Browns want to rid 'bad taste' from their mouths with strong finish


It's a tricky balance, and Mike Pettine was quick to acknowledge it when he met with Browns players early Wednesday.

The Browns are just a few days removed from their worst loss of the season, one that all but eliminated them from the AFC playoff race. The offseason, and all of the rest and relaxation it provides, has never been closer.

Pettine's message was simple: Ignore every impulse to look backward or a little too forward and be where your feet are.

"That's a difficult spot to be because your focus can tend to stray," the Browns coach said. "That's a big part for us this week is we are in the moment of this week. I cautioned them about looking back and cautioned them about looking forward because I have a feeling that they're going to be asked questions about last week and the end of the year. That's something we have to guard against. These opportunities, like I said before, are few and far between. It's something that we need to put our full focus on.

"We've got a real bad taste in our mouth. We've had it now for a month, and we need to get rid of it."

Though the Browns' circumstances have changed, the routine hasn't. Wednesday at the Cleveland Browns Training and Administrative Complex was no different than it was in early September, when Cleveland prepared for its season opener against Pittsburgh.

Music blared at the start of practice and players were loose. Once the doors were shut to reporters, the focus centered on how the offense can rebound from its worst performance of the season and how the defense, disappointed by how it failed to stop Cincinnati's running attack, can limit a dual-threat weapon like Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.

Linebacker Paul Kruger said the intensity level was the same as it's been all season.

"We really have a strong desire as a whole team to get these next couple of wins," Kruger said. "I know for myself I'm going to be preparing as if it's a championship game. That's the mentality you have to have.

"For us, finishing this season out strong is really important. It's something we really want to send our fans out the right way and each other and the coaches and everybody. It's just really something I think we can do if we focus and dial in the next couple of weeks."

Pettine has said he was "shocked" and "puzzled" by the Browns' lack of an "it factor" against the Bengals. Typically, there are obvious signs on the practice field throughout the week, but they weren't there leading up to last week's regular season home finale, he said.

Three days later, Pettine said he still didn't have much of a theory on why the Browns' edge was lost on such an important day. He remained adamant that he simply didn't want it to occur again.

"When you have the culture of losing that's been here when it's been only four or five wins a year going back however many years, that's a difficult thing to overcome because it's a mentality," Pettine said. "When you get stuck in a rut like we're in now it's easy to fall back into an old habit.

"We need to fight our way out of it. We were close against Indy and have lost some tight games, but as I said after the Pittsburgh game in the opener, pass-fail. Right now, we've gotten ourselves in a mode where we've been failing more than we should."

More than nine months separate the final game of the 2014 regular season and the first of 2015. The roster won't be exactly the same then as it is now.

So, how much would a couple of wins at the end of this season really affect how the Browns perform next year?

A lot, Pettine and players unanimously agreed Wednesday.

"Knowing that you finished with a winning season around here, that's something Cleveland hasn't had in a long time," defensive end Billy Winn said. "It's very important because it gives you a lot to look forward to for the upcoming season. It makes you want to work even harder to get to that ultimate goal, which is getting to the playoffs and getting to the Super Bowl."

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