Reflecting on the 7 Defining Moments of the Cleveland Browns' 2013 Season

Will BurgeContributor IDecember 31, 2013

Reflecting on the 7 Defining Moments of the Cleveland Browns' 2013 Season

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    2013 seemed like just another year for the Cleveland Browns. They finished with double-digit losses, in last place in the AFC North and closed out the year by getting routed by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite its normal Cleveland exterior, this year was much more eventful than years past.

    The Browns didn’t just stink; they did it with flair and excitement. Whether it was criminal investigations, record-setting performances or epic late-game collapses, the Browns did it in style.

    There were plenty of gems that did not make this list. Like quarterback Brandon Weeden’s heroic relief performance against Buffalo on prime-time television and his moronic underhanded flips of the football in just about every other game.

    There was the Browns' new wiener-dog races at halftime of home games and the unveiling of renovation and upgrade plans for FirstEnergy Stadium. Perhaps you’re partial to wide receiver Josh Gordon’s two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.

    While none of those particular moments made our list, there were seven that stood out as milestones in this odd, but entertaining, year.

    Here is a look back at the Browns’ defining moments of 2013. There were ups, and there were downs, so buckle up. This ride is more like a roller coaster than an NFL regular season.

Haslam’s Pilot Flying J Headquarters Are Raided

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    Almost exactly one month after the NFL officially started its 2013 league year and before new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam could oversee his first full season, his pride and joy took a huge hit.

    The FBI and IRS raided the Pilot Flying J Headquarters in Knoxville, Tenn., on April 15th. The investigation, which was centered around a rebate program that trucking companies had claimed defrauded them of money, is still ongoing and looms over the Browns organization.

    There were immediate questions about the future of Jimmy Haslam and his ownership of the Browns. Despite the NFL league office repeatedly saying it stood behind Haslam and would let the investigation play out, questions still swirled.

    As recently as Monday during the Browns press conference to discuss the decision to relieve head coach Rob Chudzinski of his duties, Haslam was still forced to answer questions regarding the matter.

    "Has it been a distraction for me in terms of having time to spend here over the lasts six month?" said Haslam via Ron Regan of the Channel 5 ABC affiliate in Cleveland.

    "Yes."

    "Are we starting to move out of that phase? Yes."

    The Browns brass and fans should hope he is right. This moment seemed to get the ball rolling in the wrong direction before anything actually started in 2013. They don’t need that distraction again next year.

Trent Richardson Is Traded

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    On September 18th, the Browns rocked the NFL world. This time, after an 0-2 start and heavy offensive struggles, they traded their 2012 first-round pick and face of the franchise to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first-round selection.

    The screams of fans and media could be heard as far as the Pacific Ocean.

    It seemed insane to many that a team would give up on the third overall pick just over one year into his career. Sure, Richardson struggled the first two weeks of the season, rushing for just 105 yards on 31 carries, but he would surely make the Browns look stupid, right?

    Even former Browns president Mike Holmgren went on KJR Radio in Seattle and slammed his former franchise, via Pro Football Talk. He said if he were the coach, he would quit.

    In what looks to be their best move of the season, the Browns brass will be laughing all the way to the bank with this one. They now have two first-round picks in the 2014 draft, and the Colts have a backup running back.

    That’s right, Donald Brown eventually passed over Richardson on the depth chart. Richardson finished with just 458 yards on 157 carries and scored four total touchdowns. He averaged just 2.9 yards per carry in 2013.

    If the Browns use their first-round picks in next year’s draft to select a legitimate franchise quarterback, then Richardson will go down in Cleveland lure as the man they traded to make it happen.

The Hometown Hero Goes Down

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    Quarterback Brian Hoyer, who went to school just a few miles from downtown Cleveland at St. Ignatius high school, was long thought to be a target of new Browns general manager Michael Lombardi.

    So when the Browns signed the free-agent quarterback to be the third man on the depth chart, it was no surprise to anyone around the league. What was a surprise, however, was his meteoric rise to local hero in such a short span of time.

    Quarterback Brandon Weeden was hurt late in the Browns' Week 2 loss to Baltimore and replaced by Jason Campbell. Neither quarterback looked very good, but it was still a shock when the Browns named Hoyer the starting quarterback for Week 3 in Minnesota.

    Why would a 0-2 team leapfrog their second-string quarterback to run out a kid on the road with one career NFL start? They must be tanking, right? Wrong.

    Hoyer played shaky for three quarters in Minnesota until he drove the team 55 yards and threw a game- winning touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron with less than a minute remaining in the game. The legend was born.

    Hoyer then played magnificently in a 17-6 win over Cincinnati, throwing for 269 yards, two touchdowns and not turning the ball over.

    The hype surrounding him heading into their nationally televised game against Buffalo was deafening. The hometown kid was saving his favorite childhood team. They were now 2-2 and very much in the thick of the AFC North race.

