“Here in Tampa Bay
Memories come flooding back
The waves that crash upon the shore add to the feelings of nostalgia
The sun does its job hanging in the sky
And the soft wind brings memories of the past my way…”
After a brief homestand the Cleveland Browns (2-3-1) return to the road as they journey south to meet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) in Florida. Quarterback Baker Mayfield will get a chance for his first road win and head coach Hue Jackson will have another chance at his first road win for the Browns this Sunday.
Cleveland leads the all-time series 6-3 though the Brown and Orange have struggled with a 1-3 record since returning in 1999. The Browns won the most recent matchup 22-17 in November 2014. They have not beaten the Bucs in Tampa since November 1989, a 42-31 triumph. Quarterback Bernie Kosar threw for 164 yards and three scores that day while tailback Eric Metcalf ran for a touchdown.
Tampa Bay enters the game as 3.5 point favorites. The uncertain spread reflects the Buc’s uncertain season. The pirates opened the season with two unexpected wins over New Orleans and Philadelphia led by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Since then the club has scuffled against Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Atlanta with once-suspended quarterback Jameis Winston reclaiming his starting job. Considering the Browns’ embarrassing showing against the Chargers the line seems fair, but there is plenty of reason to expect a close contest.
Tampa is a case study in highs and lows. The offense is ranked eighth in points per game (28.2) and second in yards per game (448.6). Winston relieved Fitzpatrick in Week 4 before starting the most recent game against Atlanta. He has been a little rusty throwing 46-of-61 for 540 yards, five touchdowns, and four interceptions. Receivers DeSean Jackson (501 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Mike Evans (484 yards, 3 touchdowns) offer a potent receiving duo that Winston will go to early and often. Running back Peyton Barber has 230 yards for a 3.7 yards per attempt average.
The defense, meanwhile, is a nightmare. The Bucs rank dead last in points allowed per game (34.6) and second-to-last in yards allowed per game (439.8). For a Browns team that largely struggled last week to put up points, this opponent could not have come at a better time. Jason “Nine Finger” Pierre-Paul leads the team with five sacks and he has also forced a fumble.
It’s no secret that Browns head coach Hue Jackson has underwhelmed in Cleveland. His record in Northeast Ohio stands at 3-34-1 which is [checks pro-football-reference] not great. One might argue his continued employment is something of a wonder. No one knows if there is a magic number of wins Jackson needs to keep his job, but the next stretch may be enough to put him in serious jeopardy. A look at the upcoming schedule and opponents’ records:
- At Tampa Bay (2-3)
- At Pittsburgh (3-2-1)
- Vs Kansas City (5-1)
- Vs Atlanta (2-4)
- At Cincinnati (4-2)
That’s a lot of contenders with a combined record of 16-12-1. Only the most faithful fan thinks the Browns to make the playoffs this season, but short of that goal, Jackson needs to show that he can win games that no one expects and produce tangible progress with so many young players. A 1-4 or 0-5 mark in this stretch could be enough to cost him the clipboard.
This past Sunday I had the good fortune to attend the Browns-Chargers game with my Dad. Thanks to my travels and relocations I had not been to a game since 2007. We parked in the Flats, visited a friend’s tailgate, and enjoyed a picture-perfect day for football. Everywhere we went people wore brown and orange. Joe Thomas, Clay Matthews, Kevin Johnson, and Peyton Hillis jerseys dotted the landscape. As we walked through town past a group that had set up a generator and DJ booth at their tailgate my father remarked, “What other teams could go 0-16 and still have this strong of a following?” He makes a good point. Watching from afar or on television, it’s easy to forget how fun attending a football game can be. While the home team did not play their best, it was a blast to be back at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns have not won a game on the road since knocking off Baltimore 33-30 in 2015. The good news is that Tampa Bay is slogging through a dysfunctional season and are already on a losing streak. Cleveland’s season is not quite over, but with a difficult stretch coming up they could use a stabilizing win in the NFC South. After all, that’s why people go to Florida – to have fun and refresh.