Browns drop finale 20-7, fire coach Chudzinski

Cleveland Browns coach Rob Chudzinski lasted one season in his

dream job.

Chudzinski was fired Sunday night, hours after a 20-7 loss to

the archrival Steelers. The Browns didn’t exactly provide a ringing

endorsement in a lifeless finale at the end of another lost

season.

Cleveland’s feeble defeat to surging Pittsburgh on Sunday did

little to quell speculation Chudzinski could be on his way out. He

was.

The Browns (4-12) lost seven straight to end the year and 10 of

11 after a 3-2 start. Not exactly the kind of forward momentum new

owner Jimmy Haslam was hoping to build.

Still, Chudzinski’s players did something after the game they

failed to do during it: rally around their coach.

”It’s just absurd to me that a report would be out like that,

about a good coach like that,” Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson

said long before the move was made. ”It’s crazy, and that (ticked)

me off when I heard that.”

Perhaps, but Cleveland didn’t exactly play angry. The Steelers

(8-8) scored on their opening possession and were never really

threatened while keeping their postseason hopes alive for a few

more hours. Pittsburgh’s hopes of becoming the second team in NFL

history to make the playoffs after an 0-4 start ended when San

Diego beat Kansas City 27-24 in overtime on Sunday evening.

”We started 0-4 and things weren’t looking so good, and we had

one of the worst records in football,” Steelers quarterback Ben

Roethlisberger said. ”Guys continued to fight and never

quit.”

The Browns might not be able to say the same after a team

littered with five Pro Bowlers – three more than Pittsburgh – lost

12 games for the seventh time since the franchise was revived in

1999.

”You can’t put your finger on one thing that happened,” Browns

safety T.J. Ward said. ”There were a bunch of things, a number of

things that happened. I can’t put my hand on them all right now,

but it definitely wasn’t just one thing.”

It was more like everything. Seven of Cleveland’s last 10 losses

were by a touchdown or more, most of them in games that simply got

away from the Browns in the second half. A quarterback situation

that never really appeared settled didn’t help and neither did a

defense that sagged at the absolute worst time.

”Sometimes there are rough years,” Cleveland quarterback Jason

Campbell said. ”This year was a different rough year because there

was still a lot of progress. We were in every game, but we didn’t

get the results we wanted.”

The Browns never do against the Steelers, who own a 26-5

advantage over Cleveland since 1999.

Roethlisberger passed for 179 yards and a touchdown against two

interceptions as Pittsburgh won its third straight to avoid the

franchise’s first losing season since 2003. The victory also

continued a furious second-half rally by the Steelers, who went 6-2

over the season’s final eight weeks to fuel a later if futile run

at the AFC’s final postseason spot.

”Guys just kept fighting,” defensive end Cam Heyward said.

”Wasn’t anything glorious or something beautiful, we just came out

of nowhere.”

Unlike Cleveland, there is no widespread panic in Pittsburgh. A

season that appeared teetering on embarrassment after a 55-31 loss

to New England on Nov. 3 ended up with a decidedly rosier

finish.

The Steelers scored on the opening drive, a 9-yard strike from

Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery, and it was more than enough.

Whenever the Browns threatened, they found a way to botch it. Twice

they failed on fourth-down attempts in Pittsburgh territory and

didn’t reach the end zone until Campbell found Fozzy Whitaker on a

35-yard pass with 2:46 remaining.

By then, most of the attention had turned to the scoreboard,

where the biggest roars were saved for scores by the Bengals and

Jets, who then won to boost Pittsburgh’s playoff chances.

The rapid development of Bell helped Pittsburgh’s remarkable

turnaround. He broke Hall of Famer Franco Harris’ team record for

total yards from scrimmage by a rookie by combining for 96 yards in

the muck at Heinz Field.

Bell’s 5-yard touchdown burst in the second quarter, which

included a nifty spin move in the backfield, gave the Steelers a

14-0 lead at the break. It capped an 87-yard drive in which Bell

touched the ball 10 times in 14 plays.

That was more than enough for a defense that appeared

rejuvenated, sacking Campbell three times.

NOTES: Gordon’s 1,646 yards receiving are the 10th-highest total

in NFL history. … Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron combined for more

receptions (167) than any teammates in Cleveland history. …

Browns LT Joe Thomas extended his streak of consecutive offensive

snaps played to 6,923, the longest streak in the league.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org