It was another busy weekend for the Football Gods. And I find it interesting that for two weeks in a row they’ve chosen to torture the good citizens of Cleveland with gut wrenching misdeeds at the hands (feet?) of a lowly kicker.
I’m thinking there may be more at play here than simply sticking it to Browns fans. Perhaps this one goes back aways, with karmic payback and soul-selling deals at the core of the Browns’ current mess.
It was November of 1995 when Browns owner Art Modell informed the city of Cleveland he’d be moving the Browns to Baltimore for the 1996 season. This was in no way the fault of Browns fans. Not surprisingly, Modell was painted the villain in every corner of the Rock and Roll Capital of the World, and his future body of work while in Baltimore only cemented his legacy as a weasel. Unfortunately (as Knicks, Jets and Mets fans know better than anyone), the fans don’t get to pick the owner.
Modell’s new franchise, the Ravens, took the field for the first time in that 1996 season, and Cleveland went three years without a football team, until returning to action (not coincidentally in a brand new stadium) for the 1999 campaign. So Cleveland had been without a team for three seasons. Again, not the fault of the fans.
Or is it?
During the city of Cleveland’s barren and lost seasons of 1996, 1997 and 1998, let’s hazard a guess that many of the Dawg Pound faithful included in their nighttime prayers something along the lines of the following:
“And please God, please, return a football team to Cleveland. If you can do this one thing for us, I promise not to care if we are awful every year, or even if we have a revolving door of inept front office GM’s who drive us further and further into absolute ridicule around the league. Heck — if you make us use 50 QB’s over the next 20 years and have us go 0-16 a couple of times, I swear it’s okay. Just bring football back to Cleveland. Amen.”
I mean, c’mon, it can’t just be that twenty years ago the Football Gods arbitrarily decided they hated Cleveland, its fans and that plain orange helmet of theirs, can it? There simply has to be more to it than that, because it’s getting more ridiculous by the week. As impossible as this may seem (lest we forget they suffered through a winless campaign in 2017), the pain actually seems to be intensifying this year, even as it appears they may at long last be moving their sorry franchise in the right direction.
Could they possibly have finally gotten the number 1 pick in the draft right, with their selection of Baker Mayfield? And then, in an extremely “un-Browns-like” kind of way, they decided not to rush Mayfield into immediate game action. Thus they are preserving his spirit and youthful enthusiasm, unlike countless prior QB saviors that had the misfortune to land in Cleveland and immediately found themselves running for their lives every Sunday.
Then in Week 1 they come back from two touchdowns down to tie the hated Steelers and even have a solid shot to win their opener (at home!) with an OT field goal? Here’s where the Gods’ actions make this all seem a bit fishy. That OT field goal attempt never had a chance, given the muddy field and the driving rainstorm. Clearly the Gods are not above enlisting the help of Mother Nature when it comes to delivering their football justice. Pay back? There has to be some kind of explanation, doesn’t there?
And then to have it happen again this week? Chance to tie (on the road this time) with a late field goal, against one of the NFC’s better 2017 teams? And?
And Browns kicker Zane Gonzalez, who is looking for work this morning, missed not one, but two field goals (the second being the dagger that kept them from tying things up late), along with two extra points for some added salt in the wound. Now they say Gonzalez was playing with a groin injury. Okay, wouldn’t that be a red flag? Kicker with a groin injury? Seems like a vital area of the body to have functioning perfectly if you kick footballs for a living, doesn’t it?
Doesn’t matter. They’re the Browns, and it’s now 19 straight they haven’t won. And guess who they host on Thursday night? That’s right, that other cursed franchise of the NFL — the New York Football J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS. Fresh off their own sorry effort against division rival Miami in their home opener.
Something’s gotta give in this one. In an obvious (and long overdue) effort to exorcise their demons, the Browns even parted ways with Josh Gordon this week (more on that move in a second) — is that enough to appease the Football Gods and pay this 20-year tab?
Thanks goodness I decided not to pick either the Thursday night matchup or games involving the Jets in my Six Picks columns this year. What’s going to happen when these two titans of ineptitude square off? Giant sink hole swallows Cleveland Browns Stadium just prior to kickoff maybe? I feel your pain Cleveland, but I must admit I’m hoping the wrath of the Football Gods is felt for at least one more week in your fair city.
Other thoughts around the league following Week 2 action:
*If given the chance this morning, do you think Raiders owner Mark Davis would trade Coach Jon Gruden to Chicago for Khalil Mack even up? How about Raiders fans? The answers to these two questions, are “no” and “yes” methinks.
