The Cleveland Browns could be 5-0.
No deep breath is required when making that statement, no qualifier needed. The Browns literally had real chances to win every game they've played.
Even coach Hue Jackson admitted he has thought about that reality, saying “we could be” before quickly adding “but we’re not.”
No, the Browns are 2-2-1.
But it’s not hard to see how close they are to being undefeated.
There were two ways to beat Pittsburgh, which ended in a 21-21 tie. In both cases, the Browns did themselves in.
Block for a field goal. The Browns forced six turnovers and had a plus-five turnover margin. They got lucky when Chris Boswell missed a game-winner in overtime, but they did not get a first down in overtime. Good teams make their luck, though, and on the second-to-last play of overtime Zane Gonzalez lined up for a 43-yard kick to win the game. But the left side of the Browns' line got blown up by an aggressive Steelers rush, and Gonzalez’s game winner was blocked. It looked like Joel Bitonio was pushed back, which allowed T.J. Watt to get through to make the block. It hurt, but that play wouldn’t have been needed had the Browns done one other thing three plays prior ...
Block on a fumble return: With 48 seconds left, Genard Avery made the play that should have won the game. He forced Ben Roethlisberger to fumble, and Joe Schobert recovered. Schobert had an open path to the end zone down the right sideline with blockers around him. But instead of turning and looking to the side, the blockers ran into the end zone. That allowed Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey to slide in and knock Schobert out of bounds at the 14. Avery probably cringed when he saw the film. Instead of blocking, he was celebrating as he ran to the end zone. One of the blockers merely had to get in Pouncey’s way, and Schobert scores. To compound it, Myles Garrett's block in the back on Pouncey made the kick 10 yards longer. Had the defense simply blocked, the Browns win 27-21.
The game in New Orleans, a 21-18 loss, was more fundamental in its errors.
Make a kick. New Orleans has scored 40, 43, 33 and 43 points in its other games this season. The Browns held them to 21. But they lost because Gonzalez missed two field goals and two extra points. Gonzalez started his day by making field goals of 39 and 38 yards, but after the Browns' first touchdown, he missed the extra point that would have made the score 13-3. No matter, the defense forced a punt and set Gonzalez up for a 44-yard kick, which indoors is more than makeable. He missed. Which was deflating -- the Saints drove for a touchdown to make the score 12-10. A turnover, another Saints touchdown and a two-point conversion made it 18-12. But the Browns scored the tying touchdown on a fourth-down throw with 1:24 left. An energized team couldn’t believe it when Gonzalez missed the extra point. After a Saints field goal, the Browns gave Gonzalez a chance to tie with a 52-yard kick with eight seconds left. He missed. It was tough to watch, but any of the missed kicks changes the result. Yes, the game cost Gonzalez his job.
The 45-42 loss in Oakland had a lot of back and forth, but there were so many ways to win.
Don’t fumble up 14 inside your 20. The Browns had control up 28-14 late in the third quarter and had the ball at their 11. Todd Haley called a pass, Baker Mayfield didn’t get rid of it and fumbled, and the momentum of the game changed. It’s easy to second-guess, but that fumble was a huge game-changer. The only thing that could have gotten the Raiders back in the game was a turnover, and they got one.
Snap the ball properly. Another fumble led to a Raiders touchdown. This one happened because Mayfield and center JC Tretter were mixed up on a silent snap. This was a failure at getting the most basic part of football right.
Get a call. Even with those plays, it appeared the Browns, up 35-34, had a momentum-changing play of their own when Garrett forced Derek Carr to fumble. Larry Ogunjobi scooped up the ball and was heading for a touchdown when officials ruled the whistle had blown. The NFL later admitted the refs blew this call, which didn’t help soothe any feelings. Later, the Browns led 42-34 and appeared to get a first down that would seal the win. But the officials ruled Carlos Hyde was down a half-yard short, a call the Browns still dispute bitterly. Even with that, they’d have won if they ...
Cover a punt, stop a drive, and stop a two-point conversion. A good return gave the Raiders the ball at the 47. Still, Carr had 53 yards to go with no timeouts down eight. He threw six passes. The Browns could have stopped any of the six. Even when Oakland scored with 34 seconds left, they could have stopped the two-point conversion. They didn’t.
Play the final minute smarter. Mayfield had the Browns at the Raiders' 49 with 14 seconds left. Ten or 15 yards means a field goal try. But Haley added a deep move on a play, and Mayfield threw an interception. Mayfield lamented not taking the checkdown; Haley lamented adding the double move with a young quarterback. Even with that, the Browns still could have won in overtime if they ...
Do something with great field position. The Browns took over at their 40, field position most teams relish. They went three-and-out, and Oakland drove for the game-winning kick. Do anything at all in overtime, and the loss is a win. This and all the other factors in the game show that the Browns did themselves in even with bad calls from the officials.
These plays are not complex. Field goal protection. A center snap. A turnover. A field goal. Teams regularly make these plays successfully.
This Browns team, winless a year ago, could be without a loss right now.