CLEVELAND - It’s a million-dollar question at Browns camp – what’s the fix to the late-game demons that have marred the last three weeks?
Many were asked the question in some form but no one had the answer to the Browns’ fourth-quarter problem.
“I’ll look at this one and need to look at it before I can completely know what the reasons are,” head coach Rob Chudzinski said after Sunday’s loss to the Bears. “The biggest thing is being able to correct them. Whatever the reasons are, we have to correct it.”
They’ve failed to do that once, twice and then a third time once again Sunday.
“Whatever it is, why we’re not finishing these games, we’ve got to figure it out. I don’t know why personally, we’ve just got to figure that out as a team,” safety TJ Ward said.
Paul Kruger echoed that theme Monday: “Just letting it slip away like that is tough and I wish I had an answer for it.”
With cornerback Joe Haden forced out of the game with a hip injury, the Bears’ offense exploded for 21 fourth-quarter points as the Browns blew their third consecutive fourth-quarter lead in a 38-31 loss.
“It feels like every week we’ve been having a good performance, but this week in the fourth quarter we didn’t do what we needed to do,” corner Buster Skrine said.
It wasn’t just this week though.
One week ago, the Patriots stunningly scored 13 points in just more than a minute to dash the Browns’ upset bid.
Two weeks ago, the 4-win Jaguars drove 75 yards in a game-winning touchdown drive in the final four minutes, the last blow coming against the star corner Haden.
Sunday, Skrine was the victim, beaten on Jay Cutler’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett that gave the Bears the lead they would not relent.
“When Joe [Haden] went down, people have to step up. I mean, everybody’s getting paid, so people have to step up,” Skrine said.
No one is when it comes to these eye-burning fourth quarters.
“Hopefully we’ll get it done by the end of the season. If not we’re definitely looking forward to next season,” wide receiver Josh Gordon said.
But that message has been the word too often since the Browns’ return to Cleveland.
Wait ‘til next season.
Looking forward to the future has turned into continued disappointment.
Soak this in -- since 1999 the Browns are 77-161.
2-14, 3-13, 7-9, 9-7, 5-11, 4-12, 6-10, 4-12, 10-6, 4-12, 5-11, 5-11, 4-12, 5-11, 4-10
In a league driven by parity, it is even more astonishing that the Browns can achieve this level of mediocrity as long as they have.
Kansas City has gone from 2-14 to 11-3 in one season with an experienced head coach and proven quarterback.
The Browns have gone from 5-11 to 4-10 with a first-time head coach and carousel of quarterbacks.
As maligned as Pat Shurmur and his 2012 Browns were, Rob Chudzinski’s 2013 Browns can at best do just one game better. If they can’t beat either the Jets or Steelers in the season’s final two weeks, they’ll finish worse.
“I think this is the best team I’ve been on since I’ve been here,” Ward said.
The fourth-year safety may not even be wrong.
But that’s a not a positive statement when it’s referencing a 4-10 team.
You’re ultimately defined by your win-loss record and by that measure this Browns team is just as bad as the vast majority of the others through their troubled stretch.
No one had the answer to this year's end-of-game woes Sunday or Monday.
They haven’t for the past three weeks.
Or three years either.
Multiple that by five and you have the whole of the Browns’ expansion era.
“I talked to them a lot about what you hear, ‘If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.’ That’s what we have to do, and that’s the approach we have to take, and we want everybody to be part of the solution,” Chudzinski said after the team ensured its sixth straight double-digit loss season.
Whoever can provide the solution to this mind-boggling puzzle will be a Cleveland savior.