When Hue Jackson agreed to become the next coach of the Cleveland Browns, he knew he had a lot to clean out of a consistently toxic organization.
A culture of failure had metastasized within the locker room. A handful of bad apples were getting headlines for all the wrong reasons. A fan-base had given up on the idea of a winning football team ever residing in Cleveland.
To his credit, Jackson has done some solid work just four weeks into his first season with the Browns. Negative personalities have been kicked to the curb. A consistently optimistic attitude is being cultivated within the team facility. Young talent, even that which was pulled off the street days before a regular season game, is proving reliable.
Yet, as admirable as these accomplishments have been, there’s one aspect of Browns football Jackson still has a lot of work to do when it comes to scrubbing it from the organization. This team has had an astounding ability to find a way to lose even in the most optimal situation, and based on today’s game, Jackson has a long way to go before this flaw has been completely erased.
The Browns headed into Washington today looking to add a win to their 0-3 record. A valiant effort was thwarted last week in a loss to the Miami Dolphins, and Cleveland was looking to at the very least build off the momentum it established in the defeat.
Things definitely didn’t start out promising, as Washington hardly broke a sweat en route to establishing a 14-0 lead. However, the Browns, led by rookie quarterback Cody Kessler, fought back. Thanks to the play of wideout Terrelle Pryor and running back Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland turned a 14-0 hole into a 20-17 lead.
Driving down the field midway through the third quarter, the Browns appeared to be setting themselves up to pad their advantage. Cleveland was at the Washington 16-yard-line, looking to land a crucial blow and potentially set itself up for the first win of the year.
And then, it happened. That moment that always seems to happen in Browns games. The one that makes all fans, no matter what the score is, say “We’re going to lose.”
It happened in the form of a fumble from fullback Malcolm Johnson, who was inexplicably given a handoff in the red zone. You could feel the momentum of the game shift the second the ball hit the turf. It didn’t matter that Washington nabbed possession deep on the wrong side of the field. You just knew this what would be known as the moment the Browns lost the game.
Sure enough, it was. Washington practically jogged down the field, grabbing a 24-20 lead. Cleveland fumbled on its next drive, throwing an interception on the drive after that. The wheels came off, and they did so in emphatic fashion. What potentially looked like a 1-3 team with something to build on became an 0-4 dud wondering if it’ll get anything more than moral victories this season.
It sounds a bit heavy, but still, this is just the Browns’ M.O. Last week and the week before it was a couple of field goals that didn’t go the team’s way. Today it was momentum killing turnovers everywhere you looked. It doesn’t matter how that soul-crushing moment arrives, just know it’s coming. Even on their best day, the Browns are one still ill-fated play away from unraveling.
Fixing this, unfortunately, will be what many view as a near-impossible task for Jackson. Cleveland fans have seen games like today’s happen numerous times per season since the franchise returned in 1999. The rate at which these blunders occur forces you to wonder if this is just par for the course with this team. Somehow, Jackson has to teach these players how to win despite the fact clumsy losses are practically a reflex at this point.
Again, Jackson has already done some impressive work taking a roster made up of rookies and spare parts and ensuring it competes at a weekly basis. However, until he finds a way to remove the always-present instinct to choke at the most inopportune time, his work won’t be complete. Based on the past couple weeks, it sure looks like we’re a long way away from this problem being fixed.