(Reuters) - The wretched Cleveland Browns completed a season of complete futility when they lost again on Sunday, if only narrowly, which means coach Hue Jackson can go jump in the lake.
After Cleveland went 1-15 in the 2016 season, Jackson vowed that he would swim in icy Lake Erie if the team did not improve in 2017.
But improve it did not. Instead, the Browns pulled off the difficult feat of actually regressing, becoming only the second team in NFL history to go 0-16, joining the 2008 Detroit Lions.
“Let’s just be honest and put it out there, I’m disappointed, I’m pissed off, because I never saw this being this way in two years here, ever.” Jackson said recently.
“I made that statement (about swimming in the lake). I got to back it up.”
Whether he does so during the frigid winter, or waits for balmier weather and warmer water remains to be seen.
Early on in 2017 it seemed the Browns would win a game or two. Their first seven games included four narrow defeats by three points, but a promising autumn subsequently gave way to a bitter winter of discontent and a series of embarrassing defeats, culminating in a four-point loss against a second-string Pittsburgh team on Sunday.
“This is going to stay next to my name and the organization’s name for the rest of our lives,” Jackson said after Sunday’s game.
“There’s nothing we can do. We’ll turn the page on this and move forward.”
Not that the team’s long suffering fans will expect much difference in 2018, even though the Browns, with the first and fourth picks in the upcoming draft, should improve if they make wise choices, a big “if” based on recent history.
The Browns have missed the playoffs in 15 successive seasons, and have just one winning season in that stretch, going 67-173.
So why have the Browns remained so perennially bad when their poor record has given them so many high draft picks?
The reasons are somewhat debatable, but some bad draft choices (and non-choices) have not helped, none more disastrous than overlooking Ohio’s very own Ben Roethlisberger in the 2004 draft.
Big Ben instead went to the nearby Pittsburgh Steelers, and the rest is history (two Super Bowl championships).
On the other side of the ledger was the decision to take another quarterback, college football Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, in 2014, with a view to making the quarterback the face of the franchise, only to watch him self-destruct with a series of off-field problems that left him unemployed two years later.
The quarterback issue still has not been solved. In the past couple of years the Browns have passed on the likes of Deshuan Watson and Carson Wentz, who have blossomed with other teams, while DeShone Kizer labored in his first season.
Coach Jackson is not immune from blame either, but owner Jimmy Haslam should ultimately shoulder most of the responsibility since he bought the team from Randy Lerner in 2012.
Hindsight is always easy, but it cannot be denied that Haslam has made some questionable decisions, not least putting together a front office that realized too late that jettisoning so many veterans in favor of young players who were not NFL-ready was a dubious strategy.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Gene Cherry and Rory Carroll