This felt like the Browns’ chance.
They led the underachieving Jets by 13 at halftime, their quarterback was in a groove and the home fans were feeling raucous because Cleveland’s baseball team entered Sunday with a chance to clinch the World Series.
Instead, it became just another step toward a potential 0-16 season. The Browns coughed up 24 unanswered points in the second half, en route to a 31-28 loss that dropped them to 0-8 on the season.
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Even before kickoff this set up the most favorable matchup left for Cleveland. The Jets knocked off Baltimore last week to move to 2-5, but they still were a team riddled with question marks, including at the QB position. Their secondary had been a bugaboo all season, too, which is why it wasn’t all that surprising to see Josh McCown return from injury to throw for 228 yards in the first half.
It wasn’t to be. After completing just three passes in the first half, Ryan Fitzpatrick shredded the Browns after the break. His 24-yard TD pass to Quincy Enunwa swung the momentum in the third quarter, and the Browns never got it back.
And now, it’s no longer a matter of when Cleveland will get its first win of the season but if indeed that moment will come. A brief look at what’s ahead.
Week 9 vs. Dallas: The Browns can’t stop the run—they gave up another 171 yards Sunday, after entering the week with the league’s 31st-ranked ground defense—so it’s hard to imagine them slowing down Ezekiel Elliott. The only potential hopes for Cleveland here are that a) the Cowboys fall victim to a trap game after their Week 8 showdown with Philadelphia, or b) Tony Romo reenters the lineup and is rusty as all get-out. Don’t count on either. Odds of victory: 2%
Week 10 at Baltimore: This is arguably the best shot Cleveland has left. Back in Week 2, with McCown at the helm, the Browns lost to the Ravens by five and had a game-winning touchdown shot intercepted in the end zone. Baltimore was 2-0 after that one, on its way to a 3-0 start, but has dropped four straight since. It also will be coming off a Week 9 showdown with Pittsburgh, which figures to be physical, as always. Thursday nighters can be unpredictable. Odds of victory: 30%
Week 11 vs. Pittsburgh: As the Dolphins proved again earlier the season, the Steelers can be caught napping from time to time. Granted, Miami’s a much better team than Cleveland. Still, considering Ben Roethlisberger should be back in the Pittsburgh lineup by now, the Browns’ only hope might be to catch the Steelers with their minds on a Thanksgiving trip to Indianapolis four days later. Odds of victory: 5%
Week 12 vs. New York Giants: If you don’t buy Cleveland’s chance of winning in Baltimore (on a short week), perhaps this is one to circle. The Giants do have a pass defense that’s ranked in the bottom half of the league, after all. They also have a potent passing game of their own, which will take aim at the Browns’ porous secondary. Odds of victory: 25%
Week 13 bye: Might be the best week all season. Odds of defeat: 0%
Week 14 vs. Cincinnati: The X-factor here may be whether or not the Bengals are playing for anything other than pride by this point. Despite a tie on Sunday, they’re still in the playoff hunt at 3-4-1. Will that still be the case by Week 14? Cincinnati rushed for 271 yards in an earlier 31-17 win over the Browns. Odds of victory: 30%
Week 15 at Buffalo: In general, teams don’t really want to take December trips into Buffalo anyway. The weather won’t shock Cleveland like it might other, warmer-weather clubs but there’s still the whole matter of dealing with Tyrod Taylor & Co. Buffalo currently sits at 4-4, so it has plans to challenge for a postseason spot. Odds of victory: 10%
Week 16 vs. San Diego: If we know anything about Philip Rivers and the Chargers at this point, it’s that they will keep battling as long as there is time on the clock. Their recent, short hot streak has positioned them amid the AFC middle-of-the-pack jumble, too, right with the Cincinnatis and Buffalos. Might the Ohio winter weather help bring a Christmas Eve present to the Dawg Pound? Odds of victory: 25%
Week 17 at Pittsburgh: Will the Steelers have a playoff spot clinched before this game? The AFC North title? Home-field advantage? Up against Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell and a Steelers team with motivation, the Browns might not have a chance. Against Landry Jones and Pittsburgh’s second- and third-teamers ... Odds of victory: Between 1 and 40%, depending on the Steelers’ lineup.