Browns look to earn first win by jolting Chargers
The clock is ticking on the Cleveland Browns. Fourteen games in the books and just two more to reach perfect imperfection.
Cleveland is 0-14 and must beat the San Diego Chargers (5-9) at home on Christmas Eve or the Steelers in Pittsburgh on New Year's Day to avoid being only the second team to go 0-16. The other team to go winless was the 2008 Detroit Lions.
To make matters worse -- if they could be worse in Cleveland -- the Browns have lost their past six games by double digits. Yet, coach Hue Jackson remains upbeat to the point where he told cornerback Joe Haden last week that at this time next year, the Browns will be preparing for the playoffs.
But as far as this year, there are still two games.
"There are some things we have to do much better. But I can never question if our guys are trying and playing hard," Jackson said during his Monday news conference. "Do I think we can play better? Yes I do, but I do not think by any stretch it is an effort issue. I think it is a paying attention to detail, doing the things from a fundamental standpoint play in and play out that you have to do to be successful in this league."
What little success the Browns have had on offense -- they rank near the bottom in every meaningful category -- has centered on the development of former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who has made a successful transition to wide receiver.
Pryor has compiled 877 yards and four touchdowns on 66 receptions. While he is still developing, Pryor has shown both flashes of brilliance and immaturity, and now he is dealing with torn ligaments in his finger.
Jackson said Pryor will "absolutely" play versus the Chargers.
No need to worry about left tackle Joe Thomas playing. In 10 seasons, Thomas has not missed a snap and when he takes the field on Sunday, he will do so as a Pro Bowl selection for the 10th time.
"It doesn't get old, that's for sure," he said. To be able to represent the Cleveland Browns at the Pro Bowl is something that never gets old."
The clock is ticking on San Diego as well. A move to Los Angeles appears in the cards for the Chargers, who have lost four of five and have wasted another Pro Bowl-caliber season from quarterback Philip Rivers.
The 13-year pro has thrown 29 touchdowns and is closing in on 4,000 yards. But he has thrown 18 interceptions and fumbled eight times, which has led to a second straight sub-.500 season.
San Diego has followed the same script for most of its games. Watch Rivers torch the opponents' through the air, watch Melvin Gordon carve up the defenders on the ground and then watch the defense create turnovers.
Then watch the fourth quarter and cover your eyes. Seven times the Chargers have held a fourth-quarter lead and eventually lost.
"It's not like they get any better," rookie tight end Hunter Henry said after the 19-16 loss to the Oakland Raiders last week. "It (stinks). Every single one hurts even more because they seem to pile on. It's just (that) we are right there. It's just crazy."
It's going to hurt even more if San Diego becomes Cleveland's first victim this season. But the Chargers are better statistically in every category and all signs point to a San Diego win and another Cleveland defeat.
The Chargers rank 13th in total offense while the Browns rank 30th.
But often those stats mean little when having to travel to Cleveland in December and play just a few blocks from Lake Erie. The forecast is cloudy and temperature in the low 40s.
San Diego coach Mike McCoy says when dealing the weather, "You just go out and play. We can't control ... it's something you discuss, whether it's rain, snow or wind," adding that the team will stress ball security when weather conditions are adverse.
No one on the Cleveland side thinks the Browns will have a home-field advantage playing the Chargers.
"I know what kind of player (Rivers) is having been in that division for a little while. He is a tremendous competitor and he likes to try to win every game," Jackson said. "So, he will have not just their offensive team but he will have that football team ready to play."
Jackson sounds like he has more confidence in Rivers than his own quarterback.
Robert Griffin III will get a chance to play Santa Claus and deliver a win to Cleveland fans. So far in three games, he's yet to flash the old form that made him the Heisman Trophy winner and the 2012 NFL Rookie of the Year.
"Robert will go back out there again and we'll go out there and give him another opportunity to take a swing at it," Jackson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"There were some things that he did much better (in the loss to Buffalo last week) when you go back and watch the tape than the first time he played," he said. "Hopefully there can be another jump in this next game. But he needs to go play and he needs to play well."
The Chargers are putting a cap on their season and have their own issues.
Gordon is 3 yards shy of a 1,000 and scored 10 times. Kenneth Farrow, his replacement, has carried only 51 times for 164 yards.
But the Cleveland rush defense makes most runners look like Pro Bowlers. Cincinnati rushed for 213 yards on the Browns on Dec. 11. Last week, LeSean McCoy ran for 280 yards.
Opponents are averaging 4.8 yards a carry against the Browns, who have given up 17 rushing touchdowns.
Updated December 21, 2016