All good things must come to an end.
Hope of salvaging anything out of this season is dwindling for the Browns.
Even by expansion-era standards, this Browns team is terrible. The Browns have been outscored 253-387, a point differential of 134, the lowest since 2000.
On that note, here are seven takeaways from today's loss to the Seahawks:
1. Broken record: The Browns lost another game today by double-digits. It feels like I’m writing the same story every week – the Browns are terrible.
Browns fans are used to watching this team lose week after week. Sad Sundays are nothing new for fans of this franchise. But this losing feels different this season.
The Browns are not improving. The Browns are losing the same way nearly every week.
Losing has become a formula for the Browns this season. Here it is: 1. Score an early touchdown or field goal; 2. Allow the other team to score; 3. Kick a field goal; 4. Allow the other team to score twice more by using the run game to wear down the defense; 5. Kick a meaningless field goal; 6. Allow the other team to finish off the game with a touchdown or field goal.
It’s pathetic. The Browns start strong and score, make dumb mistakes, run out of steam on defense, and give up.
The Browns have two big weaknesses: A poor run defense and an inability to run the ball. The Browns can minimize these weaknesses at the beginning of the game, but the opposing team predictably exposes the gaping holes in the Browns’ armor by the second half and earns the easy win.
It’s like watching the Mud Dogs in "The Waterboy" before Bobby Boucher strapped on a helmet. Nearly every week is the same story.
2. Not bad, just not great: Johnny Manziel turned in an average performance in a bad situation, but it was not enough to keep the Browns in the game. Facing all kinds of adversity, Manziel looked good under pressure, but did not do enough to win.
Asked to do the near-impossible, Manziel played better than expected.
Facing a stout Seahawks defense in a notoriously loud stadium, Manziel didn’t fold under pressure. Playing behind a banged-up offensive line, Manziel mostly stayed on his feet. Throwing to a depleted wide receiver corps that dropped four passes, Manziel kept his cool.
All things considered, Manziel did not have a bad game.
The second-year quarterback finished the day 19-of-32 passing for 161 yards and one touchdown. Manziel also threw one interception and fumbled once, both on the last drive with the game decided.
Manziel has his defenders and his detractors, but this much is clear: Manziel is not a bad quarterback. He has potential and can be a dangerous quarterback in the right scheme with the right weapons. Manziel may not be an "elite quarterback," but he’s showing his potential to be a good NFL quarterback.
Agree or not, this much is objectively true – the problem with the Browns is not at quarterback. The problem is the team around him.
If we learned anything about Manziel today, it’s this: Manziel can play in a hostile environment. In one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, the Browns did not have to call any timeouts due to an expiring playclock or take a timeout to calm Manziel’s nerves. Manziel did not crack under pressure until the final series of the game.
The next two weeks will teach us more about Manziel’s potential, but at this point, Manziel looks like a serviceable NFL quarterback.
3. Is he elite now, coach? Russell Wilson rebuffed head coach Mike Pettine on Sunday, burning the Browns’ secondary in a stellar day. Wilson used both his arm and feet to beat the Browns.
Earlier in the week, Pettine disrespected Wilson when asked to rank him among the league’s best quarterbacks:
"Would you put him there with the guys that can transcend their supporting cast? The Bradys, whether it's Aaron Rodgers, Brees, Roethlisberger, the ones that you would consider the two, three, four elite guys? But, no, he's certainly played himself into that next tier."
The comment came to haunt Pettine and the Browns this week, as the media took the story and ran with it, leading to unnecessary hype leading into the game.
Wilson certainly looked elite against the Browns on Sunday, completing 21-of-30 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns and running five times for 46 yards.
Wilson and the Seahawks aired the ball deep early and often, using the deep pass to open the short passing game. The Browns succeeded in preventing back-breaking lengthy completions, but the secondary allowed the Seattle wideouts plenty of room to operate in the short passing game.
The Browns appeared to play lots of man coverage, as typical for a Pettine defense, but surprisingly did not press. The team’s cornerbacks often allowed 7-10 yard cushions to Seattle’s wide receivers at the snap, allowing Wilson to pick apart the Browns defense with short, quick passes.
Even when the Browns resorted to zone coverage, particularly on third down, Wilson found openings in the coverage. Wilson beat a cover 3 scheme (three deep defenders in zone coverage) along the sidelines with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Wilson found the open receiver on seemingly every play, often extending plays with his legs. The Browns blitzed Wilson, but had trouble wrapping up the wily quarterback. Several Browns defenders managed to sack Wilson twice, but the defense’s overall effort proved futile against the Wisconsin product.
Perhaps Pettine should think twice about negatively commenting on an opposing quarterback.
4. Just tackle, already: The Browns’ defense missed way too many tackles on both passing and running plays, handing the Seahawks free yards. Facing a high-powered Seahawks’ offense, the Browns forgot their tackling fundamentals.
The Browns frequently dove at the ballcarrier’s heels and attempted arm tackles in a frustrating game to watch for Browns fans.
Just like the previous 13 games, the Browns could not stop the run. The defense whiffed on tackles at the line of scrimmage, allowing Seattle’s running backs to burst through gaps and pick up yards in bunches.
