A look at the highs and many lows in the first half of the season for the Cleveland Browns and what to expect in the second half:
Midseason MVP: Gary Barnidge has always been a dependable player who comes through when asked. This season, he has emerged as a standout. Barnidge ranked among the league leaders for tight ends in receptions, yards and touchdowns in the first half. He also was the Browns’ only true red zone weapon. Barnidge caught a TD pass in six of the team’s first nine games, and he had 100 yards in three of them. Barnidge’s play isn’t a total surprise, but his production has exceeded the hopes of anybody worried about the departure of Jordan Cameron via free agency.
Best moment: Late in the Tennessee game in Week 2, the Titans were threatening to get back in the game. Tennessee had cut a 21-0 deficit to 21-14. But Johnny Manziel(Johnny Manziel Jersey) dropped back, escaped a rush and found Travis Benjamin for a 50-yard touchdown pass that sealed the win. Manziel had his first win as a Browns starter, and his many fans had a game and play to epitomize their future hopes for Manziel. The team went back to Josh McCown as the starter the next weekend, but the excitement of that play at home lingers.
Worst moment: This happened off the field when Manziel and his girlfriend Colleen Crowley got into an argument while Manziel was driving. The incident wound up being reported to police via 911 calls. Though no charges were filed, the situation came after the Browns had shown a lot of faith and trust in Manziel following his 10-week stay in rehab in the offseason. The team minimized what happened; the league investigated. Instead of going through the 2015 season issue-free, Manziel had an off-field incident that raised questions about his judgment.
What’s the future?: The Browns lost their last five games of 2014 and then started the first half of 2015 2-7 — that’s 12 losses in 14 games over the two seasons. Prior to this season, owner Jimmy Haslam promised he would not make major changes even if the Browns struggled. Losing, though, tests everyone’s patience, especially when four first-round draft picks from the past two years are making minimal contributions. If the struggles continue, many will wonder if the Browns are headed for another upheaval, something Haslam definitely does not want.
Key to second half: The Browns aren’t going to win all eight, or even seven-of-eight, to make a playoff push. The team has major needs at receiver, running back and on defense, where the run defense has been worse than a year ago despite a major commitment to improve it this season. A team’s roster can’t be overhauled during the season, so the Browns have to find something within themselves to turn things around. The easiest argument to make is for the team to find out what they have in Manziel. Playing him would show whether the team can count on him in the future or if they need to keep searching for that elusive franchise quarterback. Staying in limbo only sets the team back another year if Manziel does not turn out to be the team’s long-term answer. But if they do that they’re about development, and if Manziel does not develop, will Jimmy Haslam live up to his preseason promise he was not going to “blow it up” after the season?