This season, I hate to say it, might as well be over already. I have shown myself to be a less-than-sterling guesser of the winners of games during the first two weeks, but one thing that takes no guessing is that the Browns are in serious, serious trouble.
What was expected to be -- perhaps -- a 2-0 start to the season, or possibly 1-1, has dissolved into a nightmarish case of deja vu wherein the Browns led both of their games at halftime, 14-10, and then both weeks managed to get shut out in the second half and to have lost two games by a total of five points.
So near yet so far.
And now the schedule gets brutal -- that is the only appropriate word for it. Beginning with next Sunday's game against the Browns...ummm, I mean the Ravens...the Browns have to run a gauntlet of games against playoff-caliber teams that could easily see the Browns at 0-9 before their next "likely" win -- or at least it seemed likely when Jacksonville appeared on the schedule. Lose that one and the Browns face a possible 0-10 when Carolina pays a visit to their old quarterback in late November.
Tampa Bay and Kansas City 2-0, Dallas and Minnesota 0-2, maybe in this wacky beginning to the season anything is possible and the Browns can figure out a way to score enough on that Ravens' defense to pull an upset.
But don't count on it.
So what is there to hang our hats on, what is there to look forward to? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel and is it safe to say that the light is not an oncoming Amtrak? Is there true brightness in the Browns' future?
When the idea for this column was proposed to me, my immediate knee-jerk reaction was that there isn't reason for hope, but that was early this morning and even at that time John Bena and I looked at the situation and came up with a couple of things to grasp at, as a drowning man grasps at something floating on water and prays that it isn't kelp or the dorsal fin of a cranky shark.
So here are five things that may be a glimmer, if nothing else. Maybe not, maybe four of them will turn out to be Jaws and all that will be left will be pieces. But one, I can almost guarantee, will be part of a bright future. It was funny when I thought of it and it still strikes me as a little funny now.
Pressing on, and with # 5 through # 2 in no particular order:
# 5 -- Montario Hardesty
This is a case of "cross your fingers and let's see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty". Hardesty is done for this year without having played his first regular season game, after being injured against the Bears in the exhibition finale.
Unfortunately, the knee problems that beset Hardesty at the University of Tennessee have followed him to the Browns, and the injured knee is one that has already been an issue in the past.
But we are looking at things getting brighter, so...
Let's say that Hardesty gets the green light before next season and that he and Jerome Harrison form a dynamic duo out of the backfield, with the other "H" back -- Peyton Hillis -- as backup. Instant lessening of pressure on quarterbacks ensues and suddenly the Browns are a ball-control beast.
We can only hope...
# 4 -- A high draft pick in 2011 if we truly stink out the joint this season
Now this is the ultimate case of the glass being half-full.
But truly, a dreadful season can lead to a fantastic draft. I won't address "needs" in next year's draft, because needs are fluid. Case in point: The Browns assumed they would not need to replace a running back before this season even started.
So let's say the Browns go a cool 2-14. With two other "dreadful" teams unbeaten after two weeks, it is safe to say that a two-win season would probably have a number one draft choice putting on a Browns' baseball cap on draft night.
Alright, I am really trying to become enthused over this "bright future"...but am not succeeding too well. But by the time draft night rolls around the Indians will probably already be ten games under .500 in the 2011 season and the Browns' misfortunes would, by then, be accepted, as we Clevelanders have grown so accustomed to misfortune.
Moving right along here...
# 3 -- Mike Holmgren will not be amused over failure and will rectify problems
This is a no-brainer in many ways. Mike Holmgren is a proven winner. He has turned a sow's ear into a silk purse more than once in his career and there is no reason to think that he cannot -- and will not -- do the same in Cleveland.
Can a man in the front office deliver an NFL title? Actually, with the right moves at the right time and with the ear of an owner who respects him, I really believe a man in the front office can.
Mike Holmgren is not going to be happy with mediocrity, he will not be happy with opponents dashing down the sidelines on their way to paydirt after bad interceptions, or the ball being put on the ground at the rate the Browns are thus far.
And lest we think that a football mind can only achieve so much -- the Browns underestimated a coach who chose to sit a legendary quarterback. The fans hated the man. He was hounded out of town.
Bill Belicheck, has done pretty well since the days he paced the Browns' sideline.
Football minds make tough choices and tough decisions and are shrewd enough to see that a series of small gains add up to much more than one jump forward and then a jump back.
Is Mike Holmgren a bright spot? Yes, I really think that he is, and as this season goes on, we will see just how much of a bright spot he can be.
# 2 -- The Browns' defense looks pretty good so far and could get even better
Glass half-full again, but you take positives and you build on those positives, and if two games are an aberration but two games becomes ten, suddenly that aberration is a strength and something you can rely upon.
The Browns' defense has given up some long drives, and against two less-than-Super Bowl-worthy offenses, but the D has only surrendered 19 points in two weeks. All other points scored by Kansas City and Tampa Bay were on interceptions for touchdowns.
Folks, if you give up 9.5 points a game on defense, you will win some football games
Of course, if the Ravens score nine or 10 points next week, that may very well be enough to make the Browns 0-3. But what matters, what needs to be stressed and hung onto, is that (so far) the Browns have not been torched, they are in games, and it is because the defense is able to turn touchdowns into field goals that the Browns have been competitive.
Could that change in the next few weeks, when New Orleans, when New England, when Cincinnati, when other prolific offenses face the Browns?
Yes it could. It very possibly will. But maybe, just maybe, this defense can take the momentum of at least keeping games close and can grown into that becoming the norm rather than the exception.
We are looking for a brighter future. Maybe part of that future is already starting to come together.
# 1 -- My surprise pick for something that will definitely be bright in the Browns' future
Here is where humor came into the grimness of the morning, and if it strikes you as silly...fine, that's just fine. I choose not to see black clouds in every situation and if that makes me silly, then so be it.
I guarantee that there is brightness in the Browns' future. That's right -- guarantee it, like Joe Namath predicting a Super Bowl win for his Jets.
That brightness will come on some night, maybe some night in 2011, or in 2012, or sometime...it has to happen, that night when the Browns are on Monday Night Football, or maybe on a Thursday night.
Yes, indeed, the brightness of those light standards in some stadium somewhere will be one "bright future" (or at least a well-lit one) that is a dead-solid sure thing.