During a 16-game NFL season, challenges come in many forms, and teams that handle them the best usually find themselves at or near the top of the standings at the end of the year.
Despite three quarterback changes and the trade of starting running back Trent Richardson in the early part of the season, the Cleveland Browns found themselves at 3-2 and right in the mix for the AFC North Division championship chase, but in the six weeks since, the team has gone from 1.5 games behind the front-running Cincinnati Bengals to 4-7 and fourth place in the division.
Now, after two straight losses to AFC North Division foes, the Browns are looking to right the ship with five games remaining in the regular season.
“At the end of the day, our guys know and understand that it’s a team game,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “We have the leaders that understand that, and as we’re going through the season, there’s going to be points in time where one side’s playing well and the other side not as well, and there’s going to be different points in games that that happens and that’s part of it. We all have to come together as a team in the end, and that’s what we plan on doing.
“I talked to the team about the importance of sticking together, and this is the time when those frustrations come out, when you don’t have as much success in a game as you want to have. We have a lot of football left to play this season. It’s a team sport, and we have to stick together in that way.”
Following Sunday’s 27-11 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium, Browns safety T.J. Ward said he was “tired of losing,” especially the multi-score setbacks to the Bengals and Steelers in back-to-back weeks after a 24-18 win over the reigning Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 3.
And Chudzinski said he understood the frustration Ward expressed.
“Guys who aren’t frustrated or like losing, we don’t want here,” Chudzinski said. “What T.J. said, I think, was in frustration. I know as he came in today, he’s looking at his own performance and there’s a lot of things that we all can do better. That’s the approach it’s been with the team.”
According to Chudzinski, everyone, coaches and players alike, must evaluate past performances and learn from the mistakes in the loss to Pittsburgh.
“At the end of the day, you look at each game, you look at each play, and you look at how you’re executing, what you need to do from a coaching standpoint, if we’re doing the things we need to do in preparing guys,” Chudzinski said. “You analyze it in that way, and sooner or later, you make the corrections and you’ll put the games together.
“We’ve played some good games this year against some very good teams. We’ve played well in some critical times in games. We just have to put it together consistently and get it on the field during the game.”
Despite the recent setbacks, outside linebacker
“We’re all brothers,” Kruger said. “We’re all here, working hard together every day. We’re good teammates and we’re loyal to each other. It’s a team effort. The bottom line is, we’re trying to make the changes to get those wins, and we want it more than anybody. We do it every day, all day long. We’re definitely trying to figure this out, and we feel a responsibility to each other, to the fans and to Cleveland as a city. We want this to work, so I can promise you we’re doing everything.”
Jackson added, “We just have to keep grinding this thing out. I still feel the same about this team as I did a few weeks ago. The way I see it, and the way we talked about it is we have a five-game season. A lot of things have to happen for us to get to the playoffs, but we’re still in a five-game season and that’s the way we want to approach it and Jacksonville’s first up.”