August 1, 2014

Medina
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Scott Petrak: One game in is too soon to judge the Browns

Everything has a catchy title these days. Statement Saturday. Rivalry Week. The Decision.

A new one made the rounds this week after the first Sunday of NFL action: Overreaction Monday.

Cleveland should’ve trademarked the term years ago. Nobody does overreaction like the depressed city by the lake.

Especially with two sports talk radio stations.

This was obvious following the Browns’ 17-16 loss to the Eagles in the opener. The same people who predicted a 2-14 record and blowout loss to Philadelphia were suddenly shocked and dismayed by a one-point loss to a more talented playoff contender.

The forecasts have grown darker in the couple of days since the loss. The season’s over, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden is a bust, running back Trent Richardson is damaged goods and coach Pat Shurmur is just biding his time until he’s fired.

It’s natural to base an assessment on the information available, and the only real data we have is Week 1. The same is true across the NFL, which makes for a seemingly endless week until the 16 losing teams take the field again.

But 60 minutes of football doesn’t define a season, and the best example in recent Browns history came in 2007. After an ugly home opener against Pittsburgh, the Browns won 10 of the final 15 for the most exciting season since they’ve been back.

I’m not predicting the same in 2012, but I know it’s too early to judge the team, the season, the quarterback, the running back and the coach.

“I obviously didn’t get much sleep thinking about it, because you put so much into the first game,” Shurmur said Monday. “And I would’ve liked to see us have a better performance in a lot of areas. But my only focus right now is making sure we’re ready to play the next game.”

The first misconception that must be cleared up is that a Week 1 loss lingers longer. The Browns were upset by the near-miss against the Eagles, but they weren’t heartbroken. They vowed to correct the plethora of mistakes and attack the rest of the season.

“We’ve got 16 weeks,” cornerback Dimitri Patterson said. “The first game is really no determinant factor of how your season is going to end up. We could go out and win nine, 10, 11 games, so you just have to continue to play, play hard, press and put yourself in position to play well every Sunday. And that’s all you can do.”

Creating the most angst Sunday was Weeden. He threw four interceptions, completed 34 percent of his passes and posted a 5.1 rating. He looked uncomfortable in the pocket and anxious throwing.

The easy response is to call for Colt McCoy. He certainly couldn’t have been worse — and might’ve won the game — but that doesn’t mean he should’ve played. And it doesn’t mean we should even ask if Weeden will keep the starting job.

The Browns determined — correctly — that McCoy isn’t good enough to be the long-term starter. There’s no guarantee Weeden will be, but it’s waaaaaaay too early to say he won’t be.

Weeden admitted to being too “amped up” when he threw the ball long and out of bounds with receiver Mohamed Massaquoi open in the end zone. Weeden said he settled down, but the evidence suggests otherwise. The high, errant throws got worse as the pressure increased.

Weeden has the size, arm and natural throwing motion to be a success. The hurdle — and it’s a sizable one — is remaining accurate when the situation is big and the pocket is compromised. His coach and teammates believe he’s got what it takes to fix the problem.

“We’ve all had games where you want to crawl under a rock,” veteran tight end Alex Smith said. “It’s all about how you respond. That’s what I’m most excited to see — how he comes back. I expect to see Brandon come out slingin’ and have the best game of his career.”

Richardson’s struggles can be traced directly to his knee surgery a month before the opener. He’s been deemed healthy and fit to play, but his customary burst takes time to return and the best medicine is game snaps. He should make a big jump Sunday in Cincinnati and for the next few weeks.

The final over-the-top reaction involves Shurmur.

The backdrop for the season is the ownership change to Jimmy Haslam on Oct. 16. The future for anyone in the organization not named Joe Thomas in uncertain, and Shurmur is near the top of the list.

He’s on a season-long job interview that began in earnest Sunday and continued into the postgame news conference with Haslam in the back of the room. A narrow loss that should be blamed on a lack of execution by the players isn’t an indictment on the coach. And Monday was way too early to make an accurate evaluation of his future.

I know the fans and media spend nine months looking forward to the opener, but it unfairly raises expectations and narrows the concentration to an unhealthy level. My advice: Take a step back, look at the big picture and realize it doesn’t come into focus after one game.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

Content copyright The Chronicle-Telgram.