BEREA, Ohio — Pat Shurmur didn’t try to put on a happy face in his news conference the day after an aggravating loss to the Buffalo Bills.
But it’s tough to say what kind of face he put on.
What’s clear is this:
Punter Reggie Hodges might get the boot, and receiver Greg Little is wearing thin on the fans and the coaching staff.
Shurmur made one point clear: The Browns did not start the game against the Bills “flat.”
The explanation for zero first downs, three three-and-outs and 0-for-3 on third down in the first quarter?
The Browns, Shurmur said, didn’t execute.
So … there’s that.
But at this point, to paraphrase John McKay, the fans are the ones who might want to execute the offense. Literally.
Anger, frustration, dissatisfaction and disgust seems to be at an all-time high after Sunday’s flop. Thirteen years of losing and the sight of Bills fans celebrating in Cleveland Browns Stadium left a bitter, bitter taste. Chris Palmer’s runaway train seems to have ridden off a bridge and crashed in the bottom of a ravine.
Did Shurmur notice the Bills fans?
“We have to establish a winning tradition at home and that won’t be the case,” he said. “End of story.”
Little has made himself into a fan target, not only with his drops — he has four this season and had one big one on Sunday — but with his Usain Bolt pose after first downs. Which he does while the Browns are losing and he’s dropping passes.
“I can’t speak for everyone else, but I’ve had my conversations with him about that,” Shurmur said. “Trust me, I’ve had my conversations with him.”
Shurmur said the conversations have taken place “all along,” which might indicate Little is either not paying attention or not listening. Or Shurmur is not getting through.
What’s the next step?
“We’ll see,” Shurmur said. “I think the false interpretation of all this is he’s not being worked with. Trust me, he’s being worked with.”
Later in the afternoon, Little said he’d give up the Bolt pose, saying because the Browns are losing it’s looked on negatively, and he doesn’t want to bring a negative light to the team.
“I think,” Little said, “if we were 3-0 I think everybody would be doing the pose, but we’re 0-3 so everybody does not want to see that.”
The Browns made the perplexing move of making safety Eric Hagg inactive after starting him throughout preseason and the first two games. Could the same be coming for Little?
“We’re going to try to get the best combination of guys on the field at all positions,” Shurmur said. “We can’t play a guy that’s going to drop footballs. But I will say this: We have a young roster with young players. And that’s the reality of it too. So we need to work with them and inspire them to play better.”
As for Reggie Hodges, Shurmur gave a strong hint that tryouts for punter may come soon. The Browns had a punt returned for a touchdown in Cincinnati — one of the missed tackles was by Hagg — and gave up some big returns against Buffalo.
Hodges is coming off an Achilles tendon injury. He’s averaging 43.7 yards per kick, but his net is 34.8, 25th in the league.
“I think we need to play better at all positions,” Shurmur said. “Including that one (punter).”
If it feels like the punter and strong safety and receiver might be deck chairs on the Titanic … well perhaps it’s because it’s accurate.
The Browns are floundering and heading into games against Baltimore, the Giants and Cincinnati before Jimmy Haslam is named the new owner.
Shurmur knows the reality, that the more he loses the less it helps his chance to stick with a new owner. And he sounded upset at losing and defensive about criticism that he’s not doing enough.
Shurmur called a first-down screen pass in the third quarter near midfield that went nowhere a “solid first-, second-down call” against a defensive front that rushes the passer well. And he said poor punt coverage is because the ball is not where it should be and coverage is breaking down. “But in terms of what we’re telling our guys to do, we just got to get better,” he said.
At one point, Shurmur said he’s working with a young roster, but at another he said: “We’re one-quarter of the way into the season now. In my mind they’re not rookies anymore.”
He also said he does not worry about a losing attitude seeping into the locker room.
“The locker room is right,” he said. “We got the right kind of guys. I don’t worry about them getting discouraged. I don’t worry about the locker room. Because I know what the message is and I watch them day in and day out go to work. I don’t worry about that.”
The facts, as they say, remain the facts.
The Browns have won once in the last 13 games.
Shurmur is 4-15, the same record Palmer had in the first 19 games of the expansion years of 1999 and 2000, and one game worse than Eric Mangini in his first 19 games.
The Browns are rebuilding with a rookie quarterback and running back.
And their nine-game losing streak is the longest in the NFL.