WASHINGTON — The Cleveland Browns have now played 31 percent of their regular season games, posting a 2-2-1 record in dramatic fashion, and forming our lips to ask the previously laughable question: Are the Browns actually good?
Cleveland has been a factory of sadness for years, none more miserable than the previous two when Hue Jackson’s squad could muster only one, solitary victory in 32 games. Sunday’s overtime win over the hated Baltimore Ravens was their first on a Sunday since December 2015, and first division victory in three years — the kind of accomplishments that are weekly occurrences elsewhere but milestone-worthy for the laughingstock Brownies.
Thus, it’s hard to get a grasp on whether we’re grading the Browns on the curve because of their moribund recent history or if they are, in fact, making the kind of strides that will make them a dangerous draw this December.
Let’s look at the facts: Cleveland has already played three overtime games, getting every possible result (1-1-1) and all five of their games so far have been decided by four points or fewer. Last year, the 0-16 Browns lost six games decided by a touchdown or less, and their 1-15 predecessors also played in six such games in 2016, going only 1-5 in those games. If nothing else, the present-day Browns are competitive and talented.
In fact, I’d go a step further and say these Browns could very easily be 5-0 if they started the season with a better kicker and first-overall pick Baker Mayfield under center, and had competent officiating in Oakland. I know most teams can point to a couple breaks here or there that would have reversed their fortunes, but just being able to plausibly do so in Cleveland is progress.
Mayfield represents the possibilities Cleveland fans have spent decades dreaming of. In his three appearances, he’s kept the Browns in games by looking like a poised, young star despite a shaky overall receiving corps and an offensive line trying to adjust to life without the retired Joe Thomas. This has Mayfield drawing comparisons to some all-time greats, and certainly looks like a player capable of being the 30th and final name on the back the infamous jersey of shame. (I mean, it’s a really sad list. Just look at it.)
What helps is that this is a pretty good team around the rookie QB. Mayfield is one of three different Browns to win Rookie of the Week honors (fourth-overall pick Denzel Ward and second-rounder Nick Chubb are the others). The Browns’ 144.6 rushing yards per game is the second-most in the league and Jarvis Landry is the best receiver they’ve had in years.
Though Cleveland ranks just 27th in total defense, the Gregg Williams-led unit has allowed just 22.6 points per game — only about one point more than the New England Patriots. In fact, the wild shootout in Oakland was the only game in which a Browns opponent scored more than 21 points, so their defense has been somewhat better than the raw stats imply. Myles Garrett and Larry Ogunjobi are turning in great sophomore seasons on the D-line, making this unit look like one on the rise.
On the flip side, Cleveland’s special teams are ranked at the bottom of the league, and rookie kicker Greg Joseph — whose 37-yard overtime field goal against the Ravens looked more like a knuckleball than a majestic, game-winning kick — seems to be marginally better than his woeful predecessor, Zane Gonzalez. Jackson’s game management has been questionable throughout his tenure in Cleveland, and the Browns have been inconsistent on both sides of the ball this season.
But this much is for certain: Cleveland is watchable again (as proven by their prime-time win over the Jets). To say the Browns are actually good, while a subjective opinion for now, seems destined to be irrefutable in the near future. This is finally the team the Dawg Pound deserves.
Now pound this link to see how the Redskins fared on Monday Night Football in New Orleans.
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