At least the orchestra is elite

Drew Carey has given up on the Cleveland Browns. This was the fact that kept echoing in my head as I watched every minute of the Browns’ humiliating and brain-dead 37-3 loss to the Bengals on Sunday. Drew Carey — Mr. Cleveland, the city’s native son, a guy who has had his own Cleveland Indians bobblehead day, a man who (like me) cried after Brian Sipe threw the Red Right 88 interception against Oakland in 1981 — has given up on the Browns.

“You don’t have to support them just because they’re in Cleveland,” he told me two days before the game. We were in Las Vegas, him to host the NASCAR Awards show, and me to ride in a race car and spin donuts with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“You don’t have to support them,” Carey said. “You don’t have to do it. … If somebody owned a sandwich shop in Cleveland, and they were selling (bleepy) sandwiches, you don’t have to buy the (bleepy) sandwiches just because they’re from Cleveland. You could buy sandwiches from anywhere. You could buy them from a chain.

“It’s stupid. You’re doing the same thing with the Browns.That’s a business, and they’re there to take your money and make a profit. … Quit buying it. I’ll buy the Browns when they’re worth buying it. That’s all there is to it. I’m sorry about it. I hope I’m not hurting anybody’s feelings. But I’m not a masochist. I’m not buying a bad product just because it’s from Cleveland.”

Well, yeah, Drew Carey has a point, one that made more and more sense as the Sunday game progressed. I began this whole thing — this return to Cleveland fanhood — as an adventure to rediscover that feeling of being a diehard fan. There have been fun moments, even in the midst of Cleveland’s terrible season. But there was nothing at all fun about Sunday. There was just this terrible sense that the Browns have stopped trying from the top down and that, like Drew Carey says, they’re just cashing in on us suckers who are blinded by hometown love and childhood gullibilility.

Here was the first hint that the Browns were not going to even try on Sunday. They started Austin Davis at quarterback. Now … why would they do that? Nobody on earth other than, perhaps, the immediate Davis family believes that there is any future with Austin Davis at quarterback. He is a one-time college walk-on, an undrafted, 26-year-old journeyman already released by St. Louis (twice) and Miami. It’s an inspiring tale that he has continued to find professional work as a quarterback, but the Browns KNOW he’s not their future. Still they started him Sunday anyway because their lame-duck coach Mike Pettine refuses to play the Heisman Trophy winner the Browns drafted in the first round last year.

I don’t want to go back into the Johnny Manziel nee Football saga because it’s so depressing, but let’s just say this: I get why Pettine benched Manziel last week. I really do. He had named Manziel the starter going into Cleveland’s bye week. He undoubtedly PLEADED with Manziel to put aside his knucklehead ways for just one week. And Manziel showed up on video drunk and stupid anyway. Then Manziel reportedly lied about the video in a pathetic effort to get out of trouble.

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So I get benching Manziel last week to send a message to him and the other players — no one is bigger than this team. And if starter Josh McCown, who has played quite well this year, had stayed healthy, I could see continuing to keep Manziel on the bench because McCown has proven to be a better player anyway.

But McCown got hurt, and the math changed. Now Pettine had two choices:

1. Start Johnny Manziel, who, after all, was a first-round pick last year, did win the Heisman Trophy and is the only remotely intriguing story left on this horror-show of a team. The Browns have yet to find out if Manziel can play professional football, which is pretty inexcusable almost two years after he was drafted. Also, we can point out, the Browns were playing Cincinnati at home, a rivalry game, an emotional game, and their only chance of even making it interesting was to let Manziel run around, Texas A&M style, and maybe make a few plays downfield like he did last time against the Bengals.

2. Start Austin Davis and lose 37-3.

Of course, Pettine chose Option 2 because — I can only assume — it’s personal between him and Manziel. Pettine knows he only has four more games left as an NFL coach (assuming he doesn’t get fired before the end of the season) and at this point, I think he’d rather prove his point to Manziel than anything else. If last week’s decision was to let everyone to know that no player is bigger than the team, this week’s decision was to let everyone know that no team is bigger than the coach.

So, yes, it was depressing from the start of Sunday’s game. But Drew Carey beat me to the punch. He’s long moved past depression. He’s moved past shock and anger and even acceptance. His feelings about the Browns now: “Apathy.”

“Listen, you don’t want those Browns to be part of your mental state,” Carey says. “You know, the whole ‘Cleveland is bad, the Browns are bad, Cleveland bad, I’m bad because I’m from Cleveland,’ dance. You don’t want that thing to be part of your brain. There are so many good things in Cleveland. Concentrate on the Museum (of Art) — it’s one of the best in the world. Concentrate on the Cleveland Clinic and all the great things they’re doing.

“Go to the orchestra. It’s the best orchestra in the whole wide world, arguably, and it’s right in our city. Take the money you were going to spend on the Browns, take your kids, and go to the (bleeping) orchestra. Then you can have pride in your city. That’s the thing to be proud of. Don’t wear your (bleeping) Browns shirt like an idiot.”

