Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson talks with owner Jimmy Haslam before the Jacksonville Jaguars game in Nov. 2017 in Cleveland at FirstEnrgy Stadium. The Browns lost 19-7. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com)
Sometimes coach Hue Jackson invites a special guest to speak to the Browns before a game.
But with the team staring at the dreaded record of 0-16 heading into Sunday’s 1 p.m. season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, Jackson will be the one to deliver a speech about avoiding humiliating history.
And believe it or not, it isn’t expected to be a swan song for the embattled coach.
“I’m going to give that pep talk,” Jackson said. “I think I’m just the guy to do it. Obviously, the night before the game, I’m sure there will be a little bit more tension probably, per se, because of the next day, but I would hope that our guys still handle all of this the right way because you still have to be at your best. You have to go play your best. You can’t be too high or too low. You just have to go play.”
With 0-16 about to punch them in the mouths last season, the Browns ducked just in time, prevailing 20-17 over the San Diego Chargers in their second-to-last game Dec. 24 in Cleveland. However, there was no Christmas Eve miracle this past weekend against the Chicago Bears. The Browns lost 20-3 at Soldier Field, fell to 0-15 and have just one chance left to escape joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only NFL teams to finish a season 0-16. A New Year’s Eve miracle is now their only hope.
After firing head of football operations Sashi Brown, owner Jimmy Haslam announced Dec. 7 he would keep Jackson as the team’s coach for the 2018 season. Then Haslam doubled down the next day during the introductory news conference of General Manager John Dorsey by saying Jackson will “absolutely” return, even if the Browns go winless.
However, skepticism about Haslam’s pledge and speculation about Jackson being fired haven’t subsided locally or nationally. As always, it’s worth remembering anything can happen in the NFL. No one knows whether the arranged marriage between Jackson and Dorsey will quickly disintegrate or if a coaching vacancy in Cincinnati would lead Jackson back to his old stomping grounds.
Yet entering this weekend, Haslam’s plan to stick with Jackson hadn’t changed.
Despite Jackson’s record of 1-30, the worst start with a team in NFL coaching history, he has insisted he’s convinced Haslam will make good on his word. The players have said they have the same expectation. They’re in this mess together, with the very real possibility of posting a perfectly pitiful record hanging over their heads and a satirical parade organized by a faction of the fan base scheduled for Jan. 6 in Cleveland.
“We don’t want to be on that side of history, so guys are preparing to go out and win a game on Sunday,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “There’s probably been a sense of desperation for a while now, but this is the most desperate. Obviously, there’s no more opportunities after Sunday, so if you don’t win Sunday, there’s no way around it.”
A loss in Pittsburgh, where the Browns haven’t won since Oct. 5, 2003, would be viewed as inevitable if the Steelers (12-3) were to play all of their starters. But with a first-round postseason bye locked up, they’ll likely rest quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’s 21-2 as a starter against the Browns, running back Le’Veon Bell and other key players, including center Maurkice Pouncey and defensive end Cameron Heyward. Roethlisberger and Bell sat out Friday’s practice for noninjury related reasons. Wide receiver Antonio Brown has been ruled out with a calf injury. Pouncey is listed as questionable to play with a hip injury.
“I haven’t really looked at it that way as in, ‘Maybe we’ll have a chance now,’ ” rookie defensive end Myles Garrett said. “We have a chance every time we step on the field. We just have to execute all the way down the stretch.”
It’s easier to execute against backups, though. On the other hand, the Steelers rested Roethlisberger, Bell, Brown and Pouncey in the 2016 season finale, and backup quarterback Landry Jones led the Steelers to a 27-24 victory over the visiting Browns in overtime.
In other words, for the Browns to escape the embarrassment of 0-16, they still must do something they haven’t done all season — play a complete game.
“You want that feeling of winning and you want that chance, and you’re like, ‘What can we do to make it happen?’ ” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “It’s been tough. And then you go out to the town and you see the fans that are disappointed and you feel bad for them, and then your family is asking you about the games. That little portion after the game, my family is texting me, ‘Good game.’ And in reality, I’m like, ‘Screw this. We just lost again.’ ”
The Browns are 2-40 in their past 42 games and 4-48 in their past 52. They have lost their past 32 games on a Sunday, their last 20 on the road (excluding their trip to London) and their last 16 in the AFC North.
