Pittsburgh—It happens way too often in Cleveland around the end of the NFL season.
One regime is fired and a new one is on the verge of being ushered in.
“(Change) is inevitable,” Josh Cribbs said as the Browns dropped to 5-11 with a 24-10 loss to the Steelers.
Pat Shurmur spoke in somber tones after the game and sounded like a fired coach, but insisted he hadn’t been told anything.
“I have not spoken to Joe Banner and Jimmy Haslam in quite some time,” Shurmur said. “I saw them before the game, but not close enough to speak.”
Shurmur said he feels “the future is bright for that group of guys”.
When asked what he meant by that, Shurmur responded.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Again, I haven’t spoken with Jimmy or Joe. The only thing I can do, you need to call your league sources.
“I have watched how these players have improved and I have watched how they have come together as a team,” he said. “I have watched how close we were in a lot of the instances to winning these games and I think with a little more time this team will improve.
“I have said this before there is a huge improvement between the first time you do something and the second,” he said. “I think the same could also be said for me. There is a huge improvement because now they can sit back and watch themselves compete all winter and see the things they did right. I guarantee every one of them in there will look at the tape this winter and say, “Gosh, what was I thinking?” Net year, many of them will no longer be rookies and that’s where the huge improvement comes.”
Shurmur said if he is let go, he expects to be coaching somewhere.
“I’m looking forward to this team next year, if that’s the case,” he said. “If not, then what I’m going to do is help coach and help inspire a team to win games in some role. I have kids in college, I have mouths to feed and this is my profession and this is what I choose to do. That’s it. That is how simple it is in my mind.”
Phil Dawson feels Shurmur and the team were dealt with difficult circumstances from the beginning of training camp.
“Well, change is never fun,” he said. “It has been a difficult season from day one. When the team gets sold the first day of training camp, that’s adversity. A lot of what I said this year was how proud I was of this team an the way they handled change.”
Greg Little, who scored the Browns only touchdown said he’s not worried about change.
“No, I’m not worried about anything,” Little said. “That isn’t a decision that I have to make. Whatever decision it is, we will roll with it.”
D’Qwell Jackson said he’s never prepared for a regime change.
“I’m not prepared for it until it happens,” Jackson said. “If it does, we’ll move forward.”
Cribbs feels the Browns are much better than their record.
“We’re definitely better,” Cribbs said. “Everybody knows that, but we didn’t show it.”
Jackson said the locker room was somber after the game when Shurmur addressed the team.
“To me, (Shurmur) was trying to hold back tears,” Jackson said. “It’s a tough situation for him. The players appreciate him and would run through a brick wall for him.”
Joe Thomas agreed.
“It was a little bit emotional,” Thomas said. “We’ve come a long way and people can see progress of the team. We’re moving in the right direction and he can be proud of that.”
Thomas said he’s seen enough changes in his six seasons with the Browns. He’s already had three coaches (Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini and Pat Shurmur).
“I’ve seen enough of these (changes),” Thomas said. “I’m a little numb to it.”
Cribbs Breaks Records; Wants to Return: WR/KR Josh Cribbs spent a portion of his time after the game talking about wanting to return to the Browns. He has an expiring contract and it is unclear what his future would be with the Browns.
“It’s the NFL and it’s a business,” he said. “I can’t worry about things I can’t control. I don’t know if they want me back.
“It would be an honor for me personally to come back and be wearing the orange and brown as a contributor,” Cribbs said. “I’ve seen guys go through it but now I am in that position.
Cribbs was somber in the locker room and was asked if he was sad.
“I love to play here,” he said. “I am sad. I don’t want to leave the team. I love the fan base. It will be sad (if I don’t return) I love Cleveland. I’ve been adopted by the city.”
Cribbs said a lot depends on who’s making the decisions moving forward, but thinks he is still has a lot to offer.
“I haven’t run into many coaches that haven’t liked me as a player.”
During the game, Cribbs achieved two milestones as he broke Dennis Northcutt’s record for the most punt return yardage in Browns history. Northcutt had 2,149 yards from 2000-06. Cribbs had a seven-yard return to give him 2,154 in his tenure with the Browns from 2005-12.
