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Commentary: Browns have to make finding a franchise quarterback their top priority

  • Bengals-Browns-Football

    Browns quarterback Robert Griffin III scrambles during an NFL game against the Bengals on Sunday in Cleveland.

    AP PHOTO

Prior to Sunday, the last time we’d seen Robert Griffin III in a Browns game was three months ago, in the first game of the season, when he got injured trying to run out of bounds so he wouldn’t get injured.

He remained injured as the losses mounted — three months’ worth.

Sunday, the no-longer injured Griffin returned to the still-overmatched Browns’ starting lineup, just in time to help the team’s football Doomsday Clock tick one tick closer to 0-16 infamy.

It’s now at 0-13 following another Sunday yawner played before friends and family at frosty Devoid of Energy Field.

This loss was 23-10 to Cincinnati, but it was closer than the score indicates. It could have very easily been 23-12 if the Browns’ triple-lateral botched PAT kick return had borne some fruit.

It didn’t, but that one still worked better than the 45-yard flea-flicker heave by Griffin from his own end zone that was intercepted and led to the Bengals’ third touchdown.

Hey, they’re 0-13. What have they got to lose?

“There was some street-ball elements to some of the things we did today,” Griffin said. “On the flea flicker, I’ve got to give (intended receiver Terrell Pryor) a better ball, or just throw it away.”

There’s a reason the Browns are 0-13, and the biggest is this: they have no quarterback. Indeed, the most unfortunate postcard from this historically awful Browns season is that the bulk of it passed without bringing the team’s historically awful quarterback situation into better focus.

The Browns this year have used more quarterbacks than you can shake a concussion protocol list at. Griffin was the first and is the latest.

Sunday was his first game action since Sept. 11, and at times he looked like a poor man’s Cody Kessler. Other times he looked like a more mobile Josh McCown. There were a few times when he looked like a faster Kevin Hogan, or a more upright Charlie Whitehurst.

Will this season ever end?

“The more I play the better I’ll get,” Griffin said. “It’s tough to be off three months and come back and expect everything to go perfectly.”

That point was driven home by Griffin’s yikes-ish first half in which he completed two of 10 passes for 20 yards and one interception. That produced the same quarterback rating the Browns could have gotten out of a potted plant: 0.0.

Griffin recovered, more or less, in the second half to complete 10 of 18 passes for a modest 84 yards.

Griffin’s marching orders coming into the season as the latest in a conga line of Cleveland quarterback poseurs, called to mind Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s famous suggestion to each new member of his team: “Try not to suck.”

But Griffin got hurt before anyone could make any judgments. He’s now healthy again. The Browns have three games left. Let the evaluation finally begin.

“He’s going to get better,” said Browns coach Hue Jackson. “For being out there for the first time, late in the season, I thought he held his own.”

In the big picture, of course, the Browns need someone who will move the needle well past “he held his own.”

That probably includes ending the truncated Griffin experiment and selecting, in the first round of the draft, a quarterback the team can build around. Enough with the trading down of the first-round picks. The first round is where the elite players are.

The Browns need to bear down on this year’s group of college passers, identify the best one and select him. The rebuilding of their scorched-earth roster can’t begin in earnest until they have the most important position on the field — “the most prestigious position in all of pro sports,” Jackson called it — filled with a young quarterback to build around.

Jackson said Griffin will start again next week against Buffalo, as he should. As long as Griffin remains unmaimed he should start the three remaining games. This is his audition. Not the 16-game one it might have been, but a four-game whadda-ya-got? opportunity to prove he belongs in the Browns’ future plans.

For that to happen, Griffin would have to hit the “wow” button multiple times in the last three games. He’s clearly faster and more mobile than any quarterback currently on the roster. Sunday he missed some throws, came up short on some long ones and seemed out of synch with many receivers, particularly No.1 pick Corey Coleman.

Rust and lack of practice reps is a legitimate excuse for that.

But unless Griffin knocks Jackson’s socks off in the remaining three games, it’s time for the Browns to move on at the quarterback position. Finally and definitively.

You can’t hope to rebuild when you’re constantly cutting and pasting at the sport’s most important position.

So draft a quarterback in the first round, and let’s get on with our lives.

Contact Jim Ingraham at 329-7135 or jingraham4@gmail.com. Follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter.



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