Carey, in addition to hosting “The Price is Right” and doing stand-up comedy and work on the side as a photographer, is part-owner of the Seattle Sounders FC of Major League Soccer. He brings this up to make a point: With the Sounders, he and the other owners want to make sure the fans have a powerful say. Every four years, the season-ticket holders have the right to vote out the general manager if they don’t approve of the job he’s doing. The team meets with fans’ representatives four times a year to talk about any issues they might have, on the field and off. There’s constant accountability, and he says the fans feel like part of the team and fully understand how hard everyone is trying to win.

He doesn’t see any of that with the Browns.

“Now I’m part of a professional sports organization, I see what’s going on,” he says. “I see that some people are in it for the money. They really don’t care. In the NFL, it’s a license for printing money. It’s like owning a money machine. You don’t really have to try. You can claim you’re trying, but the proof is what’s happening on the field. Look at this team. Just look at them. I can PROMISE you, we wouldn’t stand for this in Seattle, no way.”

It’s hard to argue. On the Bengals’ first touchdown — an embarrassingly easy three-yard quarterback sneak by Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton — the Browns’ defense was so confused that Browns safety Tashaun Gipson was literally looking the other way from the ball. On the Bengals’ second touchdown, the Browns either forgot to cover Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green or just decided he wasn’t much of a threat. Confusion has been a defensive theme for the Browns all year long* and after watching them play for 12 games I can tell you: I don’t know what they’re doing either.

* Fun fact: The Browns’ defense has now given up 24 or more points in 10 straight games, one away from the NFL record. 

On offense, if anything, it was worse. There’s no point in evaluating Austin Davis because he’s simply a placeholder until Mike Pettine finds it in his heart to forgive Johnny Manziel — though the Fox announcers, including Matt Millen (more on him in a minute), heaped praise on Davis like he was Tom Brady in orange — but it is worth continuing the deepening saga of offensive lineman Cameron Erving.

You might recall that last week, Erving — the 19th overall pick in the 2015 draft — made what some have called the worst attempt at a block in NFL history. That happened when Cameron Heyward ran over him on his way to destroying Browns running back Isaiah Crowell. Erving also had a critical hold on a would-be touchdown and numerous other blunders. It was about as bad as an offensive lineman could be.

Erving did not start Sunday but, unfortunately, was pressed into action when Cleveland’s starting guard, Joel Bitonio, went down with injury. Erving was so impossibly terrible — getting run over and faked out on a play-by-play basis — that he got benched in the middle of the game so that Austin Pasztor, an undrafted guard released just this year by the Jacksonville Jaguars could play.

So, let’s see if we got this right.

— The Browns benched this year’s first-round pick Cam Erving so that undrafted and twice-released Austin Pasztor could play at guard.

— The Browns benched one of their two first-round picks from last year, Johnny Manziel nee Football, so that undrafted and thrice-released Austin Davis could start at quarterback.

— The Browns’ 2013 first-round pick, Barkevious Mingo, doesn’t start, of course, though, as of so far, they have not found an undrafted guy on the waiver wire named Austin to replace him.

— The Browns’ 2012 first round picks, Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, are long gone and not starting for other teams now.

— The Browns’ released 2011 first round pick Phil Taylor because, get this, the Browns were worried that they had TOO MUCH DEPTH on the defensive line. This Browns are second-worst in the NFL against the run, but to be fair they were dead last against the run last year, so you can see the improvement.

You could argue, I suppose, that the Browns are really, really stinky at this whole “drafting” concept. Browns GM Ray Famer, who I can only assume will be fired the same day as Pettine, was also suspended by the NFL for texting Browns coaches during games. If you made this stuff up, nobody would believe you.

Perhaps it’s best to just rely on the words of announcer Matt Millen, who you might remember was the primary architect of the 2000s Detroit Lions that went 31-81 on his watch and then became the NFL’s first and only 0-16 team the year after he was canned.

“There’s some pride going on down there,” he said when the Browns limited the Bengals to the final field goal that made the score 37-3.

Pride. Sure. Yes, maybe Drew Carey is right. This is what he left me with a couple of days before Sunday’s game:

“If I had a bad season on ‘The Price is Right,’ they’re not going to keep me around because they like me,” he said. “If the ratings go south, that’s it, I’m gone. It doesn’t mean they don’t like me or they have something against me. The TV business is brutal. Same thing with the stand-up comedy business. Everyting I’ve been doing professionally since I’ve been an adult, ever since I’ve been a bus boy, is about results. You get results or you get fired, and you’re not asked back. That’s how it should be.

“But they can get away with this (bleep) in Cleveland. It’s like that guy, what’s the guy’s name, the one that never won in Detroit?”

“Matt Millen?” I asked.

“Yeah. Millen. You had to wonder, ‘Why arent’ they firing this guy?’ I’m not trying to trash him, I’m sure he’s a fine guy. I’m sure the guys in the Browns front office are fine guys. But the job is to do everything you can to win. And if you can’t win, get out. I don’t have time for losers. I don’t think anyone should have time for losers. Go see the orchestra.”

Late breaking news: It appears that Pettine has decided that Manziel will start the Browns’ next game against San Francisco.

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