With a great deal of uncertainty looming in the offseason, the Browns are quietly beginning to put together a solid run to end the season. Much like the 2009 season that saved head coach Eric Mangini’s job, a late-season push could keep Pat Shurmur in Cleveland in 2013.
That was certainly not the case just a few weeks ago. When the Browns lost to the Ravens on Nov. 4, the team fell to 2-7 and Shurmur was receiving plenty of criticism for his play-calling.
The team then took a much-needed bye week and returned on Nov. 18 only to lose to the Cowboys, though the Browns played tough on the road, taking Dallas to the brink of defeat in overtime.
Since that loss, the Browns have found themselves in the midst of a two-game winning streak, having beaten the banged-up Steelers and the generally bad Raiders. Sunday’s win at Oakland was significant, though. It broke the Browns’ 12-game road losing streak, which was the longest active streak in the NFL.
Now, the Browns are sitting at 4-8 with a chance to finish the season at .500. With the lowly Chiefs coming to town (a game that will see the return of Romeo Crennel, Brady Quinn and Peyton Hillis to Cleveland), the Browns have a very real chance at a miraculous three-game winning streak.
From the depths of despair, this has become a season of “what if?” for the Browns.
What if they had not come out so flat on offense in their 17-16 loss to the Eagles to start the season?
What if CB Joe Haden had been on the field for the Browns’ first matchups with the Bengals (a 34-27 loss) and Ravens (a 23-16 loss)?
What if WR Josh Gordon didn’t drop a sure touchdown in the Browns’ 17-13 loss to the Colts?
There are plenty of questions like this for the Browns, who have lost by double digits only three times this season. But even if those three outcomes above had been reversed, the Browns would be looking at a drastically different situation — a playoff spot.
This is the kind of second-guessing and wishing on the part of Browns fans that now can be done, thanks to the team’s recent success. The Browns definitely aren’t making the playoffs, but the thought of a 7-9 or 8-8 season seemed unfathomable just a few short weeks ago.
There is something to be said about the resiliency and talent of this team as it continues to play hard and get rewarded for it. The Browns are not without their many flaws, and they haven’t exactly been defeating the juggernauts of the NFL, but a win is forever cherished in a game where the length of a season leaves little margin for error.
It usually does one no good to look back and wonder, “What if?” The past cannot be changed, what’s done is done, etc. But for the 2012 Browns, being able to look back and think, “If just a couple plays turn out differently …” is a sign of legitimate progress.
Teams that miss the playoffs will anguish about the one or two games in a season that doomed them. Typically, the Browns have been so abhorrent that every game was simply a doomed endeavor anyway.
But as the wins surprisingly accumulate on the back end of this season, the Browns actually can look back and wonder what could have been.
And in 2013, they might just be able to consider what lies ahead for a change.
Steve DiMatteo is a freelance writer based in Cleveland who currently serves as the editor/lead writer of Dawg Pound Daily. You can follow him on Twitter at steve_dimatteo.