It’s only one game, but …
… Sunday’s encounter with the Miami Dolphins is the regular-season opener.
… it is at home.
… it is the tone-setter for the rest of the year.
… it is the game the Browns have lost in each of the last eight seasons and 13 times in 14 season-openers since their return to Cleveland.
… it precedes the daunting challenge of back-to-back games at Baltimore and Minnesota.
… it is the first meaningful opportunity to reinforce the notion that, under new ownership and management, things really have changed for the better.
Yes, that’s a heck of a lot weight to place on a single game. No, it doesn’t seem fair to the coaches or the players, many of whom have no part in the franchise’s dreary history of season-opening games or multiple years of losing records.
For that matter, it isn’t all that fair to team owner Jimmy Haslam or chief executive officer Joe Banner, the leaders of what is being sold, and largely bought, as the new-and-improved Browns.
But it is the reality of the situation, and everyone connected with the organization recognizes as much. D’Qwell Jackson, who has been a linebacker for the Browns since 2006 and is as familiar with the incredible passion of their fans and their desperation for success as anyone, acknowledged to reporters Monday how vital it is to win on Sunday.
Win, and the Browns truly do start putting the “right” in all of that “we’re-headed-in-the-right-direction” talk we’ve been hearing for months.
Lose, and the door gets swung wide open for unpleasant questions.
It’s that simple, although it shouldn’t be.
Despite the frustration from all of those previous season-openers, winning this one won’t necessarily erase the past just as losing it won’t necessarily mean we’re in for the same-old, same-old.
Coach Rob Chudzinski, his staff, and his players can’t allow themselves to get caught up in the ramifications from Sunday’s outcome because of those 15 other dates on the schedule. Recognizing its importance is one thing. Giving it make-or-break treatment is a huge mistake in a league where so much can change from one minute, let alone one game, to the next.
They’re wise to leave the over-reaction and over-analysis to everyone else.
In other words, they’re the ones who can say, “It’s only one game.” And the rest of us can feel free to add the “… but …”