There is no real need to romanticize what happened in Cleveland on Saturday. The Browns beat a last-place, injury-plagued Chargers team to improve to 1-14, in the process perhaps costing themselves the No. 1 pick at the 2017 draft.
A Super Bowl win, it was not.
But let’s give credit where credit is due: Months beyond the point where they had anything of consequence on the line, the Browns kept playing hard. They wanted that first win. Their fans wanted that first win. Maybe that doesn’t mean anything moving forward as Hue Jackson & Co. attempt to rebuild this organization. Cleveland will hope that it does.
“We have to go out the right way,” Jackson said during a press conference earlier this week. “We need to go win a game and do everything we can to win a game. It is the last time in front of [the fans that] this group will be together in that stadium. They need to understand that.”
Players are always fighting for their right to stay in the league (and/or to be rewarded handsomely for their efforts), so the notion that they shut it down once their teams fall out of postseason contention is a bit misguided. That said, one needs look no further than the Jets—loses by 38 Saturday—to see what it looks like when the effort isn’t all there.
While the Browns were badly overmatched most weeks, they never rolled over. Even last week’s 20-point loss in Buffalo was a one-possession game in the second half before the wheels fell off.
That may not sound like much, and certainly the expectations should be far higher for Jackson when he heads into his second year at the helm, but it does hint at something positive about the coaching staff that Cleveland kept grinding. When the players aren’t bothered by wins and losses, or they are not responding to those calling the shots, it becomes rather obvious.
Does that mean the Browns will be a surprise playoff contender next season? Hardly. It barely even guarantees that Jackson—and more to the point, guys like defensive coordinator Ray Horton—will be retained for 2017. However, if there are any decisions yet to be made by the front office, the Browns battling to avoid 0-16 could work in the coaching staff’s favor.
The main downside to Saturday’s result, for Cleveland, is the aforementioned slide from No. 1 to No. 2 overall in the draft, at least temporarily. Only a 49ers win would grant the Browns the chance to move back into pole position.
Again, if anyone on the Browns’ sideline was worried about such a possibility, it would have been rather easy to throw the game to San Diego. Still, it has the potential to be a significant development for a franchise that needs all the help it can get growing into a contender. Will sliding from one to two cost the Browns a shot at Myles Garrett or the QB of their choosing? Will it limit how aggressive they can be seeking out trades, if that’s their preferred course of action?
Those are issues to worry about for another day. Worst-case, the Browns would land picks 2 and 33, with another high selection (possibly in the top 10) coming their way via Philadelphia.
Regardless, the next few months will go by a lot faster now that the Browns have a win in the bank. Just ask the 2008 Lions, whose players are still suffering the indignity of being the league’s lone 0-16 team. Backup QB Dan Orlovsky, now with Detroit again, still won’t talk about that ’08 season.
A 1-15 or 2-14 record isn’t cause for a banner-raising celebration, by any means. But the Browns fought hard to ensure they avoided an 0-16 fate.
They deserved Saturday’s win. Now, to figure out what comes next.