Now, the will-they-or-won’t-they portion of the Browns’ season has begun in earnest. It’s been ongoing, of course, but now that the games played have advanced into double-digits, it gets exponentially more serious by the minute.
That’s not an exaggeration. The Browns are now 0-11, and the second 0-16 season in NFL history is looming once again. Last season, it took until Week 16, the next-to-last game, when they were 0-14, for them to avoid the shame of association with Dan Orlovsky, Rod Marinelli and the 2008 Lions.
It’s time, then, to search for wins on the Browns’ remaining schedule … and that’s where “by the minute” takes on new meaning.
MOCK DRAFT 2018:
Browns shift focus away from QB
After the Bengals, of all teams, completed the season sweep of their in-state rivals Sunday, the Browns have five games remaining: in order, at the Chargers, at home against the Packers and Ravens, then at Chicago and Pittsburgh.
The two games that stand out as possible wins: Packers in Week 14, Bears in Week 16.
As Sunday began, including the game against Minnesota in which Aaron Rodgers got hurt, the Packers had lost four of five games. They had scored more than 17 points in a game once. They had been shut out at home the week before by Baltimore, the first such instance since 2006. Brett Hundley looked as if he was either in over his head, or as if he’d hit the wall after some brief glimpses of improvement in his first time holding the team’s reins.
The Browns halting the 0-for train against the Packers in Cleveland seemed like a solid bet. As of mid-afternoon Sunday, that is.
Not so much seven hours later.
The short version: Before the Packers-Steelers game Sunday night, Rodgers threw a football around on the field. The freakout, nationwide and Packers Nation-wide, began immediately. There are all sorts of crucial dates coming in the next few weeks in his rehab, but the important one is his first possible game if the Packers activate him at the earliest date — Week 15 against the Panthers, a week after the Browns game.
So no, there’s no tease about that. But if that Browns game does happen to be the Packers’ last game before Rodgers returns, and if they’re still in playoff contention, that game will have a completely different atmosphere than the one anticipated a week ago after the Ravens debacle.
And that was all before the Steelers game kicked off. Once it did … Hundley played the game of his brief NFL life.
It was a 180 from the Ravens game. In a hostile environment, in prime time, with Rodgers looking on, Hundley nearly pulled off the upset of the year. Three touchdowns, no interceptions, 245 yards, a stunning game-tying touchdown drive with two minutes to go, all in response to a seemingly game-breaking Steelers touchdown.
The Packers’ loss was more impressive than some of their wins this season.
That made the chances of that Packers game in two weeks in Cleveland look much less like the game that takes the Browns off the hook.
The target, then, shifts to two weeks after that, to the Bears game, when the Browns might be, again, 0-14.
Of course, that gives Mitchell Trubisky time to pull a Brett Hundley. And that’s the last thing this Browns team needs.