Monday, 4 a.m.
They could do it. They could lose.
With the game on the line, the Tampa Bay Bucs could feel the pressure of the moment, and they could gather all of their strengths, and they could let even this one slip away. Someone in their huddle could measure down to the task. The right guy could fumble, or drop a pass, or throw a pick, or draw a penalty. Somehow, they could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Yep, if it came down to it, the Tampa Bay Bucs could lose … to the Browns.
Even to the Browns.
I do not say this lightly, because these days, nobody loses to the Browns. Not even Kentucky would lose to the Browns.
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Cleveland is so dysfunctional it is fortunate that their guards do not face the wrong direction. So far, opponents have outscored the Browns by 105 points, the widest margin in the league. The Browns are dead last in the NFL on defense. Their offense isn't very good, either.
Look, I know. The Browns are such clowns they should wear floppy shoes and big red noses. They are team wacka-wacka, and the official mascot of the franchise is Mel Kiper. This is a team that will have one of the top three draft picks for years to come.
And, yet, they could beat the Bucs. The way the Bucs are playing these days, everyone (with the possible exception of San Francisco) could.
This is how far the Bucs have backslid this season. They are slow. They are unimaginative. They have no rush to hurry whatever quarterback they face. They have no coverage skills to contest any catch downfield. They are out of running backs and running low (and slow) on receivers. Jameis Winston gets hit a lot.
It is team throwback. The Bucs are Sabby Piscatelli and Dexter Jackson and Brian Price and Charles McCrae.
But lose to the Browns? Really? For years, the Browns were a bit of comfort to the Bucs. No matter how bad things were in Tampa Bay, at least they were better than Cleveland, right? No one has the conga line of bad quarterbacks that Cleveland does. No one has the busted draft picks. It's like living in the second ugliest house on the block.
There should be a bumper sticker: At least we aren't the Browns.
The thing is, the Browns have hung in with a lot opponents. They lost to the Dolphins in overtime after a field goal kicker missed at the end. They lost to the Titans by two. They lost to the Jets by three. They lost to the Ravens by five.
Yes, the Bucs have won three games. If this season stretches into week 30, the Browns won't win three. But two of the Bucs' wins were against backup Derek Anderson and the diminished Colin Kaepernick. It's been a little different against real quarterbacks. In the last two weeks, Derek Carr and Matt Ryan have combined for 857 yards and eight touchdowns. (For the record, oddsmaker Danny Sheridan has the Bucs as a 4.5 point favorite on a neutral sight.)
So do you think the Bucs could contain Terrell Pryor? Me, neither. Do you think they could make a player out of Cody Kessler? Me, too.
I've often said that writers see the greatness of the players around them. They see the warts, too. And the last two weeks, the Bucs have been as bad as anyone. They lost to the Raiders when the Raiders tried as hard as humanly possible to lose (200 yards in penalties and flubbed field goals). They had a shot earlier against the Falcons.
And they lost.
There was a piece in USA Today over the weekend that predicted the final records for NFL teams. They had the Bucs winning four, meaning they're expected to finish this season out at 1-7. They think the Browns will finish with the same record.
Oh, it would be ugly, okay. The movable object against the resistible force. There would be a lot of two yard passes, a lot of four-yard completions. Backs would trip and fall on their own. Receivers would get open and have the ball overthrown. There would be penalties.
In the end, Cleveland wins, 3-2.
What an event.