PITTSBURGH (AP) - All those positive vibes created by their big win over Baltimore three weeks ago are gone - mostly forgotten.
The Browns are fading fast.
And coach Hue Jackson or offensive coordinator Todd Haley could vanish soon.
“We have to go to the drawing board,” Jackson said following a 33-18 loss Sunday to the Steelers that wasn’t that close. “We have to get better. We aren’t where we need to be, bottom line.”
Cleveland squandered early scoring chances, settling for field goals when touchdowns were needed, and the Browns (2-5-1) dropped their third straight game, raising more questions about Jackson’s future.
A week after pledging to do whatever was necessary to fix Haley’s offense, Jackson, now 3-36-1 in two-plus seasons, doesn’t seem to have a strong handle on any aspect of his team.
Cleveland gained 119 yards in the first quarter - but just 118 more over the final three. The Browns line didn’t do enough to protect rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield; the playmakers didn’t make enough plays; and once again, Cleveland’s offense bogged down after the defense forced turnovers.
The Browns also allowed 421 yards and missed numerous chances to tackle Steelers running back James Conner, who picked up 146 and scored twice. Also, kicker Greg Joseph was off target on a field goal and extra point.
Following the game, Jackson used the word “disheartening” to describe the wayward kicks.
He might as well been talking about his team’s overall performance as the Browns dropped their 15th straight game at Heinz Field.
“It was a chance for us again to make a mark in the AFC North,” Jackson said. “Seems like we didn’t grab what I think we had a chance to grab.”
The loss followed another turbulent week for the Browns, who have lost 25 consecutive road games - one shy of the NFL record held by the Detroit Lions (2007-10). Jackson’s postgame comments in Tampa Bay last week about “diving” in to help Haley turned into awkward news conferences during which both coaches insisted they were united.
Jackson refused to dignify a report that he may soon fire Haley if the team doesn’t improve on offense.
“I don’t want to talk about or give legs to anything about last week,” Jackson said. “I said what I said out of frustration. That’s over and done with. Let’s go watch the tape and see how we can get better.”
Jackson said he has no issues with Haley.
“There’s nothing wrong with my relationship with Haley,” he said. “I said what I said last week, and obviously, it had legs, but I never said I wanted to take away play calling. I said I wanted to help. That’s it. Now all of the sudden it’s this big ol’ thing because sure everyone’s going to look and say what’s going on? The only thing that’s going on is we need to get better. We need to coach better.”
Jackson believes he still has the attention of his players, and isn’t concerned about them giving in.
“Still up,” he said about the team’s overall mood. “Frustrated, mad, don’t like to lose like that. But this team will stick together and keep fighting.”
Defensive end Myles Garrett raised some eyebrows when he was asked if the Browns, who tied the Steelers in Week 1 and beat the Ravens in overtime on Oct. 8, are going backward.
“I think we just took the wrong approach this time,” he said, referring to Cleveland’s defensive game plan. “I think we should’ve just stayed with what we did the first time, just go with base calls and punch them in the mouth.”
Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield threw a pair of touchdown passes, but spent much of the day under pressure from Pittsburgh’s rush.
Mayfield was only sacked twice, and he did all he could to avoid a question about the Jackson-Haley relationship.
“I try not to pay attention to that stuff,” he said. “I’m invested in the game plan and invested in trying to learn and grow with some of these receivers. Trying to get the timing down, trying to get the trust, so that’s above my pay grade. I’m not worried about that. When it comes down to it, we come out here, we have to play the game to win.”
Browns left guard Joel Bitonio echoed Mayfield’s remarks. He wasn’t going to get caught in a perceived tug-of-war between his coaches or comment on Haley, who had a forgettable return trip to Pittsburgh as an opponent after six seasons as the team’s offensive coordinator.
“We’re trying to do our best with what we have out there,” Bitonio said. “I don’t think you can pinpoint it on one person.”
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