Needless to say, a rare victory would offer some much-needed relief.
“One is better than none, and to leave off on a win is better than leaving off on a loss,” Garrett said. “So we’re still going to go out there and do our best. Nobody’s checked out.”
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- UCLA's Josh Rosen didn't exactly refute a ESPN report that he doesn't want to play for the Browns.
"I'd rather be a lower pick at the right team than a higher one at the wrong team,'' Rosen said before the Cactus Bowl.
So, he's saying he'd rather not get drafted by a franchise that's 1-30 over the past two seasons and has managed two winning seasons since 1999? He's saying he wouldn't look forward to joining a team whose head coach might not last a third season (provided he really does survive his first two)?
He's saying that - given the possibility of more upheaval - he wouldn't readily embrace playing for a new regime one year into his NFL career? He'd rather not play for an owner who's been all over the map in organization building?
What is he? Smart?
* If Rosen comes out and reiterates that stance, there would be widespread criticism of him among fans who think he's cocky and spoiled. If he's as good as advertised, the criticism won't stick any more than it did to Eli Manning.
Who somehow seems to have made his mark without being a name in the Browns QB roll call since '99.
* The best-case scenario for the Browns is if they like USC's Sam Darnold or Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield as much or more than Rosen and don't really want Rosen, who suffered concussions at UCLA and missed the Bruins' bowl game. They may agree with scouts who consider Rosen aloof and who question his locker room leadership.
The worst case? Rosen is clearly the top QB. The Browns pass on him. And he wins Super Bowls elsewhere.
I know. When has the worst-case scenario ever happened in Berea?
* The Giants suspended former Buckeyes cornerback Eli Apple after a week in which teammate Landon Collins called Apple a "cancer" in an interview with 98.7 ESPN New York.
Collins later apologized.
"I never stop supporting my brother/teammate Eli and the rest of my teammates as we move forward," said Collins. "Just want him to know I'm always here for him."
If that's support, you don't want to be around when Collins isn't showing so much of it.
* The Giants came down on Apple Wednesday after he reportedly argued with coaches at practice. When approached by reporters, he refused comment other than to make a graphic reference about needing to use the men's room.
The suspension was apparently a joint decision by interim head coachSteve Spagnuolo and interim GM Kevin Abrams. The Giants earlier fired head coach Ben McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese. They are 2-13 this season.
And, according to ESPN, Josh Rosen prefers that team to your team, Browns Fan.
* USC's Darnold, meanwhile, says he'd be happy to play anywhere.
"Whenever I come out to go to the NFL, I think I'd be honored to play for any team," Darnold told the media in advance of USC's Cotton Bowl matchup against Ohio State. "It's been a dream of mine for such a long time to play in the NFL. Any team that would want to give me that opportunity to be a part of their organization, it would mean the world to me."
Spoken like a young man who plans on going back to USC for another season.
* Some Browns players are rooting for Joe Haden to win a Super Bowl in Pittsburgh.
The biggest reason to think the Steelers could win it all? Not Haden, though he's helped.
It's the pain Browns fans would feel watching it happen.
If you root hard against the Steelers, I get it (as Hue Jackson would say).
Just know the alternative might be Kenny Britt going to the Super Bowl in New England.
* Wide receiver Josh Gordon told reporters this week he was confused when he heard the Browns cut Haden.
"It just didn't make sense at the time," said Gordon.
If you believe in the Browns' strategy to cut players who could still help them because they're overvalued on a losing team, Sashi Brown thanks you for your unfailing but misguided support.
* ESPN asks the question: "Did the Pats get enough for Jimmy Garoppolo?" After all, he's 4-0 so far under head coach Kyle Shananan in San Francisco.
ESPN's conclusion, reached after careful study of the deal that sent Garoppolo to the Niners for a second-round draft pick, is that "it's complicated."
Granted, it's hard to settle on a single answer.
It's either no, or hell no.
* The 2008 Detroit Lions, the only team to finish 0-16 in league history, was outscored by 249 points that season. Opponents have outscored the Browns by 172, the most in the league.
Hall of Famer synonymous with heroism thanks to charitable spirit, baseball feats By Joe Posnanski https://www.mlb.com/ December 28, 2017
Old film of athletes rarely ages well. You see black and white footage of Bob Cousy dribbling in circles or Jim Brown running over would-be tacklers half his size or Babe Ruth swinging that tree trunk of a bat in what looks like fast-forward speed, and it's hard to connect with their greatness. There's a brilliance and magic about their talents that doesn't quite translate, that does not travel through the years.
