Tonight's renewal of the Cleveland Browns-Denver Broncos AFC rivalry represents a study in how the mighty have fallen.
The Browns stumble into the 9 o'clock kickoff (Ch. 13) with a 1-3 record, and coach Bud Carson's job security already has come into question. More to the point is the health of quarterback Bernie Kosar, who has been pounded by the pass rush in the first four games.
The Broncos limp in with a 2-2 record, but have blown leads in each of their four games. Last week was the zenith. They blew a 21-9 fourth-quarter lead in Buffalo and lost, 29-28.
These two teams have met in the AFC championship round in three of the last four years, and Denver won each of those. The Broncos, with a 12-4 series lead, haven't lost to Cleveland in Mile High Stadium since 1972, a span of seven games. What's more, the Broncos are 9-2-1 at home on "Monday Night Football."
Cleveland is off to its worst start since 1984, when a 1-7 record cost Sam Rutigliano his job in midseason. Last week's 34-0 loss to Kansas City was the worst shutout loss in Browns' history. That game prompted owner Art Modell to issue a statement a day later that read: "I find the performance of the Cleveland Browns for the past three weeks to be totally unacceptable. The fans who have supported this team deserve more than they are getting."
Perhaps the Browns' biggest problem has been their porous offensive line, weakened through injury and retirement. With no capable replacements waiting in the wings, Kosar was sacked 14 times the first month of the season. He sat out the fourth quarter of last week's game with a twisted knee while former Colts quarterback Mike Pagel went 14-for-27 for 159 yards.
The Browns have scored only three offensive touchdowns this season. It doesn't promise to get much better in their own house of horrors.
"This is the place to turn it around," said Cleveland receiver Reggie Langhorne. "All the odds are against us. We have nothing to lose. Sooner or later we have to turn it around because if we don't, heads will roll."