If nothing else, at least the Cleveland Browns showed they are consistent.
In Sunday’s season opener, they missed the mark just as badly with their post-game assessments in the dressing room as they had with their play moments earlier on the field against the Miami Dolphins.
Over the past 15 years — ever since the once-celebrated franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999 — the Browns have amassed the worst record in season openers in the NFL.
With the embarrassing 23-10 loss to Miami at FirstEnergy Stadium, the Browns are now 1-14 during that time span. All but one of those losses has come at home and they’ve now lost nine openers in a row.
Sunday, Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden was treated like a cheap piñata by the Dolphins’ defense. When he wasn’t being sacked, he was being hit as soon as he threw or made to run for his life. Several of his passes were tipped, three were intercepted, twice that many were dropped by his receivers and several more just completely missed their target.
Weeden’s problematic performance was initiated, in part, by a couple of offensive linemen who were constantly being spun around like tops. Add in some hands-of-stone receivers, the absence of top pass catcher Josh Gordon and the fact that running back Trent Richardson, Cleveland’s best offensive weapon, never touched the ball for the final 20 minutes or so of the game and you can see why the losing streak stayed firmly intact Sunday.
After wholesale changes to the front office and coaching staff in the offseason, fans were led to believe so much was going to be different this year after five straight seasons where the team bounced back and forth between 4-12 and 5-11 campaigns.
Before Sunday’s kickoff there was a palpable sense of excitement among the fans in and around the stadium. But by early in the second quarter some already were booing the Browns’ effort and near the end of the fourth quarter they weren’t even doing that.
They were gone.
Much of the crowd of 71,513 had seen enough and fled. Had they stuck around and gotten a peek inside the dressing room, they would have left shaking their heads, as well.
“It wasn’t a loss,” Richardson said as he stood at his locker. Then he thought about what he had just said and offered some amendment. “Well, we took a loss, but at the same time we know what we got to work on. “
Asked if was looking at the prospects for 2013 any differently now, he shook his head: “With our pride, the family (feeling) of our team, I feel pretty good. I feel real good.”
Weeden — who was sacked six times — said he was confident of his football team and claimed “our offensive line is good. I wouldn’t trade anybody for them.”
Rookie head coach Rob Chudzinski went in a different — but equally curious — direction with his opening remarks after the game: “I think there were some positives… In getting out here, the fans were great today. They were loud and they were awesome out there today.”
You know it’s been a pretty anemic day when the first — and one of the few — positives the head coach can come up with is the awesomeness of the fans.
Truthfully, it’s hard to imagine the fans will put up with this kind of play for very long this season. On offense — even with much trumpeted offensive coordinator Norv Turner — the Browns were a flop Sunday. Three times since 1999, the team has started 0-3. If it plays like it did Sunday against Baltimore and then Minnesota, it will reach that mark again.
The one good thing about the Browns is the front seven on defense. Miami managed just 20 yards rushing on 23 carries.
“You can’t run on us — period,” said Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.
That will win the Browns some games this year, but of the other side of the ball you’ve got to wonder if Weeden, the 29-year-old, second-year quarterback, is the answer. Many observers say he is better this season than he was a year ago, but he didn’t show much Sunday.
He was intercepted four times in last year’s season opener — his first ever game as a pro.
Sunday, he was picked off three times — though one was more the fault of receiver Greg Little, who had the ball bounce off his hands. Weeden ended the game with a dismal 48.4 quarterback rating after completing 26-of-53 passes for 289 yards and one TD pass to tight end Jordan Cameron.
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and right guard Oniel Cousins were abused all day by Dolphins’ defensive end Cameron Wake, who finished with 2.5 sacks, two tackles for a loss and a half dozen quarterback hurries.
Cousins — who has moved from tackle to guard — was flagged four times for penalties, yet Chudzinski’s assessment afterwards was a shrug and a “he’s the best we got.”
That was the most noticeable thing in the post-game dressing room. You didn’t hear anger or self-criticism, just acceptance and tired old clichés.
“We can’t sit here and be all salty and cry about it,” said defensive back Joe Haden.
To a man, the players all said they would get better and Richardson already saw plenty of silver lining: “This time last year, if something like this had happened, we would be in here arguing. Something like that would destroy the team… But like I said, I feel good about this year… It’s just the first game. It’s early. Don’t lose hope in us. We’re not gonna lose hope.”
Weeden agreed: “This one’s over, but we’re guaranteed 15 more games.”
The way the Browns offense showed itself Sunday, that may be a good thing … and then again, it might not.