“You learn something new every day.”
The Cleveland Browns were 4-8 heading into Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. And despite the Patriots owning a 9-3 record at the start of the game, the Browns held a lead for much of the day, and it took two touchdown passes from quarterback Tom Brady and an onside kick recovery in the final two minutes for the Patriots to escape with a 27-26 win.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said he hopes Sunday’s loss teaches the players that they are capable of winning, despite their record and that of the opponent lining up against them.
“Experience is a great teacher for a team, and the things that we can take from this game and build on is that we can go toe-to-toe with anybody in this league,” Chudzinski said. “Anything can happen in a game, and it did yesterday. We have to make the plays and take advantage of the opportunities we have to win those kinds of football games.
“Yesterday was a hard-fought December football game against a great team. I’m not at all happy with the outcome, but as I mentioned yesterday, I’m very proud of the effort our team gave, both in preparation for the game, as well as during the game itself. We had opportunities to win the game, and weren’t able to capitalize on them and close the game out.”
One of those “opportunities” that Chudzinski was talking about was finishing a game in which the players built a 12-point lead with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.
“That’s one of the things that we want to get better at,” Chudzinski said of the defense getting a stop to seal the victory. “When you have the game in your hands, we want to close it out defensively. We gave up a couple big plays, and they were able to get out of bounds at another point. The pass interference and the onside kick all played into it. We just need to do better.”
Although acknowledging the “need to do better,” Chudzinski said he sees “the light” in terms of the team turning the corner and improving.
“I’m encouraged by our team and how they continue to work, move forward and build on the things that we’re doing,” Chudzinski said. “I look forward to competing again this weekend against Chicago.
“I see a lot of really positive signs, and I think they see it too. Coming out of this game, them knowing and understanding that we can play with anybody in this league and go toe-to-toe with anybody in this league, you see the signs. You see the progress we’ve made in terms of the mindset of this team, the togetherness of this team and how we’re playing that way. There’s a lot of examples of good, relentless play out there on the field.
“I think you saw us attacking all day long. We’re trying to build that mindset. That happens over time, and I think the improvement and the development of a lot of the players are a very positive thing. We have to build on the positives and the results will come. I believe it. I’ve seen it before. I’ve seen it with other teams. The positives are the right things to be happening, and we’re not getting the outcomes that we want so bad, but that will come.”
With 1:01 remaining in Sunday’s game, the Patriots found themselves down by five. Electing to go for an onside kick, New England cornerback Kyle Arrington recovered the ball and set up the Patriots’ game-winning drive.
“When they first aligned, they were spread out, and that was actually the proper alignment that we wanted,” Chudzinski recalled. “As the kicker approached the ball and they all started coming inside, we slid in, as we needed to. When you first start in that alignment and that particular formation, if the ball is kicked outside, which is the typical onside kick, you block and then, one guy is designated as the guy who’s going to handle the kick. On the middle bunt, which they’ve shown before and done before, they start coming in and their guys start converging in the middle, and we slide and go.
“It was a great kick by (Stephen) Gostkowski for that type of kick. We had an opportunity. We just weren’t able to come up with the ball. (
“He played great yesterday, made good decisions, made plays, managed the offense, had no turnovers, and was a real positive in that game,” Chudzinski said. “There were a lot of positives. I thought our protection improved significantly over what it had been the past couple weeks. We were able to run the ball, mix it. Guys made some plays; our playmakers made some plays. Jason’s leadership and his presence had a lot to do with that.”