He also went over the 10,000 yard mark on career kickoff returns with two returns for 42 yards to become only the fifth player in NFL history to hit that mark. He has 10,015. Brian Mitchell has the record with 14,014.
Cribbs said he didn’t know he had broke Northcutt’s record when informed after the game by a reporter.
“It’s an honor.”
Drafting High: By virtue of losing the final three games, the Browns will draft no lower than sixth overall. They could pick as high as four, depending on strength of schedule by other teams.
Thomas on Heckert: If GM Tom Heckert is let go by the Browns, OT Joe Thomas said it wouldn’t be because he didn’t do a good job.
“It’s definitely not the case,” Thomas said. “He did a good job but there was an ownership change.”
Lewis Debut: QB Thaddeus Lewis made his NFL debut against the Steelers and was 22-of-32 for 204 yards. He had his first NFL touchdown to WR Greg Little and threw an interception. His rating was 83.3.
“I think he did a great job in the huddle,” Ben Watson said. “The ball came out quick.”
Watson had seven receptions for 64 yards.
“”Everybody knew that we had to help him out,” Travis Benjamin said. “We know he is a beginner and we knew that the nervousness was in him, but he came out and played a great game.”
Lewis was the 18th quarterback to start for the Browns since 1999.
Phil’s Farewell?: K Phil Dawson also faces an uncertain future with the Browns for the third off-season in a row. The Browns have placed the franchise tag on him the past two seasons but by rule they would have to pay him among the top five salaries in the NFL if they franchise him again.
Dawson is set to break Lou Groza’s longevity record if he plays one more season with the Browns.
“I’m not sure what here is and until the phone rings on my end,” Dawson said.”Change is never fun to go through. It usually means a turnover on the roster, but that’s how this business is.”
“If I’m here, I’ll embrace it,” he said. “This is my normal.”
Dawson finished the season with 116 points and was 29-of-31 in field goal attempts. He missed a 39-yard attempt against Pittsburgh and made one from 51-yards out. He was 7-of-7 on the season from 50 plus yards.
Little Leads: WR Greg Little led the Browns in receiving with 53 catches for 647 yards (12.2 avg.) and four touchdowns, including a seven-yard touchdown against the Steelers. RB Trent Richardson was leading the team with 51 catches, but did not play. Little had three receptions for 38 yards, including the touchdown.
Turnover Time: The Browns turned the ball over four times to zero by the Steelers. Two of the fumbles resulted in Steelers touchdowns. The first time the teams met, the Steelers turned the ball over eight times in the Browns 20-14 win. WR Josh Gordon and WR Travis Benjamin fumbled that the Steelers converted into touchdowns. QB Josh Johnson fumbled on his only play in relief of QB Thad Lewis on the Browns last play on offense. Lewis threw one interception to DB Troy Polamalu.
Sack Man: The Browns only two sacks were recorded by DE Jabaal Sheard. He finished the season with seven to lead the team. DE Juqua Parker had six.
Action Jackson: RB Brandon Jackson saw his first carries of the season and responded with 54 yards on just eight carries for a 6.8 average, including a 25 yard run. RB Montario Hardesty started and finished with 37 yards on 14 carries (2.6 avg.) with a long of 16 yards. RB Chris Ogbonnaya had 9 yards on two carries.
Big Ben: TE Ben Watson caught seven passes for 64 yards in what could be his final game with the Browns as he has an expiring contract.
Walking Wounded: QB Brandon Weeden, QB Colt McCoy, RB Trent Richardson, CB Sheldon Brown, OL Jarrod Shaw, LB Adrian Moten and TE Jordan Cameron were inactive. Brown had his 175 consecutive games played streak snapped as he sat out with a concussion.
Flash Gordon: WR Josh Gordon injured his ankle in the first half after fumbling on a pass reception. He did not return and finished with four receptions for 39 yards and for his rookie season had 50 catches for 805 yards (16.1 avg.) and five touchdowns.