Just when it seemed the Cleveland Browns’ season could not get any worse, the Jacksonville Jaguars came along. After losing to what many considered to be the worst team in the NFL at home, the Browns are left with more questions than answers and more regrets than memories.
The 2013 season looked as though it could be step in the right direction for the downtrodden franchise, but now, the Browns find themselves in a familiar spot. They are dead-last in the AFC North and playing some of the worst football in the NFL.
Apathy is beginning to set in among the fan base, and it is a sad state of affairs in the city of Cleveland.
The big picture can often be hard to see when you are in the midst of losing. The problem, however, is that the big picture is much less in focus this week than it was before Week 11. At that point, the team was in position to potentially make the playoffs and had an elite defense. Now, they are playing for pride and giving up 32 points to the Jaguars.
As tough as it was to watch, many in Cleveland still did. Here are some takeaways from the Browns 32-28 loss to the Jaguars on Sunday.
There was quite a bit of debate about whether Brandon Weeden could handle pressure when he was entering the NFL draft. Can he step up in the pocket? Will he panic?
We have our answers.
Weeden has become one giant turnover machine, and he churned out three more on Sunday. His two interceptions and one fumble brought his season turnover total to 14. That number is especially astonishing considering that he has only started five games this season, playing in a total of eight.
To put it in perspective, Weeden has the same amount of turnovers that the entire Kansas City Chiefs team had entering Week 13.
After the game, the Cleveland Browns announced that Brandon Weeden suffered a concussion in the loss to the Jaguars, via Nate Ulrich of The Akron-Beacon Journal. They said he did not report the symptoms until after the game was finished.
This leaves the team in a precarious situation, because starting quarterback Jason Campbell was already out with a concussion. If he is unable to return next week, then the Browns would need to go out and sign yet another quarterback.
Last week, they signed Alex Tannney off of the Dallas Cowboys practice squad, and he has just three practices under his belt.
The Browns offensive line has been less than stellar this season, allowing 39 sacks, which is among the worst in the NFL.
The Browns obviously made the right move by not trading wide receiver Josh Gordon at the trade deadline. He has been on an absolute tear and is breaking records left and right.
Just one week after setting the Browns record for most receiving yards in a game with 237, he broke it again. This time, he caught 10 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns.
His 498 yards in two weeks is an NFL record, and in just 10 games this season, he already has the second highest single-season receiving total in Browns history, as noted by Dan Murphy of the Browns PR staff. He is just 40 yards behind Braylon Edwards total from 2007.
That season, Edwards went to the Pro Bowl. This season, Gordon is likely to do the same.
Although the unit has been put in bad situations due to the team's offensive struggles, the defense has still not played well over the last few weeks. Since the bye week, the Browns are allowing 26 points per game.
They did register two sacks against the Jaguars, but they had not recorded a sack in the previous two weeks, and Jacksonville entered the game allowing 3.5 sacks per game. The pressure is just not there, and they are having trouble forcing turnovers.
Their third-down troubles returned Sunday, as they allowed Jacksonville to convert 7-of-16 third downs, or 44 percent. That would be among the worst in the league.
Even their big-time playmakers have not been making the plays they normally would. For instance, there were missed tackles from defensive lineman, and cornerback Joe Haden was burned for a touchdown late in the game.
Since his shutdown performance in Week 11 against A.J Green and the Cincinnati Bengals, Haden has had a rough time.
Antonio Brown ate him alive in week 12, as he allowed six receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown. On Sunday against the Jaguars, he didn’t allow the big yardage, but he did give up a big play in a pivotal moment. With 40 seconds left in the game and a three-point lead, Haden was toasted on a double move by Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts that resulted in a 20-yard touchdown.
That was the difference in the game. These past two weeks could also be the difference between him making a Pro Bowl and missing the trip to Hawaii.
He entered Week 13 with the NFL lead in passes defended, but right behind him were guys like Alterraun Verner of Tennesee, Aqib Talib of New England and Brent Grimes of Miami. They all have nearly as many passes defended and a similar number of interceptions.
It has become a Cleveland custom that the stadium is empty and the parties are smaller once December football rolls around. This season seemed destined to be different, however.
Instead, FirstEnergy Stadium had its smallest lines of the year. And despite the reported attendance of 69,654, it looked much closer to 20,000.
The municipal parking lot, which holds the legendary tailgates before every Browns game, was at less than half-capacity, and there was barely any congestion walking from West 6th Street down to the stadium.
People did not even seem that mad that the Browns lost. After the game, the conversations that could be heard around the stadium were about dinner plans and the weather finally warming up a little.
Apathy has started to set in.
After yet another huge day for safety T.J. Ward, it is time the Browns begin negotiations with the fourth-year player. On Sunday, he led the team with seven tackles and also had a pass defensed.
He has become an enforcer and a leader on a defense, which is very close to being a top-flight unit.
Then, when asked about his impending free agency, he told Tom Reed of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, “I definitely want to be here. If I could stay here my whole career that would be great, but I understand it’s a business.”
The problem is that if he reaches free agency, the bidding may get too crazy for Browns C.E.O. and noted hardline negotiator Joe Banner. However, this is a player the Browns need to get back into their locker room next season.
The lone bright spot that you can take from a loss to the Jaguars is the fact that it helps the Browns in the draft next year. As it currently stands, the Browns are in position to land the No. 7 pick in the first round, depending on what Washington does against New York on Sunday night.
Right now, only Minnesota, Jacksonville and Houston are definitely in the market for a quarterback next May. You could possibly add Tampa Bay into that category as well, but the jury is still out on Mike Glennon.
Watching a team stumble down the stretch is never fun for a fan base, but as the old saying goes, “the end justifies the mean.”
If the front office can hit on the quarterback they pick atop the 2014 draft, then it could finally bring an end to the nonstop revolving door at the most important position.