By: Will Burge
Sunday was supposed to be different. For the first time since the team returned in 1999, the team was supposed to be ahead of schedule.
Not ahead of the schedule that fans abide by. Fans expect to make the Super Bowl every year, and rightly so. Not ahead of schedule for a regime in its third year either. You could make the case that they should already be a playoff team if things were executed correctly.
They were supposed to ahead of schedule for a rookie quarterback, rookie running back, rookie #1 wide receiver, rookie right guard, and one of the youngest rosters in the NFL. Realistically, this team was not supposed to be ready to “turn the corner” until late in this season or early next.
Circumstances, and a little bit of help from Hurricane Sandy, thrust the Browns into a situation where they could have made a real statement in the league. Not a statement like 2007, where the team was filled with aging players and young stars who couldn’t get along with anyone, but a real statement.
A win would have taken the team to 3-6 on the season, they would have won 3 of 4, 3 straight at home, and pulled to .500 in the division. A win on Sunday would have also been a wakeup call for Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Cleveland is no longer the litter brother of the AFC North.
It was supposed to be Cleveland’s time to be the “surprise team”. National pundits panned the Browns for selecting a 28 year old quarterback and trading up to get a running back with knee issues. They also ranked the Browns as one of the worst three teams in the league in every national publication. This was supposed to be their moment to thumb their noses at the masses and say, “We are not the same Cleveland Browns!”
In reality, they are not. This young roster is ripe with talent. They finally have a quarterback who can win games with his arm but will not lose them for you with poor decision making. They finally have a running back and wide receiver that other defenses have to game plan against. They have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. They have a defense that, when at full strength, can slow down any team in the league.
Sunday was supposed to put all that on display.
That fact that the Browns lost in a way fans are all too familiar with doesn’t change that fact that those positives are still in the locker room. Physically this team is ready to compete with anyone. Mentally, they are not.
The loss to Baltimore happened exclusively in the minds of players and coaches. Weeden allowed the specter of a pick-six he threw in Baltimore to make him less confident and aggressive. Chris Ogbonnaya negated the Browns biggest offensive play of the game because he didn’t line up correctly. Pat shurmur and his staff blew multiple timeouts because they could not deliver a play into the game correctly. Joe Haden allowed himself to get out of position, which gave the Ravens a go-ahead touchdown.
All mental errors.
The Browns no longer get bullied by the Ravens. They no longer bow to them physically or verbally. On the field, they matched Baltimore blow-for blow both games this season. In the locker room, there was an excitement and confidence that had not been felt before. That is why it was supposed to be different.
This was supposed to be the week that Browns fans could watch “Football Night in America” again and listen to the analysts talk about how their team can make some noise in the second half of the season. Unfortunately, once again the Browns came up short.
“You have to be able to conquer your own mind,” Pat Shurmur said in his Monday press conference.
The Ravens were supposed to defeat the Browns. They didn’t. The Browns lost to their own minds.
It was supposed to be different, but once again it wasn’t.
|Will Burge covers the Browns for ESPNCleveland.com and hosts 3 Deep, Monday - Friday from 7pm-9pm.|
Follow Will on Twitter @WillBurge
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