Win or lose on Sunday, the Cleveland Browns were in line for a number of high-profile changes within a few hours' time. Had the Browns defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert—likely along with a number of coordinators and assistants—would still be out of their jobs.
That they didn't just further highlights why the Browns need to make more changes, though they certainly have every reason to be tired of the rotating carousel of humanity that their franchise has become since returning to the league in 1999.
The 24-10 loss makes it the 12th season in their last 14 that have ended with a below-.500 record, and their 5-11 finish to this season is only a one-game improvement on their 2011 record. Though the Browns managed to string together valuable wins in the latter half of their season, it still doesn't change the fact that things didn't go as well as they could have and, of course, doesn't change the fact that new ownership often results in a whole new staff, the season's record notwithstanding.
It wasn't the worst loss the Browns could have had this week, considering third-string quarterback Thaddeus Lewis had his first career start and running back Trent Richardson was sidelined with an ankle injury. Though the game was lost on the four Browns turnovers, just one—a first-quarter interception tossed to Steelers safety Troy Polamalu—could be attributable to Lewis. The other three were fumbles, the final committed by Lewis' backup Josh Johnson, who came in near the end of the game after Lewis was injured when sacked by Lawrence Timmons.
Lewis' 22 completions in 32 attempts, for 204 yards, a touchdown and a pick, aren't enough to drum up a new quarterback controversy in Cleveland, but it was enough for the Browns to mostly stay in the game against Pittsburgh if the turnovers weren't an issue. The Browns also out-rushed their Steelers counterparts with 138 yards on 26 carries to Pittsburgh's 91 on 28.
However, the Browns defense didn't force turnovers of their own, and they therefore had no chance to catch up once they fell behind. Two of Cleveland's three lost fumbles resulted in Pittsburgh touchdowns on the ensuing drives, and sacks (four of them) also killed Browns possessions throughout the game.
It's hard to look at this loss as a representative slice of Cleveland's season, simply because this wasn't the roster nor the game plan it was hoping to have to field in Week 17. There aren't lessons to be learned from this game that can serve as a mirror of its entire 2012 season. Had it won, the futures of Shurmur and others in Cleveland wouldn't be any safer; Weeden's job wouldn't be any more or less secure. It's simply just the final thing that needed to happen before the inevitable postseason firings.
Really, this game was no more or less than what it was on the surface—a loss. No seats are any hotter; no time has been bought nor wasted. It was an obstacle that needed to be cleared before the Browns' next permutation becomes a reality. It seems fatalistic, but sometimes, a football game is just a football game when it makes no impact on the future ahead.