Last Sunday I left Cleveland Browns Stadium after an improbable comeback win by the Cleveland Browns over the Chicago Bears 20-17. The one thing I noticed was the look on the faces of the few Chicago Bears fans leaving the game. They had the look of anger and disappointment on their faces. The Bears fans felt the same pain that Browns fans have felt for a long time. But things have changed, and that change has been in the making for the last few years.
It took time and perseverance to change the culture in Cleveland. It was happening for a period of time going back at least six years. The national sports pundits were too busy bloviating and trying to make themselves look smarter than they were to pay attention to what was happening in Cleveland. And that was a good thing. Players like Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward and David Njoku were extended. Players that are less known as Nick Harris, Jordan Elliott, Sione Taki Taki and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah were developed into productive or pro-bowl-level players. Other players that fit the program were acquired by the draft, trades, and free agency.
The culture change began with the hiring of John Dorsey as general manager late in the 2017 season. The culture change was truly cultivated when the Browns hired head coach Kevin Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry in 2020. They both were smart enough to see existing talent on the roster. Also, their egos didn’t get in the way of keeping the talent on the roster that they didn’t acquire. They knew enough to work with what they had. Both Stefanski’s and Berry’s resilience has been shown this season and it has reflected on the team.
The 2023 Cleveland Browns have been decimated by injuries. 80% of the starting offensive line is either hurt or on IR. 70% of the starting offense is either hurt or on IR. The team found 38-year-old Joe Flacco as their 4th string quarterback to start and win their last two games. The organization’s leadership has the players buying into the program. Even more so the fans are buying into the program. Their buy-in is shown on the field. Excuses are not being made, wins on the field are being manufactured. Regardless of the result, the 2023 Cleveland Browns season has been special.
Fellow beat reporters and I have been saying that the 2023 Cleveland Browns are a good football team. Back in July, the team started training camp at the Greenbrier in West Virginia to build better team chemistry. That team chemistry is now on full display on game days this late in the season. The fans and local media are seeing that this team and organization have a blueprint for future success. Some national media pundits are taking notice as well.
Going into week 16 the Browns have a 90% chance of making the NFL playoffs. I believe that in the future everyone can look back to 2023 as the turning point for the Cleveland Browns organization. The Browns have constructed an organization that Browns fans have envied their division rivals for having. Because after this season is over, they will no longer be considered the same old Browns.