Rearview Mirror: A Look Back at the First Four Games of 2014

thAnother crazy comeback game for the Cleveland Browns. This one, unlike Week 1 resulted in victory. This was the biggest comeback road win in NFL history. When Head Coach Mike Pettine was asked about this, he answered evenly:

“Wonderful to make history, but to comeback from so far down means you were terrible enough to fall that far behind.”

That is how I was feeling on Sunday. Yes, I was happy that they won. But I didn’t like that they played so poorly that first half, and the end result did not wipe away my memory of what happened in that first half. You can come back against the Tennessee Titans, especially with Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback, but better teams aren’t going to give you that privilege.

I’m not discounting that. You have to win your games, bottom-line. And the Browns did that. As I said on Sunday, if there can be no moral victories, there can be no moral defeats. I’m glad they won.

And with a couple of days to digest the game, I’m feeling better than I did on Sunday. It’s still important to play a game better than that two-half show they put on this week and in Week 1. This team still has holes. But there are also some positives.

We’ve now played 1/4 of the season and the team is .500. If this means they are on pace to go 8-8, then I consider that to be a big improvement over what I was expecting and obviously over what we’ve seen in recent history. I’m not saying we should see 8-8 as the Holy Grail; but 8-8 is far better than the 4-12/5-11 season I was expecting.

1412352303000-USATSI-8117475While the play of the team can seem erratic, and indeed bipolar as it has in half of their games so far, their mindset does not. It seems very even keel. In the first game of the season, after the team came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders and climbing back into a game they had no right to be in, everyone wondered what the heck was said at halftime. Did Pettine go in there with fire and brimstone, stirring up the troops? Did he rip into them, kicking over trashcans and throwing things?

Not according to the coach and players. They went in and talked about what adjustments needed to be made. Heck, they may as well have been down 3 points, by the sound of it.

This week, we heard the same thing. Except now they had that first game to reference back on. The talk wasn’t “WHAT ARE YOU GUYS DOING OUT THERE????” It was, “Take a deep breath. We’ve been here before. Let’s make the proper adjustments.”

Man, I really like that about this team. Is Mike Pettine the answer? I don’t know. After 4 games it is hard to say definitively. But so far I really like the guy. Is he perfect? No, and no head coach is. None. Not one. Sorry, beleaguered Browns fans, but all coaches make mistakes.

I also like Brian Hoyer. Again, is he the long-term answer? I don’t know. Before Sunday I said he would never be better than a 6 out of 10. Now I don’t think that is fair of me to say. He’s smart. He’s not flawless, either, and no quarterback is, but is it fair to judge him as a finished product?

No. The guy has a half season of starts in his career. Would we look at a rookie in the middle of the season and say, “This is as it will always be”? Well, in Cleveland we might. But in the real world, it’s not fair.

Hoyer doesn’t have the strongest arm in the world, but he’s smart. When asked about plays, he often refers to coverage. He seems to be able to read defenses. When he wildly throws a jump ball downfield, it makes me crazy, but that’s something that can be corrected. And he isn’t 100% accurate, but again, not many are. We only notice it more because he’s our guy.

brian-hoyer-nfl-preseason-st_-louis-rams-cleveland-browns1-590x900I’m not putting Pettine and Hoyer in the Hall of Fame, I’m not even saying that they are long-term solutions. I don’t think either have earned that. But I do have to say that I like them both so far. I have no desire to see Johnny Manziel line up under center as of now.

In the offseason, we heard that the Browns tried making a move for San Francisco’s Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. That was an exciting prospect, to bring in a coach who had success. Now we hear that he has worn out his welcome with the 49ers. Is anyone chomping at the bit for him now? I’m not. Why? Because I am a lot less desperate now than I was in the offseason.

Four games does not a season make, same as one quarter does not a game make. The Browns have twice proven that a game is not made even with half of it played. There are lots of things that need fixed for this team to be a serious contender, more than can be fixed in 2014.

But I like the groundwork they’ve laid. I like that having a depleted receiving corp hasn’t stopped them from successfully throwing the football. I like that drafting a guy in the first round does not mean he gets to play if he can’t perform, as we saw when Justin Gilbert was bumped to third on the depth chart on Sunday. Yes, you can complain about the pick, but you have to acknowledge that they are more interested in winning games than forcing a guy in there just because they picked him.

This whole thing could blow up next week. We may have seen the last win of 2014. I can’t imagine that, but it’s possible. For now, though, I am going to enjoy what we have: A scrappy team that does not quit and that does not panic. Travis Benjamin muffs a fair catch, and Twitter blows up with people wanting to cut him. But then he scores two touchdowns, including a nice play for the game-winner. That, for me, is what this team is all about.

When he scored that winning touchdown, there was still 1:09 left on the game clock and I wasn’t exhaling. It’s the Browns. Anything can happen. I suppose that’s how I feel right now: Happy that they play tough so far, but not exhaling on the season. It’s the Browns. Let’s see how the next four games play out.

I’ll be back on Friday to preview the upcoming game against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. Feel free to let me know in the comments your thoughts on the team so far, and what you think about the remaining games. Do you think Pettine and Hoyer could be the answer? I want to know what you think.

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