record: 3-13

The Browns’ only wins were against three teams, the Tennessee Titans (3-13), the Baltimore Ravens (5-11), and the San Francisco 49ers (5-11), which turned out to be experiencing their own versions of rebuilding adversity. Everyone hopes, at any rate, that the losing represents the adversity of rebuilding, rather than the never-ending result of bungling leadership. Can you imagine one of those signs as you enter a business in the obvious process of remodeling? Please pardon our dust.  We appreciate your patronage, since we realize we’ve been remodeling for 15 years.

In the aftermath of the game on Sunday, longtime radio voices Jim Donovan and Doug Dieken offered their final, heartfelt thoughts on the game and the season. They seemed rather stunned, even though for five months they’d been watching the team’s obstinate refusal to show any significant sign of progress. Signing off, Donovan offered up an appropriate, if inadvertent, farewell to his listeners, “We wish everyone a New Year.”

Because let’s face it; a “Happy” New Year for fans of the brown and orange is nowhere on the horizon. 

Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Sunday, Bloody Sunday
How long?
How long must we sing this song?
How long, how long?

  1. San Diego finished the season with 32 sacks, 24th-best in the league. The Browns had 29 sacks on the season. []