But every now and again, there's a rare athlete whose gifts are so beautiful, so pure, so timeless that the crackling video looks as modern and fresh as if it was taken yesterday. Just watch Roberto Clemente throw a baseball.
Just watch him throw in the documentary short "Remembering Roberto."
It looks as beautiful now as it ever did.
"I think it is unproductive, if not mindless, to compare athletes from different generations," says David Maraniss, author of the marvelous "Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball's Last Hero." "Everything is different: diet, training, gene pool, equipment. … Statistics offer the illusion of an even way to judge and compare, but it's only an illusion.
"Overcoming race and language, Clemente became the undisputed leader of the Pirates, something that all the statistics utterly fail to measure, just as in the matter of joy and beauty they fail to measure the thrill of watching him go to the wall and uncork a rope to third."
Clemente's story cannot be told enough times. It is at first, as Maraniss says, "the story of a migrant worker, essentially, black, and Latino, the greatest of the first wave and someone who fought against his own pride and fears of mortality, and against the white sporting press establishment and yet somehow emerged beloved."
Click on the link below to read the rest of the article:
According to his now former teammates, everything went according to plan for Harrison, who was unhappy with a limited role that included 40 snaps in 14 games.
However, Harrison said that while he anticipated a reduced role, he was unhappy that he was playing even less than expected.
"After the first week of the season, I said to them, it's clear you want to play your younger guys, and I understand, so why don't you release me? You go on your way, and I'll go on mine," Harrison told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They said, 'No, no, no, we got a role for you.'"
Harrison added that he stopped asking for his release after he played only 15 snaps in a Week 6 win over Kansas City. Although he says he was told by the team to "be ready" to play a lot of snaps in a Week 15 loss to the Patriots, Harrison again did not play at all.
"If I didn't play in the biggest game of the year, that told me I wouldn't get any more snaps," Harrison told the newspaper. "So all that lip service you gave me before didn't matter."
Coach Mike Tomlin briefly explained Harrison's release Tuesday, citing the need for a corresponding roster move with Marcus Gilbert's return from suspension.
Teammates were not as calculated after Wednesday's practice, with Pouncey calling out Harrison for not addressing frustrations publicly.
"If you didn't want to be here, come out and say it," Pouncey said. "Don't make it look like it's the team's fault. ... You think the team and the organization wanted to get rid of James Harrison? Come on, now. If I wanted out, I wouldn't let the team take the blame for it."
Added linebacker Bud Dupree: "I don't want the media to portray that we're the reason he left. That ain't the reason. He chose to leave. He made certain decisions, and his actions got him to this circumstance."
Cornerback Artie Burns said Harrison's "energy" showed the team that he was upset about a lack of playing time, which created "a whole thing with him and the guys upstairs," leading to his release on Saturday.
"I guess [New England is] where he wanted to be," Burns said.
One team source said Harrison went to great lengths to get himself released.
Players witnessed Harrison sleeping in a recliner during position meetings and snoring loudly while outside linebackers coach Joey Porter tried to teach, the source said. Sometimes, Harrison would skip meetings altogether, and when he missed practices for various injuries, player suspicions would rise when Harrison conducted his famous power-lifting sessions the same week or day, the source said.
Harrison left the building at random times, would leave stadiums before or during games on days he was inactive and told teammates he was trying to get traded, released or placed on Injured Reserve, the source said.
The source said Harrison exhibited the behavior throughout the season, but players really started to notice Harrison checking out on game days after a Week 4 win over the Ravens.
Dupree said on his weekly radio show Wednesday night that Harrison showed no interest in mentoring him or rookie linebacker T.J. Watt.
"I don't know how many secrets about the playbook Harrison could give to [the Patriots] because I never saw him in meetings," said Dupree, according to host Paul Zeise.
Bill Parise, Harrison's agent, said Saturday that the parting was amicable, but Harrison was "clearly" frustrated over his role in the defense.
Pouncey spoke strongly about the responsibility of a longtime Steeler to carry out what's best for the team, including mentoring young players.
Watt and Dupree -- both first-round picks -- replaced Harrison on a full-time basis this season. When asked whether Harrison was a mentor to him, Dupree laughed while walking out of the interview scrum.
