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Hue Jackson Was Just the Coach the Browns Needed … to Play Against

So much for intel. The Bengals special assistant saw his former team dismantle his current one on Sunday as Baker Mayfield had a career day.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals Photo by David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports

Forget Paul Brown and Marty Schottenheimer: Hue Jackson is the best coach in Browns history (as long as he’s standing on the other sideline).

In an apparently unprecedented situation, Jackson faced Cleveland just four weeks after he was fired as its head coach. Now an assistant coach for the division-rival Bengals, Jackson watched his former team dismantle Cincinnati 35-20 on Sunday, in a performance that accomplished the impossible: It made Jackson look even more inept as a coach.

Jackson led the Browns through the worst stretch in franchise history (and that’s saying something) as the team went 3-36-1 in just over two years, a run that included the infamous winless 2017 season. The Browns finally fired Jackson (and offensive coordinator Todd Haley) two days before Halloween and promoted defensive coordinator/Bountygate participant Gregg Williams to interim head coach. Just two weeks later, Jackson was hired by the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals had two remaining games against the Browns (Sunday and Week 16), so there was a method to Marvin Lewis’s madness: Jackson was offensive coordinator in Cincinnati under Lewis in 2014 and 2015, so he was already familiar with the team, and he could provide plenty of intel for two of the Bengals’ final six games. The Browns already showed us on Hard Knocks how valuable a player with insider knowledge could be in preparing a game plan, so adding a coach could be a gold mine for Cincinnati.

But the people least concerned about Jackson’s knowledge of the Browns were … the Browns.

It turns out that Hue Jackson is not a game-planning mastermind. Cleveland started the game as follows:

Touchdown (7-0)
Touchdown (14-0)
Touchdown (21-0)
Touchdown (28-0)
End of Half (28-7)
Touchdown (35-7)

The Browns’ 28-7 halftime lead was their largest since 1991—which was before most of the players on the Browns roster were born. They had 296 total yards of offense after two quarters, more than the team had in all four quarters of Jackson’s final game with the Browns in Week 8. Baker Mayfield’s first-half line—17-of-22 passing for 245 yards, three touchdowns, and no sacks or turnovers with a 152.5 rating—was better than any other he had produced in a full game this season. The win ended the Browns’ 25-game road losing streak.

CBS

The numbers speak for themselves, but they ring even louder because of who produced them. Mayfield, the first overall pick whose development was reportedly a key reason that Jackson and Haley were fired, had a career day and wasn’t sacked for the second game in a row. Running back Nick Chubb, the second-round pick whom Haley buried on the depth chart in his time as offensive coordinator, finished with 128 total yards, two total touchdowns, and one spectacular end zone catch after being freed by new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens.

Midway through the second quarter, with the Browns up 21-0, cornerback Damarious Randall intercepted Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton along the Bengals sideline and handed the ball to Jackson.

It’s one thing for firing a coach to be addition by subtraction. It’s another for a team to be better without you, and at their best against you.

Despite Jackson’s historically abysmal tenure with the Browns (his .088 winning percentage translates to an average of 1.4 wins per 16-game season), CBS’s Jason La Canfora reported on Sunday morning that the Bengals were considering hiring Jackson if the team were to move on from Lewis at the end of the season because:

  1. Jackson knows Bengals principal owner Mike Brown
  2. “Brown generally is not prone to exhaustive and extensive coaching searches, preferring those he is already familiar with,” according to La Canfora.

If Jackson does end up succeeding Lewis and coaching the Bengals next year, he might hand the Browns more wins as an opposing head coach than he ever did as their own. Maybe Hue can improve his reputation in Cleveland after all.