Every football coach should be given a pass for a poor opening-day performance, especially a first-year coach like Pat Shurmur.
After all, Shurmur is coaching a team that went from the oldest in the NFL to one of the youngest in one offseason. He's working with a second-year quarterback and has installed new systems on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Then there's the lockout factor, which cost all NFL teams the opportunity to have valuable offseason practices. That may have hit the Browns harder than most teams because of the aforementioned factors.
The problem with all this rationale is that it sounds like excuse-making, and the last thing fans want after the 27-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals is more of the blame game.
The Browns looked as flat as a team can look in the first quarter. There were noticeable signs of improvement in quarters two and three, but the offense went flat again in the fourth period.
There were times in the first quarter when the Browns simply didn't look prepared. That had nothing to do with the lack of practices or the result of a young team feeling some jitters. One of the penalties for illegal procedure was on fifth-year, four-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas.
The most glaring mistake was committed by the defense, which was late breaking the huddle on a play that saw the Bengals quick-snap the ball. Quarterback Bruce Gradkowski threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to wide-open receiver A.J. Green while cornerback Joe Haden had a look of bewilderment as he wondered what had just happened.
What happened was some trickery by the Bengals that worked to perfection. The defense went from being a working unit to having the best seat in the house to watch the touchdown.
The issue is no longer about which player on the field or coach on the sideline should have called a timeout when they saw the Bengals lining up. Shurmur has said it was on everyone, including himself, for not noticing what was unfolding in front of their eyes.
The issue is about the way Shurmur handled the play at his post-game press conference. He did the right thing by accepting blame, but he made a mistake by insinuating the play was illegal because the Bengals changed personnel and didn't allow the defense time to adjust.
Playing the "we-got-robbed" card in your first game as a head coach wasn't a wise move by Shurmur. The Browns weren't robbed; they were lazy. There are no fingers to point in that situation except inward.
You can assume that Shurmur will be more careful in what he says after games in the future. Blaming the officials once as a first-year coach is allowed. If it happens a second time, it becomes a disturbing trend.
The larger issue when the Browns begin preparations today for the Indianapolis Colts is what can be done about the penalties (11 for 72 yards)? After that Shurmur can begin to find out if he has a true number one receiver because it sure doesn't appear so at this point. Then he can decide how to plug holes in what can be called a patchwork offensive line that's minus left guard Eric Steinbach for the season and right tackle Tony Pashos for at least another week.
Much was written and said about how easy the schedule looks in the early part of the season. One of those so-called easy games is now firmly etched in the "loss" column in the standings.
Nothing is easy in the NFL, especially for a team that has 64-128 record in the last 12 seasons.