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Can a 1-15 team actually be worse the following season?

By Terry Pluto • Dec 25, 2017 at 1:02 PM

CHICAGO — Scribbles in my notebook after the Cleveland Browns lost, 20-3, to the Bears in Chicago:

1. Where's the progress? That's a fair question to ask. A year ago, the Browns were 1-15. Hue Jackson promised he'd "jump in the lake" if that happened again. Well, they are 0-15. Jackson fell into his usual "we continue to fight" mantra. But on this snowy Sunday, I don't think that was true. Several players did give a real effort, but the mental mistakes showed the team wasn't focused.

2. This was the third time this season that the Browns didn't score a touchdown in a game. It's the seventh time they've had 10 or fewer points.

3. A year ago, the Browns had only three games with 10 or fewer points. The offense is worse than a year ago. The team is worse.

4. I don't think the overall talent is worse than 2016. But the depression from losing has created a sense of futility around the team. The coaching staff sometimes is coming from the same dark emotional place. Jackson's discussion of "needing to play a perfect game" to win is a way of saying, "we'll never win." At least, some players can hear it that way.

5. The contrast between Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Cleveland's DeShone Kizer is startling. Trubisky is tough. He is poised. It's far too early to know if he'll be an elite quarterback, but he's going to play in the NFL for a long time. He is now 4-7 as a starter. He gives Bears fans a reason to be excited about next season.

6. Only having the first pick in the draft is a reason for Browns fans to be hopeful about the quarterback position. A while ago, Duke Johnson said Kizer's "confidence is probably shot." There's no "probably" about it. This season has emotionally crushed him. He has only nine TD passes compared top 21 interceptions. You can see him being overwhelmed on the field.

7. Jackson said Josh Gordon was "feeling under the weather." He caught only two passes for 19 total yards. He was targeted eight times as DeShone Kizer often was fixated on getting the ball to Gordon. And Gordon was not running hard every play.

8. One of the players who really poured every ounce of energy into this game was Duke Johnson. He caught all seven passes thrown to him. He really cares.

9. Jackson quickly became defensive about not running the ball enough when the subject came up following the game. But the fact is Isaiah Crowell had 44 yards in 12 carries at halftime ... and no carries in the second half.

10. The Browns were behind, 6-3, at the half. In the second half, Duke Johnson carried the ball twice for 13 yards. Matthew Days had a 3-yard carry near the end of the game. That was it. Three carries by the running backs.

11. A few weeks ago, Jackson said he was open to adding an offensive coordinator. Now, ESPN reports he will do so. At this point, I sense Jackson would be willing to do anything to keep his job. I'd love to see a way for him to end up replacing Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati as head coach in 2018. My guess is Jackson also would love that.

12. But it's not a given that Bengals owner Mike Brown will turn to Jackson. He has two long-time coordinators: Paul Guenther (defense) and Darrin Simmons (special teams). They could be considered. If Jay Gruden is fired in Washington, he could be a candidate. In other words, Jackson better keep his limited options open.

13. A few weeks ago, Jackson also gave a bizarre explanation of why he has not hired an offensive coordinator in his first two years with the Browns. In essence, he said if he had an offensive coordinator, the media would want him fired.

14. His exact quote: "I got the job because of what I did on offense. I didn't think it was fair to give anybody that title and not have a football team worthy of that guy to be the leader of it ... you guys would be telling me to get rid of him."

15. There are so many strange things being reported about the Browns and said by the coach himself ... it's hard to follow it all. I wonder what general manager John Dorsey really thinks of all this.

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