No time for cracks in the armor

Posted Nov 25, 2013

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says, with five games to play and a building process under way, it is more vital than ever that the Browns stick together.

Sooner or later, it was bound to surface. 

A finger would be pointed. Blame would be dispensed.

That happens in sports, even with the most successful of teams, because hard times – in whatever form they might take – never discriminate.

Of course, finger-pointing and blame-dispensing tend to happen far more often with struggling teams because, well, they’re struggling.

And after the Browns’ ugly, 27-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, strong safety T.J. Ward couldn’t conceal his frustration over the fact the offense had, once again, committed killer turnovers. He had had his fill of that during the previous week’s loss at Cincinnati, where the Browns undid a virtual defensive masterpiece with blunders on offense and special teams.

Then, after watching the Browns’ season take the sort of hit that caused quarterback Jason Campbell to suffer a concussion a week later with a second straight defeat against an AFC North opponent and a fifth loss in six games, Ward clearly had no more patience.

"We’ve got to stop turning the ball over," Ward said. "Turnovers. We had three, we had four; they had zero. That’s why we’re losing – it says it right there. You can’t win ball games turning the ball over.

“It is frustrating, I’m not going to lie, but it’s out of our power. We have to trust that they’re doing everything in their power to win ball games like we are. And I trust that and I know that, it’s just things aren’t going the way any of us want them to go right now.”

It was hard not to sympathize with Ward or any other member of the defense that has seen the offense continually give the ball away and generate minimal production. Frustration and anger are natural responses.

But putting them on display in public is the last thing the Browns need.

Don’t get me wrong. I fully agree with what coach Rob Chudzinski said Monday, in response to a reporter’s question about Ward’s comments: “Guys who aren’t frustrated or like losing, we don’t want here anyhow.”

I also think Ward has emerged as one of the better leaders the Browns have. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. He despises losing. And he has been around the team long enough to recognize when things are spiraling in a terrible direction.

That was, in part, what prompted Ward to speak up. That, and the fact that he had given a strong effort from start to finish and is having his best season since joining the Browns as a second-round draft pick from Oregon in 2010.

However, in speaking up, Ward risked doing more harm than good, and that was something that Chudzinski made a point of reminding Ward and the entire team Monday when he spoke with them about “the importance of us sticking together.”

Part of that was motivated by the fact the Browns, regardless of their longest-of-long-shots playoff status, still have five games to play. Five games is a significant chunk of the season. Five games is a stretch in which teams can define what they’re all about for the present, and, especially in the Browns’ case, the future.

For the record, while the defense is playing far better than the offense, it hasn’t been perfect. It has given up some big plays. Its inability to generate much in the way of pressure on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger contributed to Sunday’s outcome.

Now, more than ever, the Browns need to heed Chudzinski’s words and stick together. As maddening as their performances in the past two weeks have been, as easy as it is for critics to shake their heads and call them “the same, old Browns,” there is still something that this team is trying build. Building for the future is still building, and it is fair to say that several players on the current roster will be a part of that.

The right approach for all of the players to forget about which side of the ball is doing more to help or which side is doing more to hurt the team, and focus on doing everything possible to allow the Browns to finish strong.

Divisiveness has a way of quickly spreading throughout a roster and can only make the job of bringing about improvement that much harder. When the season is over, the Browns are unlikely to have a playoff berth.

But they must have something resembling a solid foundation.

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