What did the Browns accomplish in 2018, and what does it say about next year? A captain and the general manager weigh in.

BEREA  It would take all week to find someone who wishes Hue Jackson had stayed.

Still, it is interesting to note that in the Browns' turnaround season, their only non-losses against winning teams came before Gregg Williams replaced Jackson as interim head coach.

Jackson, fired after Game 8, was in charge when the Browns tied Pittsburgh 21-21 in the opener and when they beat Baltimore 12-9 in overtime in Game 5 (Jackson also was in the saddle for the Browns' Game 3 win over a bad Jets team).

Williams went 5-3 as interim head coach. All five wins were against losing teams, and all three losses were against playoff teams, two on the road.

General Manager John Dorsey said he is considering "everything" about Williams and his work as he plows into the 2019 head coaching decision. That includes weighing the quality of play whether games were won or lost.

Williams' breakdown of wins and losses:

- Beat the Bengals twice (Cincinnati went 6-10 and parted ways with head coach Marvin Lewis on Monday).

- Won at Denver (the Broncos also went 6-10 and fired their head coach, Vance Joseph).

- Beat Atlanta and Carolina (NFC South members that each went 7-9).

- Lost at home to Kansas City (the AFC's No. 1 seed for the playoffs).

- Lost at Houston (won the AFC South at 11-5) and at Baltimore (won the AFC North).

The Browns' best game against an elite team arguably came under Jackson in Game 2 at New Orleans. The Browns could have taken a 19-18 lead with 1:16 left had Zane Gonzalez not missed an extra point.

Clearly, though, the work that slapped awake a fan base was done after Williams and Freddie Kitchens got coaching promotions.

Dorsey acknowledged as much by saying, "Gregg and his people have done a really nice job in terms of teaching, developing and getting this team to understand what winning is all about."

Dorsey came away from a 7-8-1 season making it clear there is a chance neither Williams nor Kitchens will return. Most of the players who made a difference in rebounding from an 0-16 season figure to be back.

The leader of that pack is Baker Mayfield, who set an NFL record for touchdown passes by a rookie with 27 (19 after the coaching change).

"Baker's what our team is gonna run on hopefully for 10 to 15 years," captain Joel Bitonio said. "I already know he's gonna come back better. He's improved tremendously."

Even though Mayfield didn't get the Browns over the hump in Sunday's finale at Baltimore, Bitonio painted his demeanor heading into the final drive as magical.

"He was telling us, 'You guys hold up, and I'll make something happen,'" Bitonio said.

In answering a question about why the Browns should appeal to coaching candidates, Dorsey touched on elements that were part of their 5-3 record in the season's second half.

"You have a young quarterback," he said. "You have a young pass rusher (Myles Garrett). You have a young team, a very dynamic team. I think you have a really good locker room.

“I commend our players. In-season coaching changes are hard. They remained focused. They remained competitive. They brought a little sense of pride back to the Cleveland Browns."

The previous season's rookie quarterback was DeShone Kizer, who went 0-15 as the starter. Mayfield's record officially was 6-7, but that does not credit him for a win against the Jets, who led 14-0 when he replaced Tyrod Taylor.

Kizer (476) and Mayfield (486) attempted about the same number of passes as Browns rookies, but Mayfield was much better in yards (3,725-2,894), completion percentage (63.8-53.6), yards per attempt (7.66-6.1), TDs (27-11), limiting interceptions (14-22) and passer rating (93.7-60.5).

Dorsey traded Kizer to the Packers for defensive back Damarious Randall. Mayfield is a contender to be the NFL's offensive rookie of the year.

"He is still a rookie," Dorsey said. "There are still a lot of nuances. He threw three interceptions (at Baltimore).

"He can still work on those little things and understanding certain things. But he also broke an NFL record, so you applaud him for that. You would hope that he can grow exponentially, and by Year 3, he is what we all thought he would be.”

Other notable players on the 2018 offense included rookie running back Nick Chubb (996 rushing yards, 5.2 average, eight TDs), fifth-year pro Jarvis Landry (81 catches, 976 yards), and rookie wideout Antonio Callaway (43 catches, 13.6 average, five TDs).

Chubb reached 1,000 at Baltimore but went backward on a late carry to miss the milestone.

"I told him we'll have to get him 2,000 next year," Bitonio said.

The 5-3 finish coincided with replacing rookie left tackle Desmond Harrison with veteran Greg Robinson.

"Greg's 'A game' sample was pretty impressive," Bitonio said. "He showed why he was a No. 2 overall draft pick. He has more tools than anybody on the offensive line ... him and Desmond."

Robinson and wideout Breshad Perriman, who made a late impression, can be an unrestricted free agents.

"Would I like to have them back? You bet,” Dorsey said.

The 2018 defense puzzled at times, including when it gave up 288 yards in the first half at Baltimore. The Browns ranked 30th in yards allowed, 393.0 a game, after giving up 328.1 in 2017, when Williams spent the year as defensive coordinator.

Garrett finished with 13.5 sacks. Rookie No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward, who missed three of the last four games with concussion issues, was elected to the Pro Bowl.

“I am never happy," Dorsey said. "We are 7-8-1. That is an accomplishment from where we have come from, but our goal is to be competitive in the AFC North year in and year out.

"You reflect back on what got us here. Then what you set those goals high for next year ... pick up where you left off in 2018 and dare to set your expectations high. Why not?”

Center JC Tretter says the growing vibe pulsated as the season's final drive began.

"I thought we were going to go down and score," Tretter said. "I thought we had 'em."

 

Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or

steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP