It was fortunate for the Cleveland Browns that they were able to block a late field goal against the Chargers in Week 16, securing a late lead that led to their first victory of the season in the wake of 14 consecutive losses, because the Pittsburgh Steelers, in spite of the fact that they rested five starters and several other players dealing with injuries, provided no respite in a game that meant nothing to their playoff future.
The Steelers had plenty of opportunities to let an indifferent performance see the game slip away, but that was not the case, whether that was a touchdown-saving tackle following an interception that should have been a pick-six, forcing a fumble inside the five-yard line on what should have been a game-winning drive, or converting on fourth down in overtime on the edge of field goal range when the Browns had already scored.
Because of the fight that the Steelers provided, the Browns were left with just that one win, and the 1-15 end-year record—and the first-overall draft pick. It sent their owners to writing, with Jimmy Haslam and his wife penning a letter in which they apologized for their team’s performance over the course of the season—or more specifically, the results.
“With the close of the 2016 season, we wanted to thank you again for all of your support and apologize for such a disappointing year”, the letter began. “We fully recognize how tough this season has been for you, and we want to let you know it has been equally hard for us”.
“You certainly deserve better than a 1-15 team. We are sorry that our results have not been better”. Can you imagine Art Rooney II having to write a letter like this? It might be worth the reminder that the Steelers haven’t even had a losing record since 2003.
While the main purpose of the letter seemed to be an openness about the difficulty of the season for both the team and the fans, it also served the secondary purpose of reinforcing the organization’s commitment—at least for another season, anyway—in the brain trust that they put together last year to oversee the Browns’ latest rebuilding process, which appears to be one that they finally believe in.
“We continue to feel very good about the leaders we have in place—Coach Hue Jackson, Sashi Brown, and Paul DePodesta—and how they have approached their individual roles, while working extremely well together, all with the sole interest of creating a consistent winning football team for you, the fans”.
To their credit, the Browns did finish the season on a reasonably high note, all things considered. They won their penultimate game, and were highly competitive against the alpha dog of their division in the finale. That is at least something to build on heading into an offseason that will probably be filled with tons of new draft picks and free agent signings. Whether it features a new starting quarterback remains to be seen.