Winning cures all. So what exactly does a tie do? Leaves one unsatisfied at the very least. With over 200 losses since 1999, one learns to see things in ‘degrees of failure’. Often searching for a silver lining, something one can find optimism and hope the team will build on. In the old days, that meant if a large number of things went a different way, they’d be in a position to maybe win. Yesterday was not a large number things. It was one thing. One thing goes a little different and we are talking about a very different situation. As often as a fan can qualify, make excuses or speculate of what could have been, they must also know when to call it what it is. It is not a win and it is not a loss. There is some sense that this was the first time in about 20 games where a Cleveland Browns team did not lose. I am by no means suggesting fans should revel in a ‘moral victory’. Treat this as what it was. It was not a loss. Nothing more nothing less.
Everything about this offseason was building to a single thing. Pittsburgh on 9/9. Whether we like it or not, Pittsburgh is still a top team in the NFL. With every new addition, every removal of a subpar player, additions in coaching and the obvious moves that kept Cleveland at the forefront of any offseason sports show all seemed to point to one hopeful truth. Pittsburgh is not unbeatable. This game might just mean that a Cleveland Browns team could face off against a top NFL team and the overwhelming opinion seemed to be, “Either team has just as much a chance to win this game.” That is a sentiment the Browns and their fans have not experienced in a long time. For me, the closest thing I can remember is watching the pregame broadcast of the 1986 AFC Divisional Playoff game between Cleveland and Indianapolis. The last time I felt like the overall opinion was that Cleveland was in a position to win a meaningful game. I’m sure it was the same 1987 with a hopeful Super Bowl run, I just don’t remember the tone of things that year. I was like 10.
I’m not going to sugar coat this. There was a real opportunity for a 1-31 team to hold serve and beat an otherwise sure fire playoff team and according to any Browns fan, the most important opponent on the schedule. Any schedule. Any year. There are some that would call a 2-14 season where both wins came against Pittsburgh as a good season. I no longer subscribe to that notion. So while the game against Pittsburgh was a monumental opportunity, I personally won’t care if the Browns are still in the mix and not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs some November. I’d rather lose to Pittsburgh twice and still be a playoff team than go 6-10 and beat Pittsburgh twice.
There is no shortage of Browns fans enraged over this ‘tie’. I get it, believe me, expectation vs result can sometimes be a tough pill to swallow. Everything about this offseason went a certain way. For most onlookers, every move was a good one (short of cutting Cajuste apparently), everyone was focused on the Steeler game. As far as fans go, one must learn to temper expectations. Even with everything seemingly pointing to a win over the Steelers this result is not damning in the least. Landry talking about being a Super Bowl team this year if all goes well didn’t help. Fans want to believe that a team can go from 0-16 to 14-2 and favorites to win the Super Bowl in one season and that’s just illogical. There just isn’t much in the way of previous evidence for any team to do that. I remember in my early broadcast days hearing a grizzled old vet talking about the Cavaliers in year two with Lebron. There was an overwhelming number of callers suggesting the Cavaliers could go from 17 wins to playoff favorite inside of 2 seasons. I remember thinking it didn’t seem like such a huge leap. Until I did the research. Steelers was winnable and they will spend a week stewing over that fact, but fans need to temper their expectations.
The problem originates from the sense that this game 1 of a regular season was treated like a Super Bowl for Browns fans. Now had they actually been in the Super Bowl and found a creative way to lose or a Super Bowl actually ended in a tie, then I’d completely understand. In this case, like it or not, it was one game…in a season where anything north of 5 wins is marked improvement, in a season where 5 is not even half of the total. It was one game. One game where there was a ton to be happy about or proud of.
- The Steelers-Browns rivalry has been as one sided as a Bruce Lee fighting an 10 year old. And in that rivalry game, not only did the Browns not lose in spectacular fashion, they made a top team and first ballot hall of famer look like unimaginable shells of their former themselves.
- The Bully Effect is no longer in Effect. The days of hoping that the Browns will not look like the Bad News Bears when they play the Steelers is over. Last game of last season was the beginning of standing up the big bad bully. With Garrett constantly in the backfield, their corners not able to stop the Browns receivers, and a number of other factors, that bully shit is over.
- The organization has hardened on how much they are willing to see the good in. I fully expected to tune into the post-game press conferences to find coaches and players searching for the good among the bad. Hue Jackson lead the charge of thinking about this tie as a loss. There was nothing to hang their hats on and the tone of the press conference bore that out.
- Everything about this season, preseason, or regular season seems to be about the work. One preseason game the run sucked. Next preseason game, the running game was as stellar as it could be for a preseason game. One would have to assume that protecting the QB from the tackle positions and getting the ball out faster and in maybe less than ideal situations would have to be a priority.
- Gregg Williams and Todd Haley. You may not like Hue Jackson. You may want him to be fired. (I would argue that’s because you have a weak approach to analyzing the situation but one fight at a time) Hue Jackson is essentially the overseer. A figure head with veto control. By and large though, focusing change for particular position groups falls on Gregg Williams and Todd Haley and I cannot imagine a fan with a brain stem that shouldn’t love the idea of change and adjustments (in practice and meeting rooms in particular) coming from Williams and Haley.
- Use Pittsburgh as a barometer. In no uncertain terms, one can make the argument that Pittsburgh is in the top 5 of teams regardless of circumstance. This is not different from this Browns team tying the Patriots, Packers, Eagles, etc. Did you want the win? Of course you did, but now that a win was not achieved where does this performance rank. If the team that tied the Steelers played the Jets, Titans, Lions, etc? Consequently, those are 3 teams they lost to in 2017 by a combined margin of defeat of -6.6 pts. Would any of the 1, 2, 3, 4 win Browns teams ever have even come close to tie a team like this? The simple answer is no.
- The team is changing its culture, its time the fans change theirs. Find a way to find the objective but fair positives. There are far too many fans right now screaming for people to be fired, players to be benched, and all because of a tie instead of a win. Not considering they spent time trying to establish the run early which didn’t seem to work until it did. Higgins and Calloway were not big factors. Duke Johnson wasn’t the factor one would expect. Gordon didn’t make a huge impact until the end of the game. Njoku had some clear drops and nuanced issues. Penalties killed offensive drives and kept the defense on the field longer than it should have. Tyrod seemed to hesitate throwing on almost every throw. And with that said, THEY STILL ALMOST BEAT THE F***ING STEELERS
- I’ve learned over the decades both pre broadcasting career and post, the easiest way for a fan to keep their sanity is to analyze more and emote less after the game is over. During the game? Scream your head off. Live and die with every single play. But afterwards, find a away to see things objectively. Its what allows me to watch this game, see the good, see the bad, evaluate the two against themselves and leave with the sense that a tie against the Steelers is definitely not a bad thing and by seasons end should prove to be a good thing.
A tie is not a win and should be viewed that way. Of all the factors that made the offseason a very optimistic time, very few of those things played themselves out in this game and the result was one kick away from being what everyone wanted. The important part of all of this and the one thing the fans can do is temper expectation. Everyone wants to win every time, but the other team gets paid to play too. This one didn’t go the way the fans wanted, but make no mistake about it, this game will prove to be valuable to almost everyone on the team. Better that this happened now and not in week 15 when a win is needed to secure a playoff spot.