Three games do not make a season, but in 2000, Browns fans were giddy about the team's quick start.
The second-year club, coming off a 2-14 season, the worst in franchise history, vaulted to a 2-1 record.
After getting ground down 27-7 by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the opener, the Browns won back-to-back games against their two most bitter rivals, AFC Central foes Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. They clubbed the host Bengals 24-7, getting -- by far -- their most lopsided win of the expansion era to that point, and then returned home to turn back the Steelers 23-20. It was their second consecutive win over Pittsburgh dating back to 1999.
The Browns blew out to a 14-0 lead and then, after falling behind, scored the game's last six points to win. Tim Couch passed for a career-high 310 yards and two touchdowns.
So all was right in Browns Town as the team prepared for a game at Oakland.
The Browns got off to a great start, scoring a TD on the first possession of the game, but it was all Raiders from there as they coasted to a 36-10 victory.
Still, at 2-2, the Browns appeared to be in good shape.
But the offense's struggles in that game foreshadowed a major problem: As was the case in 1999, the Browns couldn't score enough points to be competitive on a consistent basis. That was a real disappointment to head coach Chris Palmer, who had ascended to the job for his skill in coaching offense.
In 10 of their final 12 games, the Browns would get no more than 19 points and would score in single digits seven times, including three shutouts. And in the two contests where they exceeded 19 points, they did so only barely, getting 21 and 24 points.
The defense was improved, but no defense was good enough to carry a club that had offensive problems of that magnitude.
It started with a 12-0 loss at home at Baltimore, giving the Ravens -- the transplanted Browns -- their third straight win over Palmer's team. To make matters worse, Baltimore got all of its points on four field goals from former Brown Matt Stover.
The defeat was costly, as Errict Rhett, signed in free agency in the offseason from the Ravens to be the Browns' featured running back, suffered a career-ending ruptured Achilles tendon injury in the first half.
Two more losses followed, both on the road, 29-21 to the Arizona Cardinals and 44-10 to that old nemesis, the Denver Broncos.
Now at 2-5 and in the midst of a four-game losing streak, things were beginning to unravel for the Browns.
But as it turned out, that was only the tip of the iceberg -- a pre-cursor to the devastating events that would follow and change the course of the franchise.
On the final play of practice on Thursday, the last major day of work as the Browns prepared for the return match with the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium, Couch broke the thumb on his throwing (right) hand when the hand hit that of a defensive teammate who had come way too close on his pass rush.
An hour later, Palmer, with an ashen look on his face, came into the media room to deliver the sobering news: Couch would miss the rest of the season.
Veteran Ty Detmer would have normally taken over at this point, just as he did successfully late in the 1999 season when Couch got hurt, but he was out for the season himself after having torn his Achilles tendon at Chicago in the second preseason game.
So Doug Pederson stepped in at quarterback and, with virtually no time for him to get ready for the game, or for him and the rest of his offensive teammates to get acclimated to one another, the Browns attack really struggled in a 22-0 loss to the Steelers.
That would continue for the rest of the year, as the team scored just 66 points in their final eight games.
Particularly hard to swallow were road losses at Baltimore (44-7) and to the Jacksonville Jaguars (48-0), two of the most lopsided defeats in Browns history.
Getting blanked in two of their last three games, the Browns' once-promising season ended with a 3-13 record. They had won one more game than they did in 1999, but the same hopefulness and optimism the club carried into that offseason was non-existent this time because of all of the injuries and the way the season ended.
In a lot of respects, the Browns were back to square one, like they were at the start of the 1999 expansion season. Something of real magnitude needed to happen to get them jump-started.
|9/10||W24-7||at Cincinnati Bengals||64,006|
|9/24||L10-36||at Oakland Raiders||45,702|
|10/8||L21-29||at Arizona Cardinals||39,148|
|10/15||L10-44||at Denver Broncos||75,811|
|10/22||L0-22||at Pittsburgh Steelers||57,659|
|11/5||L3-24||New York Giants||72,718|
|11/12||W19-11||New England Patriots||72,618|
|11/19||L10-24||at Tennessee Titans||68,498|
|11/26||L7-44||at Baltimore Ravens||68,361|
|12/3||L0-48||at Jacksonville Jaguars||51,262|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||176||343|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||58/210||98/227|
|3rd Down Pct.||27.6||43.2|
|4th Down: Made/Att||6/19||11/17|
|4th Down Pct.||31.6||64.7|
|Total Net Yards||3530||5643|
|Avg. Per Game||220.6||352.7|
|Avg. Per Play||4.1||5.0|
|Net Yards Rushing||1085||2505|
|Avg. Per Game||67.8||156.6|
|Net Yards Passing||2445||3138|
|Avg. Per Game||152.8||196.1|
|Net Punting Avg.||108/37.3||68/35.8|
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