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.''