Browns' Mangini pushes on
Eric Mangini hasn't given up or given in.
Amid mounting speculation that he'll be fired by team president Mike Holmgren after a wildly inconsistent season, Cleveland's coach boldly claimed he has the Browns (5-9) headed in the right direction despite back-to-back embarrassing losses to Buffalo and Cincinnati.
''We're not finished here,'' Mangini said. ''There's two games left.''
They could very well be his final two with Cleveland, but Mangini isn't conceding anything.
On Monday, a more confident than defiant Mangini insisted he's focused solely on correcting mistakes and getting his team ready for Sunday's home game against Baltimore. Holmgren plans to wait until after the season before evaluating Mangini and his staff, which must be on edge after losing to the Bengals (3-11) and Bills (4-10).
''I feel pretty confident in the direction this team is heading and the direction we're heading organizationally,'' said Mangini, 10-20 in two seasons with the Browns. ''I think it's apparent in the type of people that we brought in, the way that we play. There's going to be some hiccups along the road in any process like this. There's growing pains.
''But I'm confident in the coaches. I'm confident in the things we've done. I believe in what we stand for and what we teach, and I think that we've got a very bright future for this team and this organization.''
Mangini said he did not meet with Holmgren one day after the Bengals snapped a 10-game losing streak by cramming the ball down Cleveland's collective throats. Cincinnati rolled up 188 yards rushing on a Browns defense that was out of position and appeared worn out.
When Holmgren, who hasn't commented on his coach's status since Nov. 2, does judge Mangini's body of work, he'll have plenty to consider.
The Browns appeared to have turned a corner after a 1-5 start. They pulled off stunning upsets against New Orleans and New England, victories some considered flukes. But after an overtime loss to the New York Jets, Cleveland fell at Jacksonville despite forcing six turnovers and then only edged a one-win Carolina team when Panthers kicker John Kasay missed a last-second field goal.
Cleveland bounced back with a win at Miami, but any feel-good vibes or momentum has been eroded by the horrible performances at Buffalo and Cincinnati.
Asked if he thinks the consecutive setbacks will cost him his job, Mangini chose to stay positive.
''The important thing for me and for the players - and I talked about this with the guys - is just focus on the next game,'' he said. ''That's really what I believe in. And, I believe that that's the way that we're going to be successful, that any individual is going to be successful and not worry about the other things. That (Holmgren's decision) will all take care of itself.
''What's important to me is that the guys continue to improve, that we play well as a team. That's what I want to do. That's what I want for this group of guys and everything else will handle itself.''
Holmgren spared Mangini after last season. He may not be as forgiving this time.
For Mangini to save himself, and it's possible that it may be too late, the Browns could use another win - or two - and they'll have to try and get them against the Ravens (10-4) and Pittsburgh Steelers (10-4), who will both come to town looking to improve their playoff seeds.
If nothing else, the Browns need to show they can compete with the AFC North powers. Mangini hasn't done that, going 2-8 in the division.
One area Cleveland must fix quickly is third-down conversion. After going 2 for 8 on Sunday, the Browns are just 6 for 32 in the past three weeks.
The late-season collapse has been troubling to Mangini and his players, who can't understand why they're struggling against the easier portion of one of the league's rougher schedules.
''It leaves a nasty taste in your mouth,'' safety Mike Adams said. ''It's tough. Games we were supposed to win, we're not winning. It's hard to explain.''
Adams was one of the few players to stroll into Cleveland's locker room following film sessions and meetings.
He's aware the rumor mill is cranking up and that Mangini's future, and not the Browns' never-ending quarterback situation, will be a daily topic from now until the season's end - and maybe longer. If there is a change, can the Browns deal with it?
''We're going to have to,'' Adams said. ''That's a part of the NFL. Players in and out, coaches in and out. We have to adjust as players, and as coaches. That's part of the business.''