This was always the test. Things were all good during training camp, when people ate up Al Saunders' endless stream of energy and Corey Coleman was set to turbo mode and Josh Gordon and Terrelle Pryor were standing next to each other on the sidelines like a couple of real-life centaurs. We all knew what was coming. The teetering house always on the verge of collapse had been bulldozed. There was a open space where that condemned property once stood, waiting to be molded into anything but what was there before. We knew what the 2016 Browns were and what'd they be. That was never a question. The real test was whether we could stomach it.
The Browns, sitting at a robust 0-10, are like your unruly 8-year-old. You know he's going to grow up to be a good dude. You think you've executed parenting fairly successfulyl thus far. But right now, he's coloring on the TV room wall and having night terrors and saying your wife's cooking makes him want to vomit and you can't wait until he turns 9 because maybe all that will end.
The Browns could've beat the Miami Dolphins. They could've beat the Baltimore Ravens the first time they played them. They could've beat the New York Jets. That would've all been fine. 0-10 could be 2-8 or 3-7 and we'd all feel OK because the stench of going 0-16 would've been snuffed out by some meaningless victories. But the Browns lost all those games, for a myriad of reasons:
-They've had to use six different quarterbacks
-Corey Coleman broke his hand
-Cam Erving is still starting at center
-Joel Bitonio got hurt
-Their secondary is made of poop
-They can't rush the quarterback
-They have rookies playing everywhere
-This is year one of a complete and total rebuild
-They are not good at football
Because they are 0-10, and because the prospect of going 0-16 is like being buried alive to a coach, the usually stoic Hue Jackson is showing signs of panic. He yanked rookie quarter Cody Kessler after the first drive of the second half last night in favor of Josh McCown, despite the Browns being up 7-6 and despite McCown's penchant for turning his bones to dust rather than throwing touchdown passes. The Browns would not score again.
Had Kessler stayed in, the Browns still would've lost. It matters not who is behind center in 2016, because 2016 is not about winning. But Jackson, who appeared agitated by Kessler from the get-go last night, freaked, and needlessly removed his rookie from a game that didn't matter in a season we can't wait to forget. Hue Jackson knew what this season would be. It's just hard to look an atrocity directly in the face.
Fans are starting to freak out too. Sports talk radio hosts are yelling. People aren't coming to First Energy Stadium anymore. It's 2016 but it could just as well be 2008. Or 2009. Or 2010. This is always where we end up as the calendar hits November. It's like the devil's deja vu.
To change that, this is how it had to be. After almost two decades of misplaced expectations, underqualified coaches and front office personnel and terrible players, it had to get ugly before it could finally get better. And maybe it still won't. Maybe none of the one billion players the Browns will select in the draft the next two years won't be good enough to reverse years of ineptitude. Maybe they'll draft the wrong quarterback again. But for once, the Browns aren't losing just to lose. They're losing for the potential to exist.