Crazy Gregg’s Football Emporium and Interim Jamboree, a Jimmy and Dee Haslam Production, made its debut Sunday on the sacred gridiron grounds down by the lake, as the local professional pigskin purveyors officially entered the “Flying by the seat of our pants” portion of their season.
Yep, they’re still open for business.
The Jim Brown statue out front should have told you.
As you may have heard, the circus has a new ringmaster, and Sunday was everyone’s first chance to assess how the Browns would look, minus the man on the flying trapeze. He’s been replaced by a man who enjoys shooting himself out of a cannon. But if ever an organization, and a season, needed a new act, it was this one.
The Hue Jackson hysteria was getting so out of control that it threatened to swallow the organization whole. Gregg Williams hardly fits the profile of your prototypical interim coach. He’s not a quiet, safe, vanilla company man who’s willing to pull a hamstring to avoid stepping on toes.
Williams can rattle some pots and pans. But not once Sunday did he announce to the world that he is the head coach, or that he might have to dive into some portion of the team to make it better. So that’s a good start. Williams was a model employee just trying to get through his first game on the job as best he could, following a promotion.
His marching orders from Team Haslam are, presumably, to quell the hysteria, keep the ship afloat and get us to the end of the season so we can hire the next coach, who general manager John Dorsey will find for us, because, as everyone has seen, we’re not very good at hiring coaches.
OK, so that last part may not have been EXACTLY what the Haslams told Williams, but we can dream, right?
As debuts go, the 37-21 waxing the Browns absorbed from the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday said less about the Browns’ new future ex-interim coach than it did about how great the Chiefs are, and how Browns the Browns still are.
In all fairness, it should be pointed out that if there is one outfit in the NFL that would be the worst possible opponent to play for a team that just executed a non-bye-week coaching and offensive coordinator change, on the fly, it would be the team on the opposite sideline from the Browns on Sunday.
The 8-1 Chiefs are the anti-Browns, loaded with talent, great coaching, an unstoppable offense and elite players all over the field.
So in that context, a 37-21 spanking in Crazy Gregg’s debut isn’t all that bad. Heck, with less than two minutes left in the first half the Browns were only trailing 21-15.
But the Chiefs being the Chiefs, and the Browns being the anti-Chiefs, 37-21 was probably inevitable.
There was a sense, however, that the coaching change did bring some immediate results. Like discipline. The previously out-of-control Browns were only whistled for four penalties, while the Chiefs committed 11, including (this is not a typo) three on one play.
The Browns offense also seemed crisper and more organized. They got the ball more consistently to their playmakers, Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb, and quarterback Baker Mayfield got the ball out quicker. He was only sacked twice, after being sacked five times each of the previous three games.
Unfortunately, the Browns defense gave up half a thousand yards to the Chiefs’ high-octane offense, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who, in his first year as a starter, is pitching his way into the MVP discussion.
Kansas City nearly went the entire game without punting. The Chiefs’ first and only punt came with five minutes left in the game.
But Kansas City was only one of two opponents the Browns played Sunday. The other was the toxic inhouse discord that the Haslams pointed to — and Jackson predictably denied — that was the main reason for firing Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Hayley. Sunday, the Browns had to prove that they have moved on from this latest chapter of organizational dysfunction.
They gave themselves passing grades.
“In all honesty, I never saw a flinch today. Never saw body language that was poor,” said Williams, who helped turn up the pilot light by going for two points — and failing — after all three Browns touchdowns, and four times going for a first down on fourth down.
“We had to block out the outside noise,” Mayfield said. “We had to focus and do our jobs. All of the distractions could have been an excuse, but I don’t think any of the guys handled it that way. They handled it in a professional manner.”
So the old boss is gone, and that’s maybe what Sunday was most about. It wasn’t a loss. It was a cleansing.