BEREA, Ohio -- In the span of two weeks, the Cleveland Browns have gone from inevitably undisciplined to unequivocally embarrassing.
Thursday night, that culminated with defensive end Myles Garrett ripping the helmet off Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and clubbing him in the head with it. The NFL responded rapidly, handing Garrett an unprecedented punishment for a single on-field act, suspending him for the rest of this season, playoffs included.
Even when the Browns win, they still seem to lose.
Garrett’s indefensible lapse amid one of the ugliest melees in NFL history overshadowed one of Cleveland’s biggest victories in recent years.
The Browns’ antics outside playing football this season have overshadowed everything.
Garrett’s infraction obviously stands alone. But it’s hardly isolated, either.
In just the past 11 days, the Bad News Browns have lost three starters for reasons other than injury.
That includes safety Jermaine Whitehead, who was waived after sending threatening Twitter messages from inside the visitors locker room two games ago in Denver. Whitehead’s tweets were so vicious, his account had been suspended before he even boarded the departing team bus.
Then just four hours before kickoff Thursday, the Browns announced they had cut wide receiver Antonio Callaway, too. In a game against Buffalo the week before, he was benched for showing up late to the stadium. Turned out Callaway, whose "growth" general manager John Dorsey had praised only a month ago, had also violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy for a second time and was slapped with a 10-game suspension, abruptly ending his troubled tenure in Cleveland.
"I think every time something bad or good happens, you try to evaluate and see what you could have done differently," said coach Freddie Kitchens, who seemed visibly shaken and in disbelief by what transpired Thursday night. "I just know that we preach all of the time about maintaining our composure and it only comes up whenever you have the opportunity to maintain your composure. That is where we are sitting with that."
Ultimately, a team’s composure -- or lack thereof -- falls back on the head coach. Counting the Pittsburgh game, the Browns have now been penalized 87 times this season, their most through 10 games since 1978, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
Cleveland (4-6) also now leads the NFL in ejections, which includes left tackle Greg Robinson kicking a Tennessee Titans player in the head in Week 1. That same game, by the way, Garrett punched Titans tight end Delanie Walker in the face mask.
Kellerman: Rudolph should be suspended at least a game
Max Kellerman says Mason Rudolph should be suspended at least a game for instigating the fight with Myles Garrett, while Garrett should get two to four games.
"I think we are always searching for ways to improve the way we are viewed, as an organization, as a coach, as a player," Kitchens added. "Especially in times like this."
Kitchens warrants much of the blame for the way these Browns are now being viewed, which is as the league's dirtiest team. That dates back to a joint practice in Indianapolis in August, when the Browns instigated several skirmishes with the Colts, to the point the scrimmages almost had to be called off.
Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi added to that reputation when he drilled a helmetless Rudolph in the back Thursday after Garrett had already struck the quarterback in the head. Ogunjobi, whom the NFL suspended a game as well, curiously claimed he was coming to Garrett’s defense. But by that point, Rudolph was nowhere near Garrett, who was fighting off other Pittsburgh players, notably center Maurkice Pouncey. In reality, Ogunjobi delivered just another Cleveland cheap shot.
Kitchens might be culpable for that, the never-ending barrage of penalties and the uncanny knack the Browns have for self-sabotage.
But nobody can be blamed for what Garrett did other than Garrett, who severely damaged his team’s playoff chances with one inexplicable swing of a helmet.
All of which led to the surreal scene Thursday night. A team in victory, admitting to feeling like a team in defeat.