Their last playoff appearance came in 2002. Their last winning campaign was in ’07. There have now been 12 different head coaches and 30 different starting quarterbacks. There have been 16 seasons with 10 or more losses. There was a 0-16 showing in 2017 and now a combined 101-235-1 regular-season record since 1999.
These are the modern-day Cleveland Browns, born out of expansion in ’99 after the city lost the franchise to Baltimore in 1996. There was no football in Cleveland for three years and this is an organization that has suffered from a lack of continuity for more than two decades.
Last Sunday at Baltimore, Kevin Stefanski made his debut as the Browns’ newest sideline leader and the results were far different than a year ago, when Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, and Cleveland came away with an impressive 40-25 victory over the eventual AFC North champions as well as the team with the best record in the NFL in 2019.
This time around, the Browns were no match for John Harbaugh’s club and were humbled by a 38-6 count. It marked the 16th consecutive year that the team failed to win its first game of the season (0-15-1). The last time the franchise prevailed in an opener was 2004 under head coach Butch Davis – who would be fired before season’s end.
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This offseason was very quiet when it came to the organization in terms of talk. Sure, the team added some talent in free agency in tight end Austin Hooper (Falcons), tackle Jack Conklin (Titans) and safety Karl Joseph (Raiders). But there was seemingly less chatter than in ’19, when the team, in general, seemed to be feeling good about itself after a 7-8-1 finish. But Freddie Kitchens was apparently not the answer at head coach and he was one-and-done after a 6-10 showing.
Because these Browns inherited the franchise’s original history, it means the team hasn’t won a division title since capturing the AFC Central back in 1989 and hasn’t come up with a playoff win since 1994, when Bill Belichick was the head coach. That failure to reach the playoffs 18 consecutive years is the longest current drought in the league. It will be a bit easier for a team to get to the postseason this year with seven teams in each conference making the tournament. But Stefanski’s club certainly can’t afford to get off to a 0-2 start, with both losses in the division.
That means a win at home on Thursday night against the Bengals, who have taken over the bottom spot in the AFC North the previous two seasons and are also coming off a loss last week. If the Browns are going to get things turned around, they need to start by holding serve at home against a longtime rival. Of course, since realignment in 2002, no franchise owns a worst record in the league or a worst record in divisional games (27-81-1) than the Browns.
Will the misery ever end?