It’s amazing how fast fortunes can change in the NFL.
The Browns built a lot of goodwill during their recent three-game winning streak, so much so that many people around town were beginning to think that retaining head coach Pat Shurmur wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all.
But that all came crashing down last Sunday, when the Browns were blown out by the Redskins and rookie QB Kirk Cousins, who was filling in for the injured Robert Griffin III and making his first-ever start in the NFL.
Cousins threw for 329 yards and two touchdowns in the Redskins’ 38-21 victory, and he might have accomplished even more than that: he might have effectively ended the tenures of both Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert in Cleveland.
Of course, their futures with the team were tenuous even during the winning streak. The team was only barely in the playoff conversation and wasn’t exactly beating the best the league had to offer. But still, there were signs of progress being made, signs that the Browns might be turning the corner after all.
But with a full regression on Sunday against the Redskins, owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner were given all the evidence needed to make a clean sweep of the organization before January even hits.
On Tuesday, during a conference call discussing the hiring of Alec Scheiner as the new team president, Banner all but gave away the front office’s plans after the season ends.
“I think we’ll make the decisions quickly after the season,” Banner said. He didn’t come right out and say it, but it sure insinuated that he and Haslam have seen more than enough.
It’s hard to argue with this inevitability. Shurmur was thoroughly outcoached on Sunday, losing every bit of momentum he gained over the previous three games. Heckert can still make a smart, logical case for his job, but his top two picks of the past draft — RB Trent Richardson and QB Brandon Weeden — didn’t exactly help him out on Sunday.
Richardson gained 2.5 yards per carry on 11 touches (though, in fairness to him, he was given only two carries in the second half, which is one more indictment against Shurmur). Meanwhile, Weeden was a complete mess in almost every aspect.
The Browns finish the season on the road against the Broncos and Steelers, and they aren’t getting any healthier — Richardson continues to deal with a rib injury and S T.J. Ward and LB James-Michael Johnson were just put on injured reserve (not to mention the oddity of releasing CB Dimitri Patterson with two weeks left in the season).
Sunday’s loss to the Redskins was a demoralizing, back-breaking one for a club that was simply trying to teeter on the side of respectability.
It likely doesn’t matter what happens in the next two games, not from a winning standpoint at least. This has turned into yet another audition for the players, a chance to prove themselves to the new regime.
For everyone else — the coaches, whoever is left in the front office — it’s probably time to start looking for open positions around the league.