CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns end their roller coaster of a season at the bottom of the AFC North with a 7-10 record and a lot more questions than answers for their future. While for some fans the offseason is a reprieve from the heartache the team has caused them over the years, this offseason poses to be a long one.
There was no hope for the Browns to make the playoffs entering the final game of the season against the Steelers, they had been eliminated two weeks prior. But there were still goals to play for—sweeping the Steelers for the first time since 1988, knocking them out of the playoffs with their own hands (Pittsburgh was eliminated anyway after the Dolphins won), and of course, seeing franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson continue to grow in the offense.
Instead, the Browns fell to the Steelers 28-14 and watched Watson fail to make a major leap before the season came to an end. In fact, Watson's performance may have rattled the confidence of many fans waiting to see him emerge as the $230 million elite quarterback the Browns pushed so hard for.
Watson had two very tough interceptions in the game, throwing 19/29 with two touchdowns. Those two touchdowns were not enough for the Browns to win, especially with two interceptions and the Steelers turning the turnovers into 10 points.
Costly penalties (the ones officials decided to call, that's an entirely different problem) killed numerous drives for the Browns and put an ugly spotlight on the Browns discipline on Sunday.
Defensively, the same issues that plagued the unit throughout the season flashed on the field in Pittsburgh. A blown coverage here, a missed tackle there. Like the season, the defense was a rollercoaster, between a forced fumble and recovery and some critical sacks and tackles for loss.
The inconsistency of the offense with Watson, with the defense on any given drive, and with the special teams unit which had an alright day on Sunday but has had its own fair share of issues this year—all factors to why this season will end the way it did.
Nothing the Browns have been able to put together this season has been consistent enough. There's nothing going into the offseason that is foolproof (aside from Nick Chubb's run game).
The struggles to get Watson integrated into this offensive system in his six games this season sets a stage for an uncertain 2023. The continued issues within the defense sets a stage for an uncertain 2023. Question marks in leadership and how the coaching staff may change sets a stage for an uncertain 2023.
Watson was able to show moments during his time on the field of progression and growth within the offense, as did the defense in regards to their coverages and takeaways. But the blunders that set them back Sunday represented more than just a few sloppy moments in a game—they represented the sloppy season the Browns have had as a whole.
A win in Pittsburgh wouldn't have solved all of the Browns issues, but if the team had put together a solid game, it may have eased some fans' nerves. Instead, the tough outing leaves room for fans to assume the worst and question everything.
Will they fire a coordinator? Who will they add on the defensive line? Can Watson return to his former self? How will they address injuries at linebacker? Can they add another deep threat wide receiver? Is the offensive line broken?
It will be a long offseason for the Browns, but they'll talk about all that on Monday during exit interviews and end-of-season press conferences.
Until then, try to breathe Browns fans. There's always next year, but you don't have to think about it now.
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