Browns bent, not broken

Beaten up and beaten down, the Cleveland Browns haven’t

quit.

Their embattled coach isn’t surprised.

Despite a 1-11 record, mounting injuries and minimal progress in

coach Eric Mangini’s first season, the Browns showed some grit in

Sunday’s 30-23 loss to San Diego. Down by 20 to one of the NFL’s

better teams, Cleveland scored 16 points in the fourth quarter,

recovered an onside kick and put a genuine scare into the AFC

West-leading Chargers.

Mangini, whose future could hinge on his team’s performance over

the final five weeks, was proud of his squad’s resolve.

“At 27-7, it would have been very easy to kind of let the rest

of the game play out,” Mangini said Monday. “I never felt that

for a second from the guys.”

Mangini said Chargers coach Norv Turner approached him on the

field and complimented the Browns’ gutsy effort. Although San Diego

appeared to ease up with a 30-14 lead, Mangini believes the final

score had more to do with Cleveland’s determination.

“The first thing he (Turner) said was how impressed he was with

the way the guys fought and he wanted me to tell the group that,”

Mangini said. “He said that we have a tough group of guys, which I

agree with, and that was his feedback so I don’t think that when

you’re a team in San Diego’s position and you got a lot of things

depending on every single game, you don’t let down.”

Mangini managed to extract some positives from Cleveland’s

seventh straight loss and 10th consecutive defeat at home,

witnessed by one of the smallest crowds at Browns Stadium in the

past 10 years.

He praised rookie receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian

Robiskie, who combined for 12 catches. He liked quarterback Brady

Quinn’s decision making and third straight game without an

interception. He noted running back Jerome Harrison’s improved

blocking and felt tight end Evan Moore, signed from the practice

squad on Saturday, gave Cleveland’s offense a spark.

Mostly, though, Mangini applauded the Browns’ fight and

willingness to band together in what could wind up as Cleveland’s

worst season.

“It’s a good group of guys that care about what they’re

doing,” he said. “They work hard. I haven’t sat back and

questioned their work ethic at any point. I don’t think it’s the

way that any of us had wanted it to go. I think they appreciated

the progress that they have made in different areas. They care

about each other. They care about the team, and I can’t imagine

them playing any other way.”

Mangini has preached unity since taking over in Cleveland. He

believes cohesion breeds championships.

The Browns may be a long way from a title, but there is

togetherness.

“We all look at each other as brothers,” fullback Lawrence

Vickers said. “It’s a big family oriented team and nothing is

going to break that up regardless how much people try. That’s what

players in our position have to do, put our backs against the wall

and let’s hold each other’s hand and let’s get through it. That’s

how families overcome things. You gotta stick together through

whatever.”

With each loss, Mangini’s tenure in Cleveland beyond this season

becomes more uncertain.

It’s not known whether owner Randy Lerner has soured on the

former New York Jets coach, who has lost 15 of his past 17 games in

New York and Cleveland.

Lerner wants to hire a “football authority” to run the Browns,

but to this point, has kept his search under wraps. Since general

manager George Kokinis was fired, Mangini has insisted he would be

willing to work alongside anyone who could make the Browns

better.

As for his future, Mangini believes he still has Lerner’s

confidence and support.

“We share the same vision and understand that it’s not easy to

build something that lasts and can compete year in and year out,”

he said. “It’s important to do it the right way and there’s no one

set formula, there’s no one set timeline. You’ve got to come in and

make good decisions every day. You’ve got to commit to doing it the

right way, and that’s what we’re committed to.

“I believe in what we’re doing wholeheartedly. The outcome

hasn’t been what I’ve wanted. It hasn’t been what anybody’s wanted.

But I also knew coming in here things don’t happen overnight and

you have to work at it.”

The Browns’ feistiness on Sunday could be viewed as either a

positive for Mangini or proof that players are out for themselves.

Wide receiver Joshua Cribbs said the team’s never-quit attitude is

a reflection of the team’s character – and their coach.

“We don’t only play for our coach. We play for each other,” he

said. “That’s what we emphasized going into that game. Each one of

these guys plays hard. We’ve got a lot of new faces and they are

auditioning to play next year, whether it be here or anywhere

else.

“A lot of these guys are playing for their own careers and

their families. It means a lot more to these guys to play hard all

the way to the end because it shows up on film.”

Cribbs feels Mangini has helped create a team that, win or lose,

won’t be broken.

“I think it’s a direct effect of coach Mangini,” he said.

“He’s a family man and the team is tight knit. It’s a family

around here no matter what our record is.”