Now that the Browns have gotten that pesky “Are these guys EVER going to tie a game?” monkey off their backs, the drama shifts, because, well, these are the Browns, and the drama — if not a victory — is never very far away.
So off they go to New Orleans, led by the quarterback pro tempore, backed up by the quarterback who would be king. By day their names are Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield. By night: … um, same names, different longitudes.
They are two ships drifting in the night. One is the present, the other is the future, and the future is closing fast, unless it’s not. Reading the Browns’ tea leaves is risky business. Either way, trapped in the middle, treading water as furiously as he can, is pro football’s most precarious coach, Hue Jackson.
These are tricky times for Coach Whew. Try to follow along here: He must attempt to win now in order to give himself a chance at a “later” — a “later” that is being programmed to not be quarterbacked by the quarterback Jackson must hitch his wagon to now.
That quarterback is Ty Taylor, Captain Cautious. He may not win you many games, but he won’t lose you many, either. At least not by himself. Taylor doesn’t quarterback a game as much as he chaperones it. Low-risk, low-reward. That may not be a fit for a Bill Belichick or Andy Reid-coached team, but for Coach Whew it’s a prescription for possibly living to coach another year.
Just as Jackson looks at Taylor as the quarterback to best keep him (Jackson) employed, and the position warm until Mayfield is ready, Browns general manager John Dorsey may view Jackson as a necessary someone to keep the coach’s headset warm until the Browns are ready to become a team of relevance again, with a new coach to prove it. That point will likely coincide with the ascension of Mayfield to the top of the quarterback depth chart.
But for now, there’s a career, as much as a game, at stake for the Browns every Sunday, and at this point in Jackson’s dicey head coaching stewardship, Captain Cautious is exactly what he needs. Jackson needs Taylor to take care of the game. He doesn’t need him to go all DeShone Kizer on him. Been there. Cringed that.
The worst thing that could happen for Jackson is for Taylor to play poorly and Sam Darnold to continue to play winningly for the Jets, which he’ll have a chance to do Thursday in Cleveland. That game, by the way, has the potential to sail completely off-the-charts on the deliciousness scale, should the bowling pins fall a certain way.
If, on Sunday, Taylor wobbles again in New Orleans and Darnold wows again, this time vs. Miami, the Cleveland rabble will be rousing for a Thursday night showdown between the two draft headliners, Mr. No.1 (Mayfield) vs. Mr. No.3 (Darnold).
Such a scenario would be a two-clicks increase on the pilot light under Jackson’s already sweltering seat.
Browns fans, understandably, are always antsy for the quarterback that isn’t playing, probably because they’ve been forced to endure so many quarterbacks who ARE playing, but can’t play.
If you listen closely you can already hear the Mayfield drumbeat in the distance.
Meanwhile, while Darnold is doing Darnold things for the Jets, Mr. No. 2 (Saquon Barkley) reeled off a 68-yard TD dash last week for the Giants, and with Mr. No. 7 (Josh Allen) starting for Buffalo on Sunday, the question from loyal Dawg Pounders everywhere is obvious: Why is the No.1 pick in the draft, employed by a team coming off an 0-16 season, no less, still backing up a generic game chaperone?
“My thing about Baker,” Jackson told reporters last week, “is that when we do play him, we will make a decision as an organization before we put him out there and do what is right. The most important thing is that he is our future. If he is, we do not have to rush this thing.”
Historically, of course, the Browns have turned into a cottage industry the rushing of quarterbacks into the fray before they’re fray-ready. So, Sunday in New Orleans may be a bigger fray for the game chaperone than the precarious coach may care to admit.
Taylor doesn’t have to produce a big game. But a modest one would be nice — for him and his boss. The game is indoors, so it will be a climate-controlled, excuse-proof performance. It’s also one that will either deaden or detonate the drumbeat for Mayfield.
Especially with Sam and the Darnettes waiting in the wings as the Browns’ next opponent, although the shortened prep time for that Thursday night pie fight between two cupcakes who last year combined for a record of 5-27, may prohibit a quarterbackectomy, by the masters of quarterback quackery.