In light of another injury, Browns coach Hue Jackson playfully played down what's been an unusual array of setbacks this season.
"Hopefully, we will get through all of these issues and our future will be bright because maybe the injury gods will look down on us as we move forward and say, 'OK, you guys have had your fair share for years to come,'" Jackson said, laughing. "Hopefully, that will be the case." [
After placing starting left guard Joel Bitonio on injured reserve Friday, the shorthanded Browns have no choice but to move forward. Jackson made as much clear in his final press conference before the team travels to Tennessee in search of its first win of the season.
And a victory, Jackson said, would "validate everything" the club has worked for over the past few months.
"If you build the foundation right, there's all kind of other things we can point to, too, as well. I want to win as bad as anybody. The players do, too, and they deserve it," Jackson said.
"But no one is going to just hand us a game. We are going to have to go take what we want and go earn the right to win the game. Will it help? Yes, it would, but I'm not concerned about that more so than how we play – how we play, play in and play out, every quarter and how we finish the game. That's what's really important."
Bitonio vows to overcome another injury
After watching last season come to an end because of an ankle injury, it pains Bitonio to watch another year cut short — this time because of a mid-foot sprain.
But the third-year guard was upbeat Friday, vowing to overcome another injury and prepare himself to become a fixture for years to come.
"I've had some obstacles in my life before, and I know when you go down there is only one way back. You have to get up from it, and I'm confident. We have a great team here," Bitonio said, referencing the team's training staff.
"Maybe if it was 20 years ago and you don't know how people will come back from injuries and stuff, you wonder about things, but I feel confident in myself and the people around me that they are going to put me in the best position to be successful.
"I know this staff and the whole building — I know it doesn't look like it when you are 0-5 — but I know we're moving in the right direction and I want to be a part of that, and I want to really help this organization and get some wins for these guys."
Bitonio, who suffered the injury against the Patriots last weekend and played through it, said it came on the final play of the first half. He described it as a "freak" accident.
"Foot got tangled up a little bit and I didn't even go to the ground, just felt like 'Oh, that hurt a little bit,'" he said. "Then after the game, I went in and they checked it out and did some more tests and stuff, and we realized it was a little worse the next couple days than we thought it was. It was the end of the first half, the Hail Mary. "
After totaling 27 yards on 22 carries, the Browns run game will look to bounce back against Tennessee. Previously ranked the league's top attack, Cleveland struggled to get anything going against New England last weekend.
Browns run game coordinator and running backs coach Kirby Wilson on Friday outlined why that happened.
"Two things: No. 1, we lacked a lot of execution. We left some things out there that we could have done better and that's each unit to a man. We think we could've done some things differently from a scheme standpoint as well," he said.
"You're always learning and the game of football as we all know is a game of adjustments. You have to take it one at a time and adjust quickly. Then, the next factor was they did a great job of game-planning us and executing their defensive assignments. Our hats off to them. They won that one. We learned some things about ourselves and we're moving forward to this week's game."
The Browns still rank fifth in the league with almost 125 rushing yards per game behind the legs of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson Jr.
Reunion in Nashville
Horton, who spent the past two seasons with the Titans, played down his return to Tennessee, saying he's focused on helping the Browns get their first win.
But the defensive coordinator is looking forward to a reunion with Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, whom he spent seven seasons with in Pittsburgh.
"He is a remarkable man in how he makes other people feel," Horton said, referencing LeBeau's best qualities on or off the field.
"I have been with him so many times and on so many occasions from football to off-the-field to banquets to scouting combines, and he is pretty much the same everywhere. He treats everyone probably the way you want to be treated."
LeBeau joined the Titans last year after 13 seasons with the Steelers.
Just in case
With Josh McCown out another week, the Browns will rely on Kevin Hogan in case something should happen to starting quarterback Cody Kessler.
Asked of his comfort left with Hogan — whom the team elevated from the practice squad earlier this week after parting ways with Charlie Whitehurst — Jackson smiled.
"Much more than I was last week," he said, laughing.
"Obviously, he has practiced and been in meetings. He has always been in meetings and real engaged, but I think he understands obviously there is potential he could go out there and play. That is a different dynamic for a player when you think through it all and for me, as well. Last week, that was not the case. He was in street clothes. This week he will be dressed up, and he will be out there just in case things don't go as well."