Cleveland Browns cheering against the Indianapolis Colts on October 11th
Photo: Jeffrey Brown / Icon Sportswire / imago images / Icon SMI
Are the 2020 Cleveland Browns serious?
This question is preoccupying Browns fans, NFL analysts and commentators ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers duel (7 p.m. Sunday).
Too often one had conjured up a rebirth of one of the traditional teams of the NFL only to be taught otherwise.
Most recently, there was a real hype in the summer of 2019 after star receiver Odell "OBJ" Beckham Jr. had been directed to Ohio, where the young hopeful quarterback Baker Mayfield, receiver colleague Jarvis Landry and running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt seemed to form an all-star ensemble.
But as is well known, the enthusiasm was short-lived: Mayfield and OBJ could not find a connection, Landry also seemed increasingly frustrated and defensive end Myles Garrett freaked out in the prestige duel with the Pittsburgh Steelers, beat the opposing quarterback Mason Rudolph with his helmet - and he was banned for the rest of the season.
The Browns ended the season with six wins and ten losses and fired head coach Freddie Kitchens, who was ridiculed for his poor game management.
Stefanski manages the turnaround
With Kevin Stefanski, who was previously offense coordinator at the Minnestoa Vikings, it now seems that the right head coach has been found.
Not only offense line coach Bill Callahan, who in turn trains one of the best lines in the league, is full of praise for the 38-year-old: "I've never met someone so young who knew exactly what he wanted - and also nor what has to be done by each individual. He came here and put a finished plan on the table. "
And in contrast to last season, the players apparently follow the authority of their new coach.
And that, although he had to start his new job in the middle of the corona crisis.
Instead of personal meetings, Stefanski switched to Zoom meetings with his players, which he says was not a problem for top stars either: "I don't find it difficult to find access to OBJ. On the contrary: He can be reached and approached at any time . He is absolutely focused on his job, "says Stefanski.
And he pays back the trust: OBJ has scored three touchdowns in five games, four in the entire last season.
Last week Stefanski proved in the win against the best defense in the league from Indianapolis that he can coach and win games against big opponents.
Despite a drop in performance in the second half, in which Mayfield seemed to fall back into old times with only two successful passes and two interceptions, it was enough to win a narrow victory in the end - also because they scored more than 30 points for the fourth time in a row.
Tradition doesn't win titles
The last time Cleveland started the season with four wins and one loss was in 1994 - Head Coach was then a blank slate named Bill Belichick, now the most successful Head Coach in NFL history.
Current quarterback Mayfield wasn't even born at the time.
The Browns have only made the play-offs once since 1999 - and even that was 18 years ago.
In 2002 Cleveland lost in the first wild card round in 2002 in a memorable game 33:36 against arch rivals from Pittsburgh.
They are now competing there to finally prove to the league that the Browns are again an opponent to beat on the way to the title.
The rivalry with the Steelers is the oldest in the NFL with 136 games against each other.
The series was dominated by the Browns until the early 2000s, but since then the Steelers have taken on the role of favorites and are now clearly in the lead with 74 wins, 59 defeats and one draw.
Opponent of hatred from Pittsburgh
Before the Super Bowl era, the Browns won four NFL championships (1950, 1954-55, 1964) and celebrated four more titles at the All-America Football Conference (1946-49) - before the leagues merged to form the NFL.
Since 1964, however, one never reached a final again.
The Browns, along with the Jaguars, Lions and Texans, are one of only four teams that have never played in the Super Bowl.
The decline of the Browns not only hurts the fans in sporting terms, but for many is symbolically in line with the economic decline of an entire region.
Northeastern Ohio was characterized by steel and heavy industry until it fell into crisis in the early 1970s and the "steel belt" around the great lakes of the USA became the "rust belt".
Triumphing at the hated Steelers on Heinz Field would be like a small resurrection for the troubled soul of many Browns fans - on the way to the play-offs and the Super Bowl.
Icon: The mirror