Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) is congratulated by Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after the game at M&T Bank Stadium.

© Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Browns complete bucket list in 2018, foundation laid for bright future

John Dorsey’s roster overhaul, Baker Mayfield transform franchise

December 30, 2018
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Daryl Ruiter-Baltimore, MD (92.3 The Fan) – In the bitter cold of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 364 days ago, DeShone Kizer’s pass slid through Corey Coleman’s hands and hit him in the facemask cementing infamous immortality for the Cleveland Browns: 0-16.

What a difference a year makes.

Kizer and Coleman are both long gone and so appears to be is the perpetual losing, roster mismanagement and general incompetence that has plagued the franchise for nearly 2 decades.

Despite Sunday’s 26-24 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Browns finished the year 7-8-1, their best finish in over a decade.

The bar was as low as it could get entering the 2018 season, which became about checking off the boxes one by one.

And the Browns did just that.

Win a game for the first time in 19 tries. Check.

Win back-to-back games. Check.

Win a game within the AFC North for the first time in 18 tries. Check, check, check.

Win a game on a Sunday for the first time in 37 tries. Check.

End the road losing streak that hit 25 games. Check.

Finish, gasp, above .500 for the first time ever within the North. Check.

Sweep a divisional opponent for the first time in over a decade. Check.

Don’t finish in last place in the division either. Check.

Finish the season with less than 10 losses. Check.

In addition to throwing up a big RIP on all the negative streaks, the Browns positioned themselves to be a legitimate contender in 2019 and beyond starting with the roster overhaul achieved in 1 offseason by general manager John Dorsey.

Dorsey should merit strong consideration for executive of the year having turned around the league’s worst run franchise in less than 12 months.

Dorsey flipped Kizer for safety Damarious Randall, who became a team leader and was an impact playmaker in the secondary, in March.

While Jarvis Landry didn’t hit his customary 100 reception total, he still led the team in catches as well as receiving yardage and helped lead a culture change within the locker room. He was another March trade coup.

Dorsey had the vision to believe Nick Chubb was ready for the full workload and he dealt Carlos Hyde in mid-October to clear the way. Chubb validated that decision by finishing just 4 yards shy of 1,000 yards this season despite not getting the full 16-game workload.

The Browns also, finally, have a franchise quarterback to build around, thanks to Dorsey.

For all the talk about his maturity or ability to lead or play in the NFL at a high level because of his 6-foot-1 frame, Baker Mayfield quieted the doubters this season. The No. 1 pick in the draft validated his selection by setting rookie franchise records for passing yardage and touchdown passes – in just 13 starts. He also set the NFL rookie record held by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson, who started the full complement of 16 games their first year in the league, by throwing 3 more touchdown passes in Baltimore giving him 27 on the season.

They also excised a major cancer from the organization by firing Hue Jackson as head coach on Oct. 29 along with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. It is not a coincidence that as soon as Jackson and Haley were gone the team took off and won 5 games under interim head coach Gregg Williams.

The bickering between Jackson and Haley prevented this team from seeing it’s full potential and without the disastrous decision by ownership to retain Jackson for a third year and ignore his propensity to blame everyone around him for his own failings to prop himself up prevented the Browns from winning the division or making the playoffs this year.

But what’s done is done. It’s in the past and there’s nothing anyone can do about it now.

What is important is that the Browns are no longer a regular punchline on late night comedy show monologues or the punching bag for the league.

Nothing is promised next year, and they won’t be able to sneak up on anyone in 2019, but the Browns are back and they announced emphatically to the rest of the NFL this year that the days of them being a bye week are over.

When the Browns take the field in 2019 there will be just 1 streak left to break: the playoff drought, which is the longest in the league and stands at 16 seasons and counting.

It’s expected that will end too.

The Browns have risen from the depths of football hell and the despair of not even being able to win a game to being expected to be a playoff team.

What a transformation.