January 4, 2016
Pittsburgh Steelers fans celebrate late in the second half of an NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Hours before the Browns officially announced they were once again changing course, Steelers fans celebrated as their team left the field. They were, for all their issues, heading back to the postseason, and their fans had flocked to FirstEnergy Stadium to see it.
"We're just not as good as they are," Joe Thomas lamented postgame, and his comment put a spotlight on the Browns' biggest issue -- bigger than any head coach or general manager or executive VP of football operations -- they just aren't good enough.
Thomas has long been viewed as the everyman, the player who went fishing on draft day. Sunday afternoon, he sounded like one of the many fans he's come to represent.
"The older I get, the more the losing piles up, more bittersweet it is," he said.
You and Browns fans both, Joe.
"Love the game, love playing here, but with more losing comes more change," he said.
No one can blame owner Jimmy Haslam for the moves. The drafts of Ray Farmer and the on-field performance under Mike Pettine made the decision easy -- or as easy as uprooting someone's life by firing them can be.
Haslam can't blame fans if they see his newest plan with a cynical eye. This goes beyond the unknown of Sashi Brown. It goes beyond the plan to hire a coach and then a general manager. It's not tried and true, but let's be honest, in the world of football it's as likely to work as it isn't.
Fan cynicism predates Haslam, but it has been fueled by his actions -- firing three coaches and moving onto his third regime since purchasing the team in 2012; foolishly vowing during the opening days of training camp that he wouldn't blow things up; bringing in a quarterback with a first-round pick that a simple Google search would have warned against betting a franchise on.
That quarterback was nowhere to be found on Sunday. Haslam admitted that it was his understanding that Manziel was supposed to report to Berea for treatment that morning. Manziel's backup, Austin Davis, struggled through his second start of the season, surrounded by Steelers most of the day. The now-deposed regime, of course, signed Davis to a contract extension back in September, gushing about how much they liked him dating back to his short days in St. Louis.
The Browns simply weren't good enough on Sunday, even against an opponent missing its top two running backs and led by a quarterback all too willing to throw the ball to the other side. This was a team that laid an egg in Baltimore last week and needed help to reach the playoffs.They're headed there, of course. Their fans took over the sections surrounding the Steelers tunnel at FirstEnergy Stadium and celebrated while Browns fans, at least those who were left, trudged to the exits, awaiting word on who was next up at 76 Lou Groza Boulevard -- many likely wondering if they were getting too old for this.