Watching the Bengals run away with this Thursday night showdown with the hapless Eagles is certainly not helping the Browns’ cause for a late playoff push (how many years has it been since that sentence has even been contemplated?), but there are plenty of reasons to be excited for the future of this franchise.
As we look forward to Sunday’s matchup with the ‘Skins, who are likely to have Robert Griffin III healthy (or at least ready) by kickoff, one would think that having him at least mildly hobbled for this game will help. The energy that Griffin has brought to Washington is undeniable, and just having the rookie out there will be a shot of adrenaline for the already-hot Redskins. They shouldn’t need much motivation, though, because their 4-game winning streak has put them squarely in the middle of a race for an NFC East title.
By now, I assume that everyone in Cleveland (including some who wouldn’t care if sports didn’t even exist) knows that the Browns are on a nice little 3-game winning streak of their own. There’s no RG3 here, but Pat Shurmur and the boys have been playing sound football and finishing games like a team that is growing and learning together. Say what you may about stating the obvious, but let’s take a second to realize that the Browns haven’t shown signs of this kind of progress in a long time.
All of this is being done under the leadership of the young and inexperienced Shurmur. Inexperience can only be solved by learning through experience, which is exactly what Shurmur is gaining this season. It helps to have two former head coaches as your coordinators, and I believe that Pat could be the man for this job beyond this season. New owner Jimmy Haslam has already rocked the boat a bit with the departure of Mike Holmgren and the hiring of Joe Banner as the new team president, but it is my sincere hope that he hangs on to Tom Heckert and this coaching staff beyond this year.
While I entirely understand that with new ownership comes the urge to instantly make your mark on the organization and begin a new era of change, now is not the time in Cleveland. The Browns have had plenty of these changes in recent years, and I don’t think anyone would say that the majority of the past regimes really got the proper amount of time to have a fair chance. Cleveland is a city that is desperate for a winning team, I get it. Still, the thirst for winning now has led too many (me included) to be fed up and give up too soon.
Shurmur has been criticized for just about everything in his short tenure here (bad challenges, bad play-calling, etc.), and most of those complaints have been warranted and valid. Unfortunately for our sanity as fans, that is part of learning to be a head coach in the NFL. What should give Cleveland hope is that the players have busted it for Shurmur and this staff, and through the mistakes and the growing pains have managed to win three straight. The Redskins will bring the next set of challenges, and there will be plenty. Even a hobbled RGIII is a dangerous RGIII. The schedule doesn’t get easier to wrap up this campaign, but that’s not where the focus needs to be.
Regardless of how these final three games go, it is important for us as fans and for Mr. Haslam to realize the success that is brewing as Shurmur and Heckert continue to work together (since when are Browns’ GMs and head coaches on the same page?) in bringing in a roster to support their system. Changing the course after just two seasons of these two together would simply be infuriating.
For once, I can confidently say that this team does not need a reset. Not yet. Heckert has already proven to be the best evaluator of talent and drafter that this franchise has had since the reincarnation. If you don’t see it, take a look at the drafts from the past 2 years and compare who is contributing during this 3-game win streak with the drafts prior to 2011.
Give Pat Shurmur time to continue to grow along with this young roster, and I would bet that what follows will be the beginning of what this town dreams of. As for the playoffs this year, its improbable, but it sure is nice to have a glimmer of hope and a young roster increasingly capable of getting us there. You know it’s real when NFL Network throws our name in the “In The Hunt” section of the AFC playoff picture. Real success has humble beginnings, and it doesn’t get much more humble than Shurmur and this group of Browns.
Here’s to another victory on Sunday. Lord knows that victory Mondays are the best Mondays. Go Browns.