"We're going to speak the truth. That's what it is," Pouncey said. "I want [backup B.J. Finney] to be the best offensive lineman. If he comes and takes my position, it is what it is. ... I'm not going to complain about that. I'm very thankful for everything. I'm a man about everything. Any time I messed up, every time I never did anything, I stood up to everybody and told them. It is what it is. I'm not going to run from no one."
This is a strange ending to Harrison's career in Pittsburgh. He spent all but one of his 15 seasons with the Steelers, making five Pro Bowls and winning two Super Bowl rings and a Defensive Player of the Year award. Teammates had lauded Harrison's ability to lead by example.
Safety Mike Mitchell said Harrison is a friend, but he added about Harrison's going to New England, "I probably wouldn't have done it for $59,000." Harrison is due $58,823.50 in Week 17 salary. Playoff games are paid by share.
Harrison said there was "a little hesitation" in signing with the Patriots, but the Steelers never reached out to him after waiving him.
"I cleared waivers, New England had called and said they wanted me to come up, and we talked," Harrison told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday. "At 4:30 that afternoon, I flew to Boston, and there was no communication from the Steelers about anything."
Harrison added that he expects to play in the Pats' regular-season finale against the Jets on Sunday, but he has not been asked "one thing" about the Steelers since joining his new team.
Asked whether Harrison became a locker room distraction toward the end, Pouncey sent a message to the pass-rusher.
In this Oct. 8, 2017, photo, Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison walks the sidelines as his team plays against the Jacksonville Jaguars in an NFL football game in Pittsburgh. Harrison's long tenure with the Steelers is over. The AFC North champions released the five-time Pro Bowl linebacker and 2008 NFL defensive player of the year to make room for right tackle Marcus Gilbert.(Fred Vuich/AP)
James Harrison didn't set out to leave the Steelers and join one of their biggest rivals, his agent said Tuesday.
In the end, however, Harrison wasn't given the choice.
Three days after the Steelers released their career leader in sacks and two-time team MVP, Harrison signed with the New England Patriots.
"Since (the Steelers) made a call to me about his release, from that time to this time, I have not spoken to them at all," Bill Parise said early Tuesday evening, less than an hour after the Patriots announced the signing of his client to a one-year contract.
While coach Mike Tomlin stood at a podium Tuesday afternoon during his weekly news conference and did little to quell speculation the Steelers were interested in bringing back the 39-year-old Harrison after he cleared waivers, Harrison already was en route to Foxborough, Mass., to meet with Patriots brass.
New England coach Bill Belichick first spoke with the 15-year veteran Monday.
"The Patriots are very methodical about how they do things and the way they make decisions," Parise said.
With a need at edge rusher, New England decided a marriage with Harrison made sense, particularly considering two of their projected opponents in the AFC playoffs are the Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs.
Harrison traditionally has thrived against tall offensive tackles, and Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is 6-foot-9. Harrison has 31⁄2 sacks in his past five games against Kansas City and their 6-7 left tackle, Eric Fisher. The most recent of those came Oct. 15 on the Chiefs' second-to-last snap of the game, helping to seal a Steelers road victory.
But that would be the final of his 801⁄2 sacks as a Steeler. Over 15 regular-season weeks with the Steelers in 2017, Harrison played 40 snaps. He was inactive for six of the team's 14 games before his release. He dressed but did not play in three others.
"His goal was to play football, not to sit somewhere," Parise said. "I think James was very, very agreeable, obviously, to being a part-time player. That wasn't an issue. It's just that the way it ended up, he wasn't playing at all."
Less than two months after Harrison and the Steelers agreed on a two-year, $3.5 million extension, the Steelers drafted T.J. Watt. Watt was given the starting right outside linebacker spot from Day 1 of training camp and did not relinquish it. And it was Anthony Chickillo — not Harrison — who emerged as Watt's backup.
"I think if we all had our druthers, we would rather James stayed in Pittsburgh and played in a role that he was led to believe he'd be playing in," Parise said. "We'd all rather have not moved anywhere, but that's not the way the NFL works."
So instead, the Steelers — and their fans — face the possibility that, come the AFC championship game late next month (the earliest the Steelers and Patriots could next meet), Harrison will be lined up and aiming for Ben Roethlisberger.
