Browns are putting their fans through mess worse than 0-16

Browns are putting their fans through mess worse than 0-16

November 10, 2019

You’ve been a Browns fan your whole life, and granted, 24 years isn’t a terribly long life. But you’re a Browns fan. It feels longer.

You weren’t thrilled when your team made Baker Mayfield the first-overall pick of the 2018 draft. You feared he was an undersized quarterback whose game might not translate to the NFL. … You wanted Sam Darnold.

But then Mayfield came off the bench that magical September Thursday night against the Jets and seemed to lift the city of Cleveland on his shoulders.

“It was the best feeling I’ve ever had as a Browns fan,” John Fanta said. He is a rising star commentator for Fox college basketball and the Big East Digital Network who lives in Hoboken now. “It was the first time I honestly felt that the Browns had an answer at quarterback.”

Mayfield wasn’t Johnny Manziel. He was a rebel with a cause, a fearless dynamo oozing swagger and braggadocio, scoffing and sneering at anyone who dared to doubt that the sheer force of his personality could overcome and conquer an insidious history and demonic culture.

And then the Browns got Odell Beckham Jr. to pair with his BFF, Jarvis Landry.

And then Cleveland began dreaming of its first Super Bowl championship.

And then the season started.

“I think everybody was believing the hype, because here’s the thing: When you go through 23 years of heartbreak and defeat and misery, constant looking to the draft and looking for a messiah, when you think you have that messiah, you say to yourself, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re gonna do it,’ like, ‘This is what it takes, we have a quarterback,’ ” Fanta said, “and then you discover quickly it takes a lot more than that. I bought the hype because more than anything, I wanted to believe it was true.”

Fanta was there at FirstEnergy Stadium, watching the Titans smoke his Browns, 43-13, in the season opener.

“Oh, I thought, ‘We have been fooled,’ ” Fanta said. “We have been hoodwinked. You know what was so funny? The crowd was so juiced up at the start of the game. The Browns put out all this stuff like, ‘Be there early, be there early, be there early.’ Well guess what? The fans were plenty early. The Browns still haven’t arrived. We’re still waiting for them.”

The Browns are now 2-6, and novice head coach Freddie Kitchens is a classic example of trial-by-error, Beckham (one touchdown) might as well be seated next to L’il Wayne on game day, and Baker Messiah he is not.

Mayfield, when he has not been abruptly walking out of an interview or shaving his handlebar mustache, is last among qualifying passers in both completion percentage (58.7 percent) and touchdown-to-interception rate (0.58). The velocity on some of his throws reveals a blatant absence of touch. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Mayfield ranks last in the NFL in Total QBR while targeting wide receivers.

“He plays in doubt now,” ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky told Serby Says. “Playing in doubt means you don’t trust anything. You don’t trust the play call, you don’t trust the people around you, you don’t trust your eyes and what they’re telling you, you don’t trust your feet. And so, there’s a lack of clarity with what he’s doing and seeing.”

CBS analyst Rich Gannon has no such lack of clarity when viewing all that ails the Browns.

“I think they all bought into that hype, and they’re not as good as people think they are,” Gannon told Serby Says. “They’ve got this guy 13 [Beckham] who wants to know why he’s got four targets in the red zone through eight games and one touchdown? Maybe because you weren’t there in the offseason, bro. And so the timing and the rhythm hasn’t been great between those two. The offensive line: I’m trying to figure out whose offensive line is worse, the Browns or the Jets. The quarterback: He’s thrown [nearly] twice as many interceptions [12] as touchdowns [seven]. He’s careless with the football.”

Now that Mayfield is married, it is time for him to grow up.

“I have to continue to be me,” he said this week.

Orlovsky preferred Darnold over Mayfield in the 2018 draft. Gannon likes Mayfield’s grit, intangibles, athleticism and arm talent, but adds: “He’s had a lot of success. He had a lot of success in college, he had some success last year after having to wait a while to play, and I think he’s struggled with the fact they’re not having success.”

GM John Dorsey gambled that Kitchens was the right man to handle a combustible mix of big personalities with high expectations. The eye-opener — or eyesore — came in Week 3 with 10 minutes remaining and the Browns trailing the Rams by four points. That’s when Kitchens called a fourth-and-9 draw to Nick Chubb at the L.A. 40.

“Bad call,” Kitchens said afterward. Sure was. It gained 2 yards. The Browns lost, 20-13.

“Last week on third and fourth down, they had 1 yard to go and Chubb was out of the game,” Fanta said. “It’s the personnel changes within a game that I don’t understand what he’s doing. The play design looks too complicated. … He’s trying too hard. I just wish that he would simplify things. His clock management’s been bad. You name it, it hasn’t gone well.”

Fanta grew up in Westlake, 15.5 miles from Cleveland. He was 4 years old when the Browns, who were taken to Baltimore by then-owner Art Modell, came back to Cleveland.

“My first big, big, big Browns memory, they played the Steelers in the 2001 wild-card round,” Fanta recalled, “and they were up by 17 and collapsed and lost [36-33]. I remember sitting there crying. I think I was 6 or 7. When your first major memory is you crying, or upset, and you look and your dad’s upset and everybody else is upset, like that has just been the theme over the last 15, 16, 17 years. We haven’t come out of that at all.”

His is the voice of the anguished Browns fan.

“It’s been 24 years of hoping for the best and expecting the absolute worst,” Fanta said. “And the absolute worst has happened almost every time. Many teams find ways to win. The Browns find ways to lose. You walk into the stadium, and you’re hoping for a win — you are. But in the back of our minds, you won’t believe it til the clock hits zero. That’s being a Browns fan.”

Being a Browns fan in 2017 meant enduring 0-16.

“If you can’t cry, you might as well laugh. … That was what I told myself the whole year,” Fanta said. “You try to take your eyes off it, but I watched the whole way through because you don’t want to be put into a class of football infamy. It was sad. But, after it ended, I thought, ‘It can’t worse than this.’

“Somehow, it might just be worse right now. Why? Because there were actual expectations and pieces in place that looked so promising. Instead, it’s been the same ’ole Browns. But I’m the same ’ole fan watching them, because we believe.

“That’s how Cleveland is, and I love that about the city.”

The Browns should love that about the city. No matter how many Mistakes by the Lake they make, it will never stop loving them.

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