After going 19 games without a victory, coach Hue Jackson knew what the Browns desperately needed. On Thursday night, he articulated it perfectly.
“Coach Hue came in and said, ‘Chase the breakthrough. Do not chase the break,’ ’’ wide receiver Jarvis Landry said.
Jackson did not find that quote in a book. He said he came up with it during an examination of his team’s challenge.
In the pursuit of luck, the Browns had finished woefully short. Twelve of their 32 losses since the start of the 2016 season had been by six points or fewer.
As Jackson mulled the Browns’ plight, he realized the quest had been misguided. His players’ thinking had been poisoned by chasing breaks that never came their way. The “here we go again” syndrome had led to seemingly inescapable misery.
In finding an apt mantra for Thursday night’s nationally televised home game against the New York Jets, Jackson appealed to the Browns’ pride. He urged them to focus on the bigger reward. In rallying from a 14-point, second-quarter deficit for a 21-17 victory, he believes they got the long-sought breakthrough.
“I think that the breakthrough is getting a win, getting over the hump,” Jackson said during a conference call Friday. “There have been so many games where we have been close and have had a chance and we did not do it. It is not about breaks. How do you get the breakthrough? How do you come out the other side of this and be better? Winning.
“[Thursday night] definitely was a breakthrough.”
Years from now, the victory over the Jets might be considered the turning point for a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 2007, five coaches ago. It might set them on the road to respectability and success.
For that to be the case, the Browns must realize they beat the Jets with their minds as much as their bodies.
When the Jets took a 17-14 lead with 8:56 remaining, the Browns were mentally tougher than they’ve been in the past. They did not fall into the trap of “woe is me.” They marched 75 yards in 15 plays, including three third-down conversions, to regain the lead. Linebacker Joe Schobert and cornerback Terrance Mitchell came up with interceptions in the final 1:21.
“Nobody blinked. Everybody refocused. Everybody was talking about what we needed to do, what we needed to correct, whether it was stop them on defense, whether it was matriculate the ball down the field on offense or whether it was special teams trying to shore something up,” Jackson said of the final nine minutes. “Everybody was trying to do what they could in those moments ... to find a way to be the best version of themselves that gave us a chance to win. I saw that. I had not seen that in the past, that’s for sure.”
Jets coach Todd Bowles thought his team lost its composure, usually the Browns’ downfall. But with the energy surge brought by rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, who took over for injured Tyrod Taylor with 1:42 left in the second quarter, the Browns seemed to play harder. They caught balls they had been dropping. They shored up their pass protection. They converted third downs (5-of-8 in the second half).
For the first time in 19 games, they were the mentally tougher team.
In an attempt to change the Browns’ narrative, General Manager John Dorsey brought in 31 new players to start the season. All inside team headquarters are trying to bury the past.
“What has happened in the past has nothing to do with us. This is a new team. We are building in the right direction. Obviously, we fell short the first two weeks,” Landry said Thursday, referring to a tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers and a three-point loss at New Orleans. “We have needed to win a game like this. ... I think that it is going to create some momentum and energy for us.”
The Browns (1-1-1) visit Oakland on Sept. 30 seeking to win consecutive games for the first time since 2014, when they started 6-3 under coach Mike Pettine.
For this to be the Browns’ turning point, they will need energy. They will need the same mental toughness. They will need more takeaways from the defense, more missiles from Mayfield and more makes from kicker Greg Joseph.
They will need to stop chasing the breaks and keep their eyes on the breakthrough that Jackson proclaimed has already come. The next 13 games will determine if that’s true.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.