I’ll go ahead and admit it – I’m not as riled up about the Cleveland Browns’ game against former coach Hue Jackson this weekend.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to look forward to Sunday. The Browns host the Cincinnati Bengals in their home finale in front of a sold-out stadium. What’s not to love about that?
Still, when it comes to Cleveland’s former coach and Cincinnati’s current…special assistant, the fire just isn’t there. Not like it was for the meeting these two teams had a few weeks ago, anyway.
To me, this is a clear sign that this weekend’s game needs to serve as a bookend on Jackson’s time with the Browns. Once this Sunday passes, it’s time for everyone, players and fans, to stop looking in the past and griping about Cleveland’s former head coach.
I can understand how this may come off a bit hypocritical. I’ve spent many hours writing about Jackson and his disastrous time as head coach. I bashed the team for bringing him back after he went 0-16 last season. I claimed any victories which occurred under his watch this year would come in spite of him, not because of him.
So, sure, on the surface my insisting we call off the dogs after Sunday should merit some eye-rolls. However, considering this is a team poised to take a massive leap next season, it no longer makes sense to keep looking back at the disaster it’s leaving behind.
If you don’t believe me, just look at how some of the players are reacting to any Jackson-related questions heading into their second meeting with him as a Bengals coach.
Safety Jabrill Peppers, who did note he was looking forward to “kicking his ass again,” also made sure to hammer home the fact he held no ill-will towards Jackson. Baker Mayfield, the rookie quarterback who made waves calling Jackson fake after Cleveland’s recent win over the Bengals, took the “no comment” route when asked to share his feelings, insisting it was time to hit the reset button.
Heading into the game, the bottom line seems to be “we know why you’re asking, but we’re ready to move on.”
Frankly, that’s the way it should be.
It was understandable for the team to have been far more fired up for their previous meeting with Cincinnati. Then, Jackson was just a couple weeks removed from being canned by Cleveland, and jumped to join the Bengals’ staff just a few days after he took to multiple media outlets to shield himself from any blame for his 3-36-1 record.
The Browns got their revenge that day, throttling Cincinnati to the tune of 35-20, making sure to rub Jackson’s face in it when they could.
Maybe the statement Cleveland made then was enough. Maybe having already played against Jackson once removed a little fire from this weekend’s reunion.
Either way, if there’s any remaining resentment, it needs to be extinguished after Sunday. It’s time for the Browns, a team which has spent the better part of two decades in the NFL’s basement, to start looking forward towards their bright future as opposed to staring at the dumpster fire in their rear view mirror.
Yes, Jackson was a bad coach. He represents one of the bleakest eras for a team which has no shortage of dark times. However, with Browns optimism hitting a height we haven’t seen in years, it no longer makes sense for us to waste our time venting about the damage created by a former coach.
This isn’t to say we should completely forget about Jackson’s time with the Browns. The two and a half years he spent in Cleveland could serve as an idiot’s guide for how not to run a football team, and could also be seen as proof it’s always darkest before the dawn.
That said, as far as using him as a punching bag, the source of motivation for this team, it’s time we move on. Let the Browns’ upcoming bout with the Bengals serve as the final chapter in a three-year horror story, if only so we can truly enjoy the first stage of a turnaround we’ve long been waiting for.