The Cleveland Browns did indeed fall to the Baltimore Ravens, 23-16, on Thursday. Overall, the Browns were pegged as afterthoughts and it was widely assumed they’d be embarrassed on a national stage.
It didn’t happen.
They played a superior yet exhausted Ravens team even for most of the game, beat the spread for the fourth time this season, and left the majority of their fans with a sense of hope that we’re all trying to call progress.
Progress, after all, is a tough term to swallow when your team is 0-4, but the NFL Network gave us a good example of where to find it.
Making fun of the number of Browns quarterbacks who have started a game or a season over the course of the expansion era isn’t clever anymore. It’s a layup, and on Thursday night we got to see a nice, shiny graphic encapsulating only the last six seasons (2007-present), in which six different quarterbacks have led off a Browns campaign. I know we have heard that 100 times, but it still somehow sounds ridiculous.
Technically, the last time the same quarterback led off two consecutive seasons for the Browns was 2006 and 2007 with Charlie Frye. I say technically because, as we all know, Frye lasted only one half of that first game in 2007 against the Steelers, and was traded the following day.
Derek Anderson played the rest of the way in 2007 and began the season as the starter in 2008, so it may be more politically correct to refer to him as the most recent consecutive starter.
Since then, however, the Browns have had Brady Quinn (2009), Jake Delhomme (2010), Colt McCoy (2011) and now Brandon Weeden (2012).
The Mike Holmgren era was to be defined as the conclusion of the quarterback search, and in his three seasons at the helm he’s tried to plug in a different starter every year. You can’t say he’s not trying.
The Browns’ notoriously awful expansion record of 1-12 on Opening Day is deeply connected to this. A new quarterback is simply playing these games every season.
But, for the moment, Weeden appears to have a grip on the job. He’s making plays Colt McCoy can’t make and has kept the presumed quarterback controversy quiet.
If you want to chart progress for the Browns without measuring wins and losses, this is it. If Brandon Weeden can enter next season as the starter, the Browns will have made a giant leap for their kind.
This is how teams actually win their first game of the season. This is how the good teams build around the strengths of their players.
Joe Flacco has started five consecutive seasons for the Ravens and it’s taken them that long to finally surround him with a balanced supporting cast.
Their two complimentary receivers were on display Thursday – Torrey Smith the deep threat and Anquan Boldin the wide target underneath – and while everyone knows these two players alone are not going to be the difference between the Ravens and Browns nine times out of ten, it was the difference last night.
So for now, every game Weeden starts is one more game closer to progress. It’s one game closer to the Browns actually planning their draft knowing what they have under center. It’s one game closer to an offseason where they actually spend money on free agents to complement their roster.
In a way, this was the point of the whole season. You can’t build an identity without knowing who your quarterback is, and even though Weeden’s career might be shorter than most, just having him for two consecutive seasons would be building something by the Browns’ standards.