The Browns' chances of making the playoffs officially hit zero after their loss Saturday to the Saints, and what lies ahead now is a chance to pick up two wins in the final two games and end the season with some positivity.
"We do want to finish strong," head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters Monday on a Zoom call. "We understand the scenario we're in, but we also understand we have an opportunity this week versus Washington and another opportunity the next week. That's really where our focus is."
At 6-9, the Browns are now guaranteed to have a losing record for the second consecutive year, but grabbing two more wins to close the regular season would likely signal the offense moving in a positive direction under QB Deshaun Watson and spark some hope that the Browns can take a crucial step closer to playoff contention next season.
The Browns, of course, believed they had the talent this season to get there, but a 2-5 start to the year created an uphill climb that became too difficult to overcome.
"It's extremely frustrating," OT Jack Conklin said. "We play this game to go to the playoffs and win the Super Bowl, and not having that chance the last two years is frustrating. I think we really need to take a look at ourselves and figure out what we can do better at and what we're good at. We'll move forward on those things and come together as a team."
Now, with no shot at the playoffs, the Browns have a chance to instill some hope that a better season is ahead next year if they can defeat the Commanders, who are 7-7-1 and still alive in the playoff chase, and division-rival Steelers, who moved ahead of the Browns and into third place in the AFC North last weekend.
After that, the Browns have eight months to figure out how they can turn a disappointing season into a building block for better results in 2023.
"This next offseason is going to be huge, but the most important thing is these next two games," Conklin said. "We can't go into the dumps and leave these out here. These are two games where we can get better as a team and figure out how to get better as a team."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Saints in Week 16
No 'conversations' on resting starters
With the playoffs out of sight, the Browns don't appear to be planning on resting starters in the final two games. That includes RB Nick Chubb, who suffered a foot injury last week and was able to practice just once before the Saints, and DE Myles Garrett, who has been battling through a shoulder injury suffered in a car accident in September for most of the season.
"Those type of conversations, really haven't gotten into," Stefanski said. "I know this: Every single one of our players wants to compete and wants the opportunity that all of these Sundays provide. I know all of our guys are excited about that. As far as those types of conversations, I haven't really discussed that yet."
Conklin extension official
The Browns finalized their four-year contract extension with RT Jack Conklin on Monday, ensuring the seventh-year veteran will remain with the offensive line through 2026.
Conklin previously expressed a desire to finish his career in Cleveland, where his wife, Caitlyn, is from.
"This is home for us," Conklin said. "This is where we want to raise our kids. When it came down to it, we didn't really want to have to go to free agency and take the chance of having to move. I love this organization, this town and the fans. My family feels at home here. This really is where we want to make our home forever, and I'm happy I get to be here for the next four years and keep on playing for the Browns."
With Conklin extended, the Browns are set to return all five of their starting pieces from the offensive line for 2023. They'll also have Conklin and both of their Pro Bowl guards, Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, through 2025.
"I think it's huge," he said. "Anytime you can keep a group together like that for multiple years, just stay in the same system and just keep on learning and learning about each other and how each other works, it plays a huge role in more cohesion as an offensive line. That is the most important thing for offensive linemen is cohesion. If one of us is off in a play, then the play is screwed up. We have to be able to work together as a group of five and commit to that. That is when big plays will happen."