They make it too easy with their immaturity and proclivity for controversy. On Sunday, the Browns began what was supposed to be the soft portion of their schedule by losing to the awful Denver Broncos, 24-19. They aren’t reliable enough from week to week to expect to string together several victories. The hard part of their schedule is over, but the undisciplined play and lack of leadership remain. Sunday served as a sobering indicator that Cleveland, amid a four-game losing streak, is more likely to implode than recover.
After the game, the embarrassment continued. Much of the conversation centered on the NFL policing the cleats worn by Beckham and Jarvis Landry. The league told them at halftime to change their shoes or sit for the rest of the game because they weren’t complying with the rules. It was a silly misunderstanding, and it was inconsequential to the team’s performance. But it also represented how annoying this season has been in Cleveland.
Beckham, the superstar wideout traded to Cleveland in March, has made more headlines for his uniform choices than his play. It began with him wearing a $190,000 watch during games. The visor in his helmet was also an issue. Then he was fined $14,000 in October for wearing pants that didn’t cover his knees. On the field, he has been good, not great. He is on pace for 78 receptions and 1,150 yards. It’s quality production but on the low end of his capabilities. And he has just one touchdown.
Mayfield hasn’t been all that efficient throwing the ball to Beckham or any other receiver. Beckham has had moments of frustration, and on Sunday, CBS sideline reporter Jay Feely relayed during the broadcast that Beckham shuffled to the sideline declaring, “I can’t get the ball to save my life.” When asked about it afterward, the receiver said he couldn’t recall making the remark and brushed off the incident as the media craving controversy.
Well, at least Mayfield gave his team a chance to win Sunday. He threw for 273 yards and no interceptions. It was progress considering the gun-slinging quarterback already has thrown 12 picks this season. Still, he is not making use of all the talent around him. A weak offensive line is an issue. The second-year pro could also be simply the victim of inexperience. In time, he should be fine, but clearly Mayfield wasn’t ready for increased expectations. He blew up at a reporter last week and cut short an interview. He always straddles the line between confidence and cockiness, and when he is playing well, he is a compelling character. When he is struggling, he seems foolishly brash.
But for all the attention on the marquee players, it was a role player who had the worst day. Safety Jermaine Whitehead made several significant mistakes Sunday, and then he took on his social media critics after the game, writing profane tweets and inviting Twitter users to fight him at the Browns’ practice facility. His account was quickly suspended, and on Monday, the team cut him.
Some may want to consider this 2019 fiasco to be more losing for the same old Browns, but you should resist the urge. This isn’t standard Cleveland disappointment. This is something entirely new for the Browns: unprecedented hype; legitimate reason to believe the team would be solid, at least; utter failure with all eyes on them. It’s deflating. In some ways, it should feel worse than the Browns’ worst seasons. This was supposed to be the beginning of something beautiful and sustainable, and right now, it’s hard to know where Cleveland is headed long term.
There is still a chance that all could work out in the end. In terms of personnel, Cleveland shouldn’t panic and hold a fire sale after this season. It still has some top-end pieces necessary for success. But John Dorsey, the Browns’ general manager, will need to supplement that talent with the right veteran depth and improve the team’s character. So much will depend on how this season ends. If the Browns have something worth salvaging, they will play better in the second half. The opponents are weaker. The opportunity to start building something is there. But they have to forget the expectations and find their pride.
In terms of coaching, the first half of the season has made one thing clear: Freddie Kitchens isn’t the answer. He is overwhelmed. He is trying to do a job that he can’t do. There is no identity in Cleveland, no accountability, no leader for all those big personalities to respect. That’s all on Kitchens. The Browns need a veteran coach, not a novice. In general, I despise the idea of a one-and-done coach in a profession burdened by too much unnecessary turnover. But Kitchens shouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place.
It’s unfortunate for long-suffering Browns fans that hope has dissolved so quickly. It’s so cruel. They have known bad teams. They have known humiliation. But shameful? These Browns are flirting with that level of disgrace. They have a half season to make it better or worse. Cover your eyes.