Cleveland Browns center
And if it is up to Mack and Ward, who are free agents after the Browns' 2013 season ends Sunday, they will be back in Cleveland for 2014 and beyond.
“I think we have the pieces to win here,” Ward said. “In the future, anything can happen. I’m not worried about all that other stuff, playing for a winning team or not because I think we have the pieces here to win, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.
“When you start something, I’m the person that wants to finish things. I want to finish things on a winning note. I want to play in the playoffs here. I want to bring the city a championship. I’m doing everything in my power to help this team win. I definitely want to see that through.”
Mack added, “Cleveland’s a very easy place to come back to. I like the coaches; I like the players. I have a house here, so without a doubt, it’d be very easy to come back. Things can turn around quick.”
Ward said he believes the right pieces are in place because of the way the Browns were able to build many fourth-quarter leads against some of the NFL’s best teams, including the AFC East Division champion New England Patriots on Dec. 8.
“If you look at our season, we’ve had some ups and downs, but for the most part, we were very competitive,” Ward said. “We lost games by a little bit, and I think the slightest thing would turn those losses into wins.
“You look at the Kansas City Chiefs, who went 2-14 (last year), and they were undefeated for most of the season. Anything can happen, anything can change with the snap of a finger. I think all of the hard work is going to pay off soon.”
In fact, Ward said he has paid little attention to the pending free-agent period, and is instead “just looking forward” to Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
“I really haven’t been focusing on that,” Ward said. “If I do what I do on the field and play good ball, then, everything else will handle itself. Everything outside of this building and not on the football field, I let my agent handle.”
And making plays is what Ward has done on the field all season long.
Ward has registered a career-best 121 total tackles, 94 solo stops, and 27 assists. He has added two sacks for 12 lost yards, and matched a career high with two interceptions, one of which he returned for a 47-yard touchdown in a 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 3.
In addition to the interception return for a touchdown, Ward scooped up a fumble and returned it for a score against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 15.
In the midst of a career year, Ward was recognized by his teammates as the winner of the Ed Block Courage Award, given annually to the player who best exemplifies perseverance through adversity while taking an active role in the Cleveland community.
“I like T.J. as the best strong safety in the league,” said defensive back
“His coverage skills are nice. He has some of the best feet on the team, and I don’t know why it’s been like that where people say he can’t cover. I think maybe, it’s because his run support is so good that they don’t really look at his pass coverage, but he’s good in pass coverage.”
Mack has been the model of consistency since joining the Browns in 2009, as he has started 4,934 consecutive plays and 79 straight games for the Browns. One of those starts came at the Oakland Raiders in 2011, two weeks after having an appendectomy heading into the bye week.
“That’s what you want in an offensive lineman, a guy that’s consistently on the field doing what he’s supposed to do,” Mack said. “Doing your job and chipping away at games is really all an offensive lineman can do.”