*Same old Jets. Yes, we got another “Todd Bowles Special” on Sunday — complete stink bomb to suck the air out of our opening night celebration. Nobody kicks away positive Jets vibes coming off a win better than Coach Bowles. I mean do they sit around all week after every big win high-fiving and telling each other how easy things will be from here? It sure seems like it these last few years under Bowles’ emotionless watch. However, as bad as they looked on Sunday, we still love Sam. Here’s hoping they find a long-term answer to coach this team starting next year. I’m still saying the kid’s the real deal.
*Speaking of the Thursday Night Football matchup. Last Thursday night the Bengals beat the Ravens. High scoring affair. Division rivals. But outside of Cincinnati and Baltimore, did anyone watch this one? I’m sorry but these games don’t even feel like part of the weekly schedule. They are upon us so darn soon! The players can’t stand the Thursday games, and the fans aren’t clamoring for more. Let’s let go of this ill-conceived idea. Please.
*I’m glad the Football Gods backing their truck up all over Browns fans didn’t distract them from the hosing going on over in Green Bay. I’m not sure which was worse — the egregious call on Clay Matthews that cost the Packers the win, or the pathetic post-game explanation from the officials. They claimed that the flag was thrown on Matthews because he had lifted the QB up and drove him into the ground. Really? That’s the best the officials could come up with? The fact that not one official looked up from that frantic meeting of the minds in the officials’ postgame locker room and said “wait, we can’t use that as our excuse — someone might have seen the replay,” astounds me.
*Apparently even the Football Gods have no control over the officials’ ineptitude, but at least the Gods got their act together in time to curse the Vikings kicker, thus preventing the officiating debacle from snowballing into a win for Minny. Two weeks of football, and two tie games — each courtesy of the Football Gods.
*Can you be a football fan and not admire Eli Manning? The guy is tough as nails, a class act on and off the field, has two rings and (given time) can still throw the long ball. But boy does he look done. He was never mistaken for a gazelle in his prime, and now with poor protection all around him he just doesn’t have a chance. And there is absolutely no backup QB (or backup plan) waiting in the wings for Big Blue. So apparently the Giants will play the final 14 games on their schedule operating on hope. Hope the line gets its act together. Hope Eli can stay healthy enough to deliver the ball to all his supposed weapons a few times a game. Hope nine wins can take the division. The NFC East is an eminently winnable division this year, but it’s hard to be optimistic after watching this offense the past two weeks if you’re a Giants fan.
*Fitzmagic? An economist told me a long time ago that there’s a fine line between being early and being wrong. It would appear I was early in predicting the 2018 Fitzie to be a one-hit wonder, following his jaw dropping proficiency in Week 1. What did he do? Yup, he goes even bigger in Week 2, and at the expense of the Eagles and their much-hyped, championship defense. Heck, he even won the postgame press conference with that ’70’s Disco outfit of his. Fitzie and the Bucs now move on to host the Steelers on Monday night this week. Will he solidify his hold on the starting job, or do one of his patented crash and burn routines? I may have been early last week, but I don’t believe I’m wrong. Look for Fitzpatrick to fizzle in front of a national audience, as the Steelers fans turn Raymond James Stadium into their own. But then again, that’s why they play the games.
*A hearty SportsAttic “welcome back” to Nightman, who texted me from his bunker somewhere outside of Dallas to let me know that the new term for quitting one’s job at lunchtime is “Vontae Davising.” I must ask again, didn’t the Bills make the playoffs last year? Ohmygosh, what a train wreck. I suppose Davis packing up his ball and going home at the half at least took some attention away from just how bad Buffalo stunk up the joint yet again in Week 2. And now Nightman earns our Lucky 7 prognosticator role for Week 3 in appreciation of his wit, insight and fortitude (not to mention he was our only volunteer). With great potential comes high expectations, Mr. Nightman. Go get ’em!
*Can it be? Is the NFL’s Evil Empire at last beginning to slip? And no, we aren’t just talking about their loss to the Jags on Sunday. They almost always lose a couple of head scratchers every year before righting the ship and peaking for their playoff run. Plus, the Jags may actually be for real. No, this Patriots stumble feels different than prior years. We saw the first cracks in New England’s foundation last season, when the rumors about internal strife began to surface. Then the whole “Gronk is retiring” thing came along this offseason. And then another year began with essentially no quality wideouts catching Brady’s 40-something-year-old passes. And now here comes Josh Gordon — wait, what? In years past, this sort of move would leave me shaking my head in admiration, while quietly cursing Belichick and the Pats for seemingly always being two chess moves ahead of the rest of the league. Not so fast. I’m going on record now that the Josh Gordon signing will remind no one of Randy Moss’s record-breaking 2007 in New England. How about 9-7 for the Pats this year? Anyone else hoping this is the beginning of the end of Team Genius?
*And yes, I am keenly aware that this one’s been overdone to death, but tell me that Mark Davis isn’t the modern day Moe Howard of Three Stooges fame? In fact, they could be the same person. I, for one, have never seen the two of them together.