EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Cleveland Browns’ death spiral continues, albeit usually with a new twist or never-been-seen-before gaffe that keeps it interesting.
But there is nothing at all entertaining about the grim reality, which must fall at the feet of coach Rob Chudzinski.
With the 24-13 setback Sunday against the New York Jets in MetLife Stadium, the Browns lost their sixth consecutive game and ninth in their last 10. If they are defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers next week in Heinz Field, they will set the franchise record for consecutive losses at the end of the season, surpassing the futility mark set in 1999, 2008 and 2011.
Sometimes in the past one could argue it wasn’t as bad as it looked. But it is this year. Four of the losses have come by seven points or less, but the others have been by an average of 14.4 points.
Fans are calling for defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s head after collapses on that side of the ball continue.
The Browns stayed true to form when the Jets scored 10 points in the final 1:18 of the first half. In eight of the past nine games, the Browns have allowed 11 scoring drives and 53 points in the final two minutes of the first half. They also continued to be defensively deficient in the fourth quarter, giving up 14 points, which brought their season total to 142.
They recorded no quarterback hits and no takeaways against Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith, who was a turnover machine the first 13 games with 21 interceptions, five lost fumbles and 43 sacks.
They surrendered 208 yards rushing and have allowed 387 yards on the ground in the past two games against the Jets and Chicago Bears.
Grumble about Horton all you want, but Chudzinski is Horton’s boss and is ultimately to blame. And Chudzinski knows it.
“I bear all of the responsibility,” Chudzinski said. “I’m the head coach of this team. So ultimately, this is on me. I’m committed to get it right.”
The loss dropped Chudzinski into a tie with Gus Bradley of the Jacksonville Jaguars for the worst record among rookie coaches in the league. The Bills’ Doug Marrone is 6-9, the Chargers’ Mike McCoy is 7-7, the Eagles’ Chip Kelly and the Bears’ Marc Trestman are 8-6, and the Cardinals’ Bruce Arians is 9-5. And the Browns and Jaguars are going in different directions. After starting 0-8, Jacksonville has won four of its past six.
As the season winds down, the Browns’ supposedly aggressive coaches have crawled into a shell. Have Chudzinski, Horton and offensive coordinator Norv Turner lost their mojo because of the lack of talent? Turner’s “Anyone who’s seen the 13 games before that” comment last week in reference play-calling and the lack of a running game seemed to indicate frustration with players brought in since the Trent Richardson trade.
I haven’t lost faith in Chudzinski. He’s a tireless worker, an innovative offensive mind and good man respected by his players. I like the fact that he was a Browns fan growing up in Toledo and respects the history and tradition.
He’s trying to patch together a team with multiple holes to fill, which could be exacerbated by players allowed to leave next year in free agency. He got nothing from the 2013 draft save for first-round pick Barkevious Mingo. He has played musical quarterbacks with three players. His best running back joined the team Dec. 10. His wife delivered their fourth child a week ago.
But as the season ends, he’s failing in the psychology department.
On Sunday when linebacker and co-captain D’Qwell Jackson said the defense didn’t come ready to play, that was Chudzinski’s fault.
When quarterback Jason Campbell said it was hard for him to get over the 27-26 loss to the New England Patriots on Dec. 8, Chudzinski should be the one helping Campbell move on. As Campbell admitted he and his teammates were pressing, Chudzinski should find a way to make the game fun again and lessen their burden.
For two consecutive games, Campbell said the Browns had a great week of practice, yet it didn’t translate to the field. That’s also the coach’s responsibility.
“It’s all of us in this together. It’s not a coach, it’s not a player, it’s everyone,” Campbell said. “You look at the game today and the game the last couple weeks, it’s always a play here or a play there, a stop here, or we convert a first (down). Everything is kind of mounting up and adding up here at the end. We’ve just got to relax.”
I’m certainly not suggesting Chudzinski should be let go after one season. But this finish is not helping his long-term future with the Browns. Instead it’s starting to raise questions about whether he’s the right leader to turn this mess around. It’s putting more pressure on him for 2014.
Even if the Browns win in Pittsburgh, they will not improve on last year’s win total but merely equal it. No matter how many quarterbacks played, how many tackles were missed or how many passes were dropped, it’s hard to sell a step backward in the only category that matters.
By Marla Ridenour
©2013 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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