BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns may be winless, but they have not abandoned their coach.
Whether that saves Hue Jackson’s job remains to be seen, but the team’s effort since the bye week shows that the players have not quit, which is one measure of a coach’s — and a coaching staff’s — ability to get through to a team.
“That’s my head coach,” linebacker Chris Kirksey said after Sunday’s loss in Cincinnati. “I wouldn’t want to play for [anybody] else.”
“I think that is what Coach Jackson does best — is keep us motivated,” guard Joel Bitonio said Monday. “A lot of teams could have tapped out, but we are going to fight and we are going to play as hard as we can. I think you can see that, at least in our play.”
Not that this is the sole measure to judge a team. The scrap heap of ex-coaches is filled with guys whose players “gave it their all.” As Bill Parcells so wisely said, a team is its record. But teams are also judged on expectations, and the Browns did not begin this season with anyone predicting a winning record, much less a playoff run. That being said, they also were not expected to go winless. And when loss after loss piles up, it can wear a team down.
Amidst all their issues, one thing that can be said about the Browns is they haven’t given in to the losing. They lack talent in areas, they make mistakes, but they play hard and they compete.
Sunday’s 14-point loss in Cincinnati felt closer. The Browns outgained the Bengals, had two running backs average 5 yards per carry and got DeShone Kizer’s best game of the season.
The inability to get early touchdowns combined with defensive lapses, a dropped touchdown pass (by Corey Coleman) and a key and questionable late penalty call on Jabrill Peppers added up to a loss. But the 11th loss in 11 games hasn’t seemed to diminish any belief in Jackson.
“He’s the coach of the Cleveland Browns and I’ll forever have his back,” Kirksey said. “And that’s what the men in this room do. We have his back.”
Players said similar things last year as well when the Browns’ first win did not come until the 15th game, on Christmas Eve.
If the Browns were going to fade into oblivion, it would and could have happened after the bye, when they were starting the second half 0-8 and Kizer had played a poor second half in London.
But the Browns played hard against the Lions in Detroit. They led in the first and third quarters, and were down by seven until less than five minutes remained. For most teams, that’s not much to be excited about; for the Browns it represents positive steps.
The Browns and Kizer did not have the wherewithal to stay with a very good and physical Jacksonville defense, but still trailed by three deep into the fourth quarter in a game when the Browns were not penalized once.
Cincinnati was similar to Detroit, except the offense was even better.
This week, the team gets Josh Gordon back.
The Browns have started every game aggressively and actively. Their problem is when the offense plays well, the defense gives up points (Detroit and Cincinnati) and when the defense plays well, the offense hasn’t scored (Minnesota).
Jackson has said his team has to be perfect to win, a statement about the overall talent on the roster. Monday, he was asked why he didn’t take a couple of chances in the end zone late in the first half with the Browns down 13. His answer: “We’re not equipped for that.” Call it the corollary to the perfection theory.
A team is its record, so the Browns have earned every bit of 0-11. After Sunday’s game, Kirksey made an impassioned speech to his teammates that was so vocal he could be heard in the media interview room adjacent to the locker room.
“I think he just expressed what everyone on the team is kind of feeling,” Bitonio said. “It has been crappy right now. It sucks, but we are not going to give up. We are not going to stop fighting.”
Players have made speeches and stood up for coaches in the past, but this team went on the road having lost 24-of-25 and put 405 yards of offense on the Bengals.
“I love the spirit of the group, the grit of the group and the resiliency of the group,” Jackson said.