Even against Seattle’s third and fourth string running backs, the Browns looked awful in defending the ground game. Christine Michael led the Seahawks with 16 carries for 84 yards and Bryce Brown added 43 yards on nine carries. As a team, the Seahawks finished the day with 182 rushing yards on 36 attempts, or 5.1 yards per carry.
The defensive line and linebackers share the blame, as the line did not draw double teams and linebackers did not plug holes. Missing Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls, the Seahawks still managed to tear through the Browns’ front seven. No matter the team or running back, it’s been the same story all season for the Browns.
Even in the passing game, the Browns flailed and missed on many attempted tackles of Seattle wide receivers.
On one notable example, Charles Gaines missed a tackle on a short pass to Doug Baldwin late in the third quarter, allowing the wideout to turn a 5-yard pickup into a 27-yard gash. The play set up the 27-yard touchdown to Lockett at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
It’s tough to blame a defensive coordinator for all of a defense’s woes, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Jim O’Neil returns in 2016.
5. Good ol’ Browns: In typical fashion, the Browns made plenty of ill-timed and stupid mistakes, granting the Seahawks free points. This is nothing new for the 2015 Browns.
The first major mistake occurred late in the first quarter, as Johnson Bademosi drew a pass interference call in the end zone on 3rd and 8, granting the Seahawks 1st and goal from the 1-yard line. Three plays later, Wilson found Baldwin on a simple out route for a 1-yard touchdown pass.
As Browns radio play-by-play broadcaster Jim Donovan stated on-air, Bademosi has incurred far too many penalties this season.
Perhaps the most frustrating mistake occurred at the end of the first half.
Wilson uncorked a deep pass to Kearse underneath the Browns’ prevent coverage. The Browns had Kearse cornered, about 20 yards short of the end zone. All the Browns had to do was tackle Kearse and the half would end. As you might imagine, that did not happen.
Instead, Tramon Williams grabbed Kearse’s facemask, granting the Seahawks an untimed down from inside the red zone. The Seahawks took advantage of the free play to kick a 27-yard field goal, increasing their lead to 20-10 heading into halftime.
The Browns could have entered the halftime trailing one of football’s hottest teams by just seven points, but gave the Seahawks free points instead.
Just as silly, rookie Charles Gaines appeared to rebuke veteran Donte Whitner on the sidelines. As shown during the FOX broadcast, Whitner appeared to approach Gaines with advice before Gaines pushed Whitner back and Craig Robertson stepped in between the two.
Williams made another mistake later in the game, though not as critical or silly. With 3:37 left in the fourth quarter, Williams jumped in front of a Wilson pass to Baldwin. The veteran then dropped the sure interception in the end zone, allowing Hauschka to add onto the Seattle lead with a 30-yard field goal.
Manziel added the bow on top of the presents, throwing an ill-advised pass to Dwayne Bowe on the sidelines on 3rd and 17, leading to a Seahawks interception.
Each mistake individually did not make a huge mistake. But taken as a whole, the Browns gave the Seahawks 13 easy points in a 30-13 loss.
6. Big-play Barnidge: The 30-year-old tight end scored the team’s only touchdown and made several nice plays in the loss. Barnidge also tied Ozzie Newsome’s record for reception touchdowns by a tight end in single season.
One of the only silver linings today was the play of Gary Barnidge.
Fortunately for the Browns, Barnidge has not let the big money from the recent contract extension change his play.
Barnidge hauled in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Manziel midway through the second quarter at the end of a 15-play, 80-yard drive. The score tied Newsome’s single-season touchdown record, an impressive feat, considering the turnover at quarterback. Even amidst the turmoil on offense, Barnidge accomplished the accolade in just 14 games this season.
On the season, Barnidge has 68 receptions for 930 yards and nine touchdowns, a remarkable statline considering he entered the season with 26 catches for 383 yards and two touchdowns in his previous two years with the Browns.
At least Manziel, or whoever the quarterback is next year, will have a reliable target for the next few seasons.
Along with Barnidge, Duke Johnson also enjoyed a solid day. The rookie caught five passes for 39 yards and rushed four times for 46 yards, including a big 39-yard gain.
It’s time for the Browns to feed Johnson and Barnidge more often.
7. Time to tank: The last two Browns games mean absolutely nothing, except for one thing – the performance of Johnny Manziel. Following a terrible season, the need for a rebuild is apparent, making the quarterback question more important than ever.
Whether or not owner Jimmy Haslam fires or keeps Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer, the Browns need to rebuild both the offense and defense.
Other than left tackle and tight end, the Browns have a need at nearly every position. The only question remaining is this: Do the Browns need to use a first round draft pick on a quarterback?
Johnny Manziel’s performances in the final two games will help to provide an answer to this critical question. If he can lead the Browns to a win over the red-hot Chiefs or Steelers, perhaps the answer will be no. If he performs like he did today, the Browns will likely spend the first rounder on another position.
Either way, Manziel provides one of the only reasons to watch the Browns in the next two games, which will likely result in losses.