The Browns went into the 2008 season with higher expectations. And well they should have.
After all, they were 10-6 in 2007, getting their most wins since 1994 and scoring the third-most points in franchise history, and barely missed qualifying for the playoffs. It signaled a remarkable turnaround from the 4-12 finish of 2006 and was the reason why the Browns were a pick not just to make the playoffs, but also to make a strong run at securing their first Super Bowl berth ever.
The Browns were so hot of an attraction, in fact, that they were awarded five prime-time TV appearances, the most in franchise history.
Unfortunately, at about the same time that Browns fans were chanting, "Super Bowl, Super Bowl, Super Bowl" during an early training camp practice, so did the injuries.
Just as camp was opening, it was announced that guard/tackle Ryan Tucker, the team's best offensive lineman overall since being signed in free agency in 2002, would undergo arthroscopic surgery and be out indefinitely. He returned for just one game before being shelved for good, this time for the remainder of the season.
That one game? The biggest highlight of the year, a resounding 35-14 Monday Night Football win over the defending the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. That tells you all you need to know about Tucker's worth.
Joe Jurevicius never set foot on the field - even in training camp - after having problems following knee surgery. The wide receiver from Mentor (Ohio) Lake Catholic High School caught 50 passes for three touchdowns in 2007.
Early in camp, wideout Braylon Edwards, who in 2007 had the best season ever for a Browns pass catcher by setting team records for receiving yards (1,289) and touchdown grabs (16), suffered a foot laceration that caused him to miss all of the preseason. He returned for the regular-season opener, but he was rusty and it took him about a month before he got his timing back.
Speaking of the opener, free-agent signee Donte Stallworth, who was supposed to fill Jurevicius' spot as the No. 2 receiver behind Edwards, suffered a quadriceps injury in the pre-game warmups and missed the first month. He sat out six contests overall.
Tight end Kellen Winslow, a 2007 Pro Bowler who was starting to draw comparisons to Browns Pro Football Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome, missed six games with several injuries.
Running back Jamal Lewis injured his hamstring halfway through the preseason and was bothered by it for the first part of the regular season. He was coming off a year in which he rushed for 1,304 yards, the seventh-most in franchise history and the most by anyone other than Hall of Famer Jim Brown.
Safety Sean Jones missed four games after having arthroscopic knee surgery.
Antwan Peek, who was supposed to help fellow outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley as a pass rusher off the edge, missed the entire season following knee surgery.
Defensive end Robaire Smith, a savvy veteran who was the leader of the line on and off the field, missed the last 14 games with an Achilles tendon injury.
Another 2007 Pro Bowler, wide receiver/returner Joshua Cribbs, was plagued for the first portion of the season with an ankle problem.
And going all the way back to the spring, Daven Holly, who was supposed to compete with young Brandon McDonald for a starting cornerback job opposite Eric Wright, suffered a knee injury and was lost for the year.
But as hurtful as all these injuries were, their impact pales in comparison to that of the issues the Browns had at quarterback. Going into the season feeling they were well-fortified at the position with two good players in 2007 Pro Bowler Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, the Browns lost both to injury, plus No. 3 quarterback Ken Dorsey.
That left Bruce Gradkowski and Richard Bartel, neither of whom was even close to being on the Browns' radar screen when the year began, as the starter and backup, respectively, for the season finale at Pittsburgh.
The constant state of flux of the depth chart, especially on offense, kept the Browns from ever getting into sync for any length of time. When it was all said and done, they had finished 4-12, not scoring an offensive TD in their final six games, all of which they lost.
All those close games they won in 2007, they lost in '08. The Browns fell once by three points and three times by four points.
The Browns did have some highlights, though, as free-agent nose tackle Shaun Rogers had an outstanding season and made the Pro Bowl, as did left tackle Joe Thomas, who also went in 2007 as a rookie.
*Phil Dawson set a franchise record for field goals in a season with 30 and crept closer to Hall of Famer Lou Groza and Don Cockroft on the club's career field goals and points lists
*Lewis used a 94-yard effort against the Steelers in the last game to finish with 1,002, becoming the first Brown to go over the 1,000-yard mark in consecutive seasons in 27 years (Mike Pruitt from 1979-81).
*Punter Dave Zastudil finished with a 45.47 average, the fifth-best in franchise history, and took over the career average lead from the great Horace Gillom by boosting his mark to 44.00.
|21-Sep||L, 10-28||at Baltimore||71,104|
|28-Sep||W, 20-12||at Cincinnati||65,541|
|13-Oct||W, 35-14||New York Giants||73,102|
|19-Oct||L, 11-14||at Washington||90,487|
|26-Oct||W, 23-17||at Jacksonville||64,775|
|17-Nov||W, 29-27||at Buffalo||71,645|
|7-Dec||L, 9-28||at Tennessee||69,143|
|15-Dec||L, 10-30||at Philadelphia||69,144|
|28-Dec||L, 0-31||at Pittsburgh||63,553|
|Score By Periods|
|Total First Downs||233||315|
|3rd Down: Made/Att||72/212||95/207|
|3rd Down Pct.||34||45.9|
|4th Down: Made/Att||6/14||11/17|
|4th Down Pct.||42.9||64.7|
|Total Net Yards||3,985||5,704|
|Avg. Per Game||249.1||356.5|
|Avg. Per Play||4.3||5.7|
|Net Yards Rushing||1,605||2,431|
|Avg. Per Game||100.3||151.9|
|Net Yards Passing||2,380||3,273|
|Avg. Per Game||148.8.9||204.6|
|Net Punting Avg.||76/39.3||59/34.1|
|Rucker, Martin||2||1||7||8.5||9 0|
|Anderson, Derek||283||142||1,615||50.2||5.71||9||3.2||8||2.8||70||14/ 87||66.5|
|Cribbs, Joshua||4||1||8||25||2||0||0||0||0||8||0/ 0||39.6|
In past 3 games, rookie DB has 6 PBUs and an INT
The unit is still a work in progress after an array of key injuries
Versatile Pro Bowler working on the inside and outside
The former All-American at Stanford is part of a defense coming into form