Although that all too familiar and sinister feeling of dread returned to Browns Nation after last weekend’s dismal loss to the Bills, even the most pessimistic of fans have to admit that things could be far worse.
While the Browns’ offense returned to its prehistoric 2009 levels of production last Sunday and the cavernous lack of playmakers on the roster was again revealed, hope still abounds for this franchise.
The same can’t be said for Sunday’s opponent.
After all, NFL nation building is all about perspective.
In this case, the Browns are virtually light years ahead of the Bengals in terms of development. Despite the fact that the Bengals are not even a full calendar year removed from a division title, it’s obvious by listening to each respective team’s coach just whose empire is rising and falling.
Earlier in the week, Browns’ coach Eric Mangini again reinforced his mantra of gradual improvement – despite the overwhelming regression that was displayed last Sunday.
“I believe that we’re in that phase of trying to win consistently and that’s partly of growth, and it is a part of growth of any team, any organization. It’s the game day component of it and it’s the day in and day out component of it and we all need to do that better in this phase.”
If there is one thing to be said about Mangini – and obviously there are many to choose from – it is that he is nothing if not consistent. Despite last Sunday’s performance – and based on his nearly two years in Cleveland – Mangini has proven to not be a reactionary, knee-jerk type of leader. Although many of Mangini’s actions have been gently characterized as stubborn, it’s obvious that he is still committed to following his long-term vision for the team.
Or for another perspective, here’s Cincinnati’s coach Marvin Lewis after his team dropped its tenth game in a row.
“No one really cares (about our problems). When you lose, you lose. We have to look forward and move forward. We’ve got to find a way to coach our guys to be better in their roles and responsibilities. We’ve got some new people doing it, we realize that, and we have to just find a way that they can handle their slice of pie.”
Not exactly a steadfast vision of leadership on display here. If Lewis’ comments can be described as anything, they are comparable to a cat chasing its own tail. In so many respects, the Bengals have had to play catch-up all season, which has completely derailed the team’s momentum.
Of course, the Bengals’ 2010 downfall was predicated on some inflated expectations. Similar to how the 2008 version of the Browns were quickly exposed as a team of faulty individual parts, the Bengals this year have again showed a complete lack of leadership, vision and overall substance.
One comment from Terrell Owens – who is having an ultra-productive season by most accounts – says it all.
"I can't throw the ball to myself. I can't do anything else. All I can do is go with the plays that are called and just hope I get some opportunities."
Compare this to what the Browns’ lone offensive weapon recently said regarding his individual achievements.
“It’s not about getting 1,000 yards, it’s about winning ballgames. When you lose ballgames, none of that stuff matters.”
Naturally, NFL players live in a media world where words have to be carefully coded. To this point, it’s obvious that Owens has already begun his offseason free agency publicity tour, while Hillis is still grateful for an starting opportunity in the league.
However, if we fit both players’ comments within the context of their specific teams, it becomes clear that these two franchises are on wildly divergent paths.
While the Bengals are approaching an offseason where blowing up the entire roster is a possibility, the Browns will be seeking to add to their young core of talent.
Regardless of this Sunday’s outcome, the Browns will find themselves on better footing during the offseason – simply because a stable group of leaders have finally been placed. Having an effective team president, general manager and scouting department can do wonders for a team.
And regardless of any coaching hot seat speculation, these Browns could be 4-5 players away from truly realizing Mangini’s ultimate vision.
Meanwhile in Cincinnati, the Bengals will enter the offseason with major question marks across their star-laden roster. However more significantly, the franchise will continue to be led by a spendthrift owner who has continually proven to be overmatched by the rest of the league.
Which only proves that there something to be said for having a plan.