Cleveland Browns: Let's Play the Highly Controversial “What If” Game

Noah Poinar@@noah_poinarCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2012

CLEVELAND - DECEMBER 21:  Quarterback Tim Couch #2 of the Cleveland Browns watches from the sidelines during the game against the Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 21, 2003 in Cleveland, Ohio.  The Ravens won 35-0.  (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)
David Maxwell/Getty Images

If you’re expecting a bunch of What if the Browns drafted Donovan McNabb or LaDainian Tomlinson scenarios, then you’ve come to the wrong Internet domain.  There’s none of that here.

What if... 

A healthy Joe Jurevicius plays the 2008 season.

I’ll argue that Joe Jurevicius’ knee injury was the single main reason as to why the Browns disappointed in 2008. 

Jurevicius had multiple off-season surgeries following the 2007 season and it was presumed that he would be able to play the second half of the season.  He ended up retiring and filing a lawsuit against the Browns for a staph infection. 

When the Browns signed Jurevicius in 2006, they acquired a guy who could run routes past the first-down marker and catch every ball thrown his way.

The most significant memory I have of him is in 2007 in a game against St. Louis.  Two times in the same possession the Browns faced a third-and-15 situation because of a couple of holding calls. 

Both times, the Browns got the first down via a 15-yard completion to Jurevicius, and it was at that moment when I realized the Cleveland Browns, for the first time in my lifetime, had a very entertaining offense that was fun to watch.  

Going into 2008, his injury was not regarded as a huge loss.  Everyone still assumed the Browns offense was going to be one of the best in the league.  We all know what happened, the Browns went 4-12 and have stayed that way ever since. 

The biggest problem the Browns had in 2008 were dropped passes, and Joe could have changed that entire season.  

People forget the Browns were still in the hunt that year until mid November, when they lost to the Ravens in Week 8...a game in which they were up 13 points in the second half and blew it.  The season was over and a quarterback change was made.  

If Jurevicius is healthy in 2008, the Browns make the playoffs.  Yes that’s right, I said it.

Brady Quinn doesn’t see the field, Romeo keeps his head coaching job, Derek Anderson isn’t run out of town the next year, and Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, and Mike Holmgren never have any affiliation with the Browns.  

That sounds crazy because the Browns finished that season 4-12, but up until everything began to fall apart (and boy did it ever fall apart), the Browns sporadically looked every bit like they did in 2007.  They looked like a good team that could make the playoffs.  Unfortunately, their 0-3 start was too much to overcome.

Tim Couch never gets hurt during the final game of the 2002 season.

The injury to Couch in the season finale against Atlanta changed the course of the franchise and we are still feeling the repercussions. 

Kelly Holcomb’s playoff performance still overshadows the impact of Couch’s injury as well as any sympathy we might otherwise have for Couch, because he never got a chance to play in a playoff game with the expansion team that drafted him, when he was the reason they reached the playoffs that year. 

Couch may not have went into Pittsburgh and thrown for 400-plus yards, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t go in there and get a win.  

If Couch doesn’t get injured against Atlanta, in all likelihood the Browns probably lose to the Steelers the following week.  The season ends.  But we all know Tim Couch is our quarterback going into 2003 and there is no controversy between himself and Holcomb.

The confidence from the past two years of success carries over into 2003, the Browns do not make the playoffs, but finish at an 8-8 mark and he saves the Browns a lot of trouble in trying to find a quarterback in the future years.  

Couch and the Browns eventually part ways on good terms and his legacy isn’t the biggest draft busts in NFL history, as people consider him to be now..

The other possibility is that the Browns do beat the Steelers, after that they upset Oakland on their way to the Super Bowl.  Sounds dumb on my part to predict that, doesn’t it?  Not really, look at the Browns that season…anything could have happened.