    The legend was short-lived, however, as less than four minutes into their matchup with Buffalo, Hoyer scrambled and had a defender land on his leg.

    He had to be helped off the field, and initial fears were confirmed after an MRI. He had a torn ACL and was done for the season.

    Brandon Weeden helped the Browns win that game and get one game over .500 on the season. Unfortunately, the Browns would go 1-10 the rest of the way.

    It’s hard not to imagine what could have been if Hoyer had stayed healthy.

Cleveland Defeats Baltimore 24-18

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    Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

    It was the game that was supposed to change everything. The Browns not only defeated the specter of their past by downing the Baltimore Ravens, but they also moved into second place in the AFC North and had two weeks to prepare for the first-place Cincinnati Bengals.

    Quarterback Jason Campbell was superb, throwing for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with a 116.6 quarterback rating.

    The highlight of the Browns team was not the offense, however, but the dominating performance of the defense. It sacked quarterback Joe Flacco five times and forced him into throwing an interception.

    It also forced a fumble by wide receiver Tandon Doss and physically dominated the Ravens all game long.

    The win moved the Browns to 4-5 on the season and just two games behind Cincinnati for the AFC North lead. They would have the bye week to prepare and possible move to a tie for first place.

    In Week 10 the Bengals lost to the Ravens, which moved the Browns to just one game out of first. That was as close as they would get.

    The Browns were walloped in Cincinnati, 41-20, in Week 11 and would lose their final six games thereafter.

Three Straight Fourth-Quarter Collapses

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    After the Baltimore victory, the Browns received two straight beatdowns within the AFC North. That was not the bottom, however.

    From Week 13 to Week 15, the Browns played competitive football for three quarters. They could have beaten anybody in the league for three quarters. It was just that pesky fourth quarter that killed them.

    Against Jacksonville at home, the Browns took a 21-20 lead into the fourth quarter only to have it disappear twice. With less than one minute to play, Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden gave up a dagger touchdown to Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts III.

    The very next week, the Browns were shocking the world by leading the mighty New England Patriots 26-14 with 2:39 to play in the game. Quarterback Tom Brady scored in 1:38, the Patriots recovered an onside kick and Brady scored again 30 seconds later to bury the Browns’ dreams.

    Finally, in Week 15, the Browns held a 24-17 lead over the banged up Chicago Bears on the road. They were outscored 21-7 in the final quarter to complete the three-game collapse.

    You have to think that this stretch of games was a major factor when deciding the fate of head coach Rob Chudzinski at the end of the season.

Josh Gordon Assaults the Record Books

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    It was not the ideal start to the 2013 season for wide receiver Josh Gordon. News broke during training camp that he was suspended two games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

    The Browns offense stalled with him on the sidelines for the first two weeks, and many blamed the 22-year-old for the team’s shortcomings. When he returned in Week 3, however, everything changed.

    He wasted no time getting back into the swing of things. His first catch of the season was a 47-yard touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer. He finished with 10 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown and led the Browns to their first victory of the season.

    There were other flashes of greatness, including a 126-yard performance against Detroit and a 132-yard performance against Kansas City where he also hauled in a touchdown. It seemed as though the Browns had finally found their dominant wide receiver.

    All that did not stop the trade rumors from swirling around the deadline and create enough distraction for him to have a three-catch, 44-yard performance in the Browns win at Baltimore.

    Then he broke out. He caught five passes for 125 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati. He caught 14 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh. He caught 10 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns against Jacksonville. Finally, he capped it off with seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown against New England.

    He was the first player in NFL history to top 200 receiving yards in back-to-back weeks, set a record of 649 receiving yards in a three-game span and set a record of 774 yards in a four-game span.

    He was the first Browns receiver to lead the NFL in receiving yards with 1,646. Obviously, this also set the franchise record for receiving yards in a season.

    His goals for 2014 are even higher. He said he wants to be, "Hands down just be outright the best wide receiver in the NFL," via The Akron Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich.

The Handpicked Coach Gets the Ax

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    Rob Chudzinski was supposed to be the leader who could sustain success over a long period of time for the Browns. He was supposed to be the guy the front office targeted as its “Andy Reid.”

    Then just 352 days into a four-year contract, he was shown the door, and the Browns began looking for another coaching candidate.

    The firing was a major surprise around the NFL. Not only was this just the fifth time in NFL history that a coach was fired after his first season on the job, but he also was not given much to work with.

    He had to play three different quarterbacks, had his starting running back traded in Week 3 and his front office spent very little money during the offseason despite having so much.

    Browns owner Jimmy Haslam addressed the media on Monday and said via Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com, “As the season developed and what was a really nice start and as we got later into the season, it was our feeling that as a team we were not getting better. Yes, we had a young team, but I think if we’d reflect on it we would all say, ‘A young team should get better,’ and we simply didn’t feel like that was happening.”

    So the Browns will be looking for their seventh head coach since returning to the NFL in 1999. From their inception in 1946 to their departure in 1995, the Browns had just eight total head coaches.