Corey Coleman sat on the bench with his hands in his lap, shoulders sunken and eyes pointed at the turf in Pittsburgh, though he didn’t seem like he was looking at anything. His rookie quarterback, DeShone Kizer, owner of nine touchdowns on 21 interceptions, plopped down next to him to share a few words of encouragement — if any existed — and threw an arm around his receiver for good measure.
The lasting image of the Cleveland Browns’ 0-16 season shows despair, friendship, apathy, astonishment and even just a little bit of hope despite any reason for it to exist.
Moments earlier, on fourth-and-infamy, Cleveland needed to gain just two yards against Pittsburgh to keep its last attempt at a victory alive. The play was to Coleman. The wideout lined up in the backfield, wheeled around to the sideline and parked himself just past the chains. Kizer scrambled away from trouble and found him all alone only for the ball to go straight through Coleman’s hands.
Game over. Season over. History made.
With a 28-24 loss, the Cleveland Browns joined the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams in NFL history to go 0-16.
Great shot. Gotta feel for Coleman. pic.twitter.com/JBkEqyIrja
— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) December 31, 2017
“My expectations of myself are higher than anyone else’s,” Kizer told the media after finishing his first year in the NFL with a 57.9 QB rating. “I’m going to take this hard.”
Across the locker room, Coleman sat in his stall still motionless.
This a mark that will haunt Cleveland any way you look at it. This is rock bottom for a franchise that in recent times seemingly exists to prove there isn’t such a thing.
Pittsburgh came into Sunday relying on, more or less, on second-stringers to manage all four quarters of a game that hardly mattered. With the AFC North all locked up, the Steelers (13-3) just needed to get out of the regular season without any more injuries for a successful Week 17. That part proved easy enough.
Finishing off the season with another win against the Browns was essentially a byproduct of Pittsburgh’s self-preservation.
After its first two possessions on Sunday, Cleveland had already fallen into a 14-0 deficit, amassed -16 yards on offense and watched a punt out of their own end zone get deflected and land near the 25-yard line.
If only that were the end of it all.
Cleveland made a strong comeback and tied the game at 21 in the third quarter, but the ensuing kickoff to star rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster turned into a 96-yard touchdown return that reclaimed the lead for Pittsburgh.
The Browns were able to tack on a 51-yard field goal to stay within a touchdown of a victory which led to a final drive with less than five minutes to play.
After picking up two first downs, Cleveland was past midfield and closing in on the red zone at the two-minute warning. That’s when the Browns stalled again. Two runs up the middle went no where and a third-down pass only picked up four yards. It was down to fourth-and-two with Coleman lined up in the backfield and breaking toward the left sideline as Kizer waited for him to get open.
The pass was perfectly placed which will only cause the pain of Coleman’s drop to last a bit longer.
When it was all over, Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam was disputing any rumors of potentially selling the franchise and reaffirming his support for coach Hue Jackson despite a 1-31 record in two seasons. Jackson then came out and offered a report that the team is much closer to success than people realize.
With the Browns now locked into the first and fourth overall picks in the 2018 NFL draft, that may be true.
It doesn’t take away from all that was endured on Sunday, though. Or any of the 15 games before the final weekend in December. Or a single play where one receiver whiffed on a catch and etched his name alongside the worst in his sport’s history.
Even if the Browns are able to get out of the pit of misery they’ve fallen into, Coleman won’t likely emerge unscathed. Not when a harmless mistake so succinctly sums up a season among the worst ever played.
#Browns Hue Jackson said of Corey Coleman’s drop: “That play will be remembered.” Coleman later said “forever”
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) December 31, 2017
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