Running back Duke Johnson said this season is already different than its most recent predecessors, citing the two early wins that doubled the combined total of 2016 and ’17.
I really like talking to Johnson and respect his opinion. He’s honest, doesn’t accept a flawed premise when answering a question and makes all kinds of noises and facial contortions during interviews.
But he’s wrong on this one.
Whether 2018 is truly a step forward remains to be seen and will be determined over the final seven games. The outcome is far from a given.
The thought should scare owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam and general manager John Dorsey, but it’s the truth.
This season, after two years spent botching a rebuild, is finally about wins. If it were only about the improved roster constructed by Dorsey, we could’ve called it a success after cutdown day.
With better talent comes greater expectations, and Dorsey would be the first to agree. Fired coaches and injured starters don’t change that.
This discussion would’ve seemed ridiculous four weeks ago. The Browns were 2-2-1 and coming off what seemed to be a culture-changing overtime win over the Ravens.
No one was worried about the season turning into a disaster.
Then things got back to normal.
That’s not a good thing.
The Browns were blown out by the Chargers, Steelers and Chiefs and lost in overtime to a Buccaneers team they should’ve beaten.
Goodbye, coach Hue Jackson. Farewell, offensive coordinator Todd Haley. So long, the playoff talk that was way premature a month ago.
Hello, doomsday predictions.
The problem with cheering for, writing about or being a member of the Browns organization is that the misery of the last two decades hasn’t faded from memory. The embarrassing history infiltrates the present psyche.
The Browns are coming off well-documented and completely hopeless 1-15 and 0-16 seasons. Before them were plenty of promising starts that went sideways and devolved into pathetic finishes.
Five straight losses in 2014 after a 7-4 start. Ten of 11 in 2013 after starting 3-2. Nine of 10 in 2011 after opening 3-3. Eight of nine in 2008 after 3-4.
A similar nosedive is well underway with the four-game skid, and some of my colleagues are already wondering whether there’s a win, any win, among the final seven games. If not, the Browns would finish with 11 straight losses.
If it happened, not only would a full-scale housecleaning of coaches follow — which is possible, if not likely, regardless of the final record — but more players with ties to the past would be jettisoned. Anyone not brought in by Dorsey would be in jeopardy.
Such a long, painful slide would also be a direct hit to the faith ownership, players and fans have in Dorsey.
His roster was supposed to be different — faster, deeper, more talented. He promised it would be competitive throughout the season.
A moderate bump in the win column would serve as a springboard to playoff contention next season. A 2-13-1 record doesn’t qualify and makes the jump to 9-7 and wild-card talk look impossible.
Maybe it’s a good time to remind everyone that seven games remain and a satisfying finish is possible. The talent has improved and the players believe they have enough to win.
That brings us to rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.
So much of the excitement and optimism for the present and future is based on the accuracy, playmaking and charisma of the No. 1 pick. He needs to build on his solid start and validate it with a few wins.
Mayfield was encouraged following the coaching changes last week and by a “big jump” personally in the loss to the Chiefs on Sunday. He needs to translate the good vibes to great games and momentous victories.
The schedule isn’t easy, but there are winnable matchups.
Atlanta, this week’s opponent, has won three straight but has a suspect defense and is only a four-point favorite. After the bye are two meetings with Cincinnati and December visits to Denver and Baltimore, which could have lame duck coaches by then.
The season can be saved.
It can only be saved by victories. The goal should be three over the final seven games.