They won six road games that year; some part of that sounds strange, does it not?  Forget those road wins and listen up; they lost a game to open the season because a guy took his helmet off early, 16 weeks later that same guy saved the day on a goal line stand against the Falcons

In between that the Browns won on a Hail Mary pass in Jacksonville, an overtime game in Tennessee which was brought about by a successful onside kick in the late fourth quarter. 

As for the losses, they lost via a blocked field goal fiasco, they lost to the Panthers and Colts which, at the time, completely crushed their realistic playoff hopes. 

With two games left they had as good a chance to make the playoffs as I do owning the Browns.  But somehow every team that they needed to lose lost the final two weeks, and they snuck in as the final seed in the playoffs.  

Even by Browns’ standards' 2002 was a weird year.  So is anyone to tell me the Browns did not have a realistic shot at getting to the Super Bowl that year with Couch?

The Browns don’t sign Jeff Garcia 

The Browns end up using the sixth overall pick in the 2004 draft on Ben Roethlisberger.  In return,  Pittsburgh is left with an aging Tommy Maddox at quarterback, or better yet, J.P. Losman, whom they take in that draft after Roethlisberger is off the board.  After Losman fails to pan out and/or Maddox retires, Pittsburgh then takes Matt Leinart in the 2006 draft.  

As for Roethlisberger, Browns fans petitioned for the Findlay native to take over as the starter after the Browns first offensive series of the season ends in a Kelly Holcomb interception. 

He doesn’t win the Browns a Super Bowl because that task might not even be possible, but he does, however, save Browns fans in every way imaginable.  

The Browns do not draft Charlie Frye

As soon as the ESPN ticker showed the Browns third round selection “Charlie Frye, quarterback, University of Akron.”   I knew the 2005 draft was a franchise changer for the Browns.  And now I know I was wrong when I claimed that.

Because Frye was an Ohio native who attended the University of Akron, Browns fans were immediately enamored in seeing him become the next Bernie Kosar.  That’s why we didn’t hesitate to boo Trent Dilfer until the coaching staff gave the starting reins to Frye.

If the Browns select any other quarterback in the third round that year, Browns’ fans are content with letting things ride out with Dilfer.  In return, Dilfer plays surprisingly well when an entire fanbase isn’t rooting against him to fail, but the Browns cannot manage to do any better than six wins. 

That’s when they go out and sign Drew Brees...dislocated shoulder and all.  Brees to Braylon Edwards becomes one in the same as Brady to Moss.

LeCharles Bentley catches the flu a day before training camp.

He was arguably the biggest off-season addition for any team in 2006 when he signed with the Browns.  Then his career ended on the first play of training camp.  The Browns lost a Pro Bowl center, a hometown athlete and had to deal with their first of many staph infection cases.  

If the swine flu had only come three years earlier and Bentley caught it a few days before camp opened, a healthy Bentley at center would have given the Browns one more win that what they finished with.

That extra win would have taken them out of the running for Joe Thomas and the Browns would have instead taken Adrian Peterson in that 2007 draft.   Two years later, they wouldn't have traded all the way down for Alex Mack and would have grabbed B.J. Raji at the fifth spot.

The Miami Dolphins select Brady Quinn as opposed to Ted Ginn in the 2007 draft.

If Miami takes Quinn, the Browns retain their 2008 first round pick that they gave to the Cowboys

To open the 2007 season, the Browns would have still been pummeled by the Steelers in week one.  Without Quinn waiting in the wings on the sideline, the Browns never trade Charlie Frye.  

Not just that, Frye gets the start the very next week in that now infamous Week 2 matchup that happened against the Bengals.  Derek Anderson is then forced to wait on the sideline until Week 4 against the Ravens, where he comes in and does nothing to dazzle. 

Throughout the season, the Browns struggle under both quarterbacks and the Browns go 3-13 instead of 10-6. With their 2008 selection they draft Matt Ryan out of Boston College. 

The Browns also have their second and third round picks that year because Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams (the players they traded those picks for) weren’t of value to the 3-13 Browns.


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