An even more difficult sight for Steelers fans to stomach might be the photo Harrison posted to his verified Instagram account not long after the signing became official: a selfie with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady with the caption, "Finally... A teammate that's older than me!"
Harrison and the 40-year-old Brady are the NFL's oldest players on defense and offense, respectively.
The signing of Harrison was in character for a Patriots franchise that often acquires older veterans released by other teams at midseason. This year, they made similar moves by bringing in tight end Marcellus Bennett and receiver Kenny Britt.
Harrison is expected to play in Sunday's regular-season finale against the New York Jets.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.
That Steelers win over Houston on Christmas Day was like the Starbucks gift card of Secret Santa gift-giving.
Utterly forgettable and devoid of thought. Yet completely practical, and you're really happy to get it.
I always love the Starbucks gift card. I mean, what am I gonna do? Not use $25 of free coffee? Are you kidding? Of course I am!
Even if you aren't a coffee drinker, then re-gift it to someone who is. You'll be a hit.
For as happy as I am to get one though, I fully understand that — at most — ten seconds of effort was put into my gift. And it sure as heck isn't going to change my life.
But that first time you are out of cash and you need 16 ounces of caffeine at 7:30 in the morning, boy is it going to feel important.
Thanks to Sharon from accounting. You get the Secret Santa gold star.
So how else besides the Starbucks gift card analogy could you describe Pittsburgh's 34-6 victory over the Texans Monday?
It was something we are thrilled to see them get. But it's not anything we will ever think about again.
Except for maybe that DeAndre Hopkins touchdown catch. I'm not sure what was more amazing. How he got both feet down? Or how he managed to catch it while holding that much of Joe Haden's jersey.
Totally illegal. Yet still totally impressive. I'm serious. It was so spectacular, even while it was being reviewed, I didn't want it overturned. It was that good.
Maybe I wanted it flagged in the first place. But not overturned
Regardless, the bottom line is that the Steelers did what they needed to do.
• Rebound from a gut punch loss to New England — Check
• Gain home field advantage for at least one playoff game and get a first round bye — Check
• Go on the road and shake the life out of a dying opponent — Check.
• Get out healthy — Check
Those were the big picture accomplishments that needed to occur with this win.
The minutia — i.e. how that all managed to come to fruition — was also important, though.
The offense showed it wouldn't be crippled in the pass game without Antonio Brown as Ben Roethlisberger was wildly efficient, compiling a passer rating of 115 on 20-29 throwing for two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Martavis Bryant averaged 20 yards per catch. JuJu Smith- Schuster grabbed a touchdown and had six receptions for 75 yards. Justin Hunter scored as well.
“We all just took AB's plate and ate from it,” said Smith-Schuster.
Oh, and even Vance McDonald nabbed four catches in a row without getting hurt.
Le'Veon Bell averaged 4.9 yards per carry. New acquisition Stevan Ridley got nine carries in his Pittsburgh debut as he was dotted into the offensive system to replace an injured James Conner.
Furthermore, the offensive line allowed just one sack to Jadeveon Clowney despite Ramon Foster's absence.
Meanwhile, on defense, that Mike Hilton blitz was rediscovered as he dropped Texans passers three times. He hadn't registered a sack since week four.
“We felt good about the blitzes that we had lined up,” Hilton said. “We felt like with the coverage we had behind, the quarterback would hold the ball. I was able to get back there and make some plays.”
Cam Heyward underscored why he was a Pro Bowl snub, collecting two sacks himself as Pittsburgh tallied seven on the day. Plus the defense forced two turnovers.
Even the normally limp Steeler return game got two decent punt returns from Eli Rogers of 27 and 21 yards.
“Every single time we step in a stadium we have to make sure we execute,” said offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva. “Today the offense, and the defense, and the special teams played great. And we came away with a victory.”
As a bonus Roethlisberger and Bell got to leave the game early. Yet Marcus Gilbert and Joe Haden got to thread their way back into action and knock off the rust from injury and suspension. Both were largely effective. Better yet, when their mistakes occurred, they did so in the vacuum of a 28-point win.
The Steelers had to work on a holiday. They did the job with professional, business-like efficiency.
Well, aside from Vince Williams' taunt of Hopkins, of course.
Now it's onto the 0-15 Browns at Heinz Field Sunday with home field advantage in the playoffs still a possibility.
Espresso, anyone? I'll pick up the tab. I've got a gift card.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.