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Browns scrapping, but still losing as injuries continue to mount

By Tom Withers | Associated Press Published: October 19, 2016 4:00 AM
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BEREA -- Tired of losing, and maybe just tired, Browns coach Hue Jackson spent much of Sunday night staring at the ceiling. Sleep eluded him.

His insomnia is understandable given his team is 0-6, riddled with injuries, starting a rookie quarterback, and has lost nine in a row and 16 of 17 overall since last season.

Those issues would keep the soundest sleeper awake.

Jackson, though, believes the Browns are on the cusp of victory.

"We know it is coming," he said.

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A day after Cleveland's comeback in the fourth quarter fell short in a 28-26 loss at Tennessee, Jackson, whose decision to go for a 2-point conversion has divided pundits and Browns fans, remains confident his young team is improving despite the litany of losses.

"We continue to stub our toe a little bit in some areas," said Jackson. "We just have to continue to fight to get over that hump. We are not going to stop doing what we do. I'm more determined -- I say that every week -- than ever before."

Jackson's resolve is commendable, as is the fight in his players despite a rash of injuries that would affect any team -- never mind one with 18 rookies.

But Jackson isn't using his team's youth or health as excuses. The baby Browns are taking baby steps. Jackson doesn't think it will be long before they're off and running.

"Our guys are scrapping and clawing and trying to get there," he said. "We are going to continue to harp on the fundamentals to get there. I truly believe we will get these things done. We have 10 more opportunities to get this thing done right."

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As has been the case in most of their games this season, the Browns had their share of bright spots, none shinier on Sunday than rookie quarterback Cody Kessler, who completed 26-of-41 passes for 336 yards and two touchdowns. In his fourth start, Kessler didn't make any major mistakes, survived being sacked six times, and showed poise and playmaking ability outside the pocket.

Jackson feels Kessler, who had to be rushed into the lineup after injuries to Robert Griffin II and Josh McCown, is steadily improving.

"He continues to impress with his courage," Jackson said. "He stands in there. He gets walloped a few times. He gets back up. He stands up and on he goes. That is pro football. Nobody likes their quarterback getting hit that much. I know I don't. There are some third down things we can do better and need to do better, but I think he's growing week by week, moment by moment, play by play."

Kessler's progress could make the Browns rethink their future plans at quarterback, but that's a discussion for another day.

Still, Jackson was effusive in his praise of the 23-year-old, who became emotional following Sunday's loss when reflecting on his younger brother recently being hospitalized, as well as the death of his great-grandmother.

"This guy is playing as good as I have had in a long time," Jackson said.

While Jackson's choice of Kessler in the draft isn't being panned as it once was, he was still being second-guessed Monday for his decision on a 2-point try.

Down 15, the Browns scored with 2:10 left on a pass from Kessler to Terrelle Pryor. Rather than kick an extra point, which would have pulled them within eight of the Titans, Jackson decided to attempt a 2-point conversion, which failed, left Cleveland trailing 28-19 and essentially ended the game.

The Browns recovered an onside kick and scored again with 30 seconds left. They were within two after a PAT kick, but they couldn't recover a second onside kick and the Titans ran out the clock.

"I felt very comfortable, and still do, with the decision we made," he said.

"Trust me you guys (reporters) made me think of it all night. I turned, tossed, pillow over my head, cover over my head, said, 'Hue, OK.' I have even called everybody that was involved with this with me, and I feel even better about what we decided to do today than even I did yesterday. I know there are two sides to every situation there. I respect how you all feel, but I feel very comfortable with the decision that we made for our team."

NOTES: Starting S Jordan Poyer remains hospitalized with a lacerated kidney. ... Jackson said Pryor injured his hamstring and will be assessed later in the week. Pryor had nine catches for 75 yards and two TDs against the Titans. ... McCown practiced last week but did not play, and Jackson doesn't know if he'll be ready this week for the Bengals.

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