This was different for Hue Jackson as we chatted via telephone on Monday morning from his office. The Cleveland Browns won a game after losing the first 14. They cannot finish 0-16.
From Jackson, relief. Gratitude. Reflection. Respect.
"The guys just stuck to it, stayed after it," Jackson said of Cleveland’s 20-17 home victory over the San Diego Chargers on Saturday. "We’ve been close in so many games but just didn’t do it. It’s been a matter of us overcoming ourselves. A mindset to just keep fighting."
Cleveland trailed 7-0 and 10-7. The Browns led 20-17 when Jamie Meder blocked Chargers kicker Josh Lambo’s 32-yard field goal attempt with 3:45 left. Lambo missed wide right from 45 yards as time expired to help the Browns snap a 17-game losing streak over the last two seasons.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III threw 17 completions for 164 yards, did not throw an interception, and rushed for 42 yards. The Browns defense limited the Chargers to 34 rushing yards. Cleveland committed only four penalties for 44 yards. They won in possession time 32:29 to 27:31.
But Jackson insists that, despite all of the numbers, winning only happens with proper mindset. With a season finale at AFC North champion Pittsburgh on Sunday, only two chances were left for the Browns to avoid 0-16 ridicule. No one among them wanted to travel to Pittsburgh with that burden. This Chargers game was it. This would be their Christmas deliverance.
Jackson said he celebrated Christmas dinner with his family on Sunday. He studied tape of the game. He watched a bit of other NFL games on TV.
Monday morning he was back at it with relief, gratitude, reflection, and respect.
It was a huge NFL weekend of achievement for teams including Pittsburgh and the Houston Texans, who claimed division titles, and for others who cemented playoff berths.
No team won a game more important than Cleveland’s.
"I just thank God for this opportunity, to coach this team, to go through the hard times we have, and to just win a game," Jackson said. "Nobody here is satisfied with 1-14 but winning has to start somewhere and we want this to be it for us. These players have fought so many things here going on and they have been fighting against the past. There is a past here that can stick. Winning is the only thing that can change that mindset. I’m proud to be with a group of fighters. I am hopeful for our future. It is a future, though, that we have to get right."
Jackson will help guide that future. The same cannot be said for Chargers coach Mike McCoy. The coach with a losing record late in the season that lost to the Browns would create heated scrutiny he might not survive. McCoy is that guy.
McCoy is 5-10 this season and 9-22 in the last two Chargers seasons.
Losing to the Browns is his firing point.
Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan found his over the weekend, too.
In a 34-31 overtime loss at home on Saturday, the Bills defense allowed Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi to rush for 206 yards after he stomped them for 214 yards earlier this season. It was 57 of those yards on one dash in overtime that Ryan cannot survive.
In overtime, Ajayi sped through the Bills defense for a 57-yard gallop that set up Miami’s winning field goal. And Ajayi did it through 10 Bills defenders -– not 11. Ryan’s defense goofed. They only placed 10 men on the field for that play.
Ryan is a defensive expert. Yet, he took a top-rated defense and has ruined it in his two seasons in Buffalo. His defense has allowed an average of 34 points a game in Buffalo’s last seven losses. His offense is 11 points shy of reaching 400 points this season; no Buffalo offense has done that since 1998. His offense gained 589 yards, scored 31 points, and did not commit a turnover, and Buffalo still lost.
The Bills defense is a scam. No one can recognize it as a Rex Ryan defense.
Some of the Bills players say that Ryan has not been as involved in it. Some of the Bills players say he has given too much defensive authority to his brother, Rob. The entire setup in practice, scheme, and execution has been dysfunctional this season. This was after Ryan declared in mid-June that the Bills "won the offseason" in their camps and how excited he was about this group.
His team is 7-8. His team was 8-8 last year. Two more playoff-less Bills years.
Ryan knows he can’t survive this.
Two years is a short time to fix all of a team’s ills. The Bills have dealt with critical injuries this season that have colored their season.
But when you place 10 defensive players on the field in an overtime game and get burned like that, on top of all the other rubbish, it’s over.
Buffalo’s last game will be at the Jets on Sunday — the last team that fired Ryan.
Sadly, that is extra humiliation for him on both fronts.
I was at the Steelers/Titans clash on Sept. 19, 2010 in Nashville when Antonio Brown played in his second NFL game. He took a reverse on the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. It was apparent the way he ran and weaved through the defense that he was a natural, graceful talent.
Talking with him in the locker room afterward, he was wide-eyed and excited. This was the message he delivered: "I can do more." He said that more than 10 times during our visit. He would make no starts as a rookie that season and only made 16 catches. But Brown even then was on a mission for stardom, crafting his story just like one of his weaving catch and runs.
His winning catch against Baltimore on Christmas night that secured a division title for the Steelers was all will as much as talent. He knows there is no offensive player in the NFL who generates more excitement than he does, the only ones close being the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr., and Kansas City Chiefs rookie Tyreek Hill. He has helped push the Steelers into the playoffs again.
You can expect Antonio Brown to do "a lot more" in the playoffs.
This is what Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio told me after a practice at the Raiders facility three weeks ago:
"Everybody here feeds off (quarterback) Derek Carr. He’s certainly likable. He’s a hard worker. He gives our team a lift in so many ways."
This is what he said after Carr suffered a broken fibula and is lost for the season: "Obviously, it’s a big setback. We will rely on the process. Everyone will have to do more."
Del Rio says the Raiders have been successful this season because they have good players who are good people who love football. With Matt McGloin, the Raiders’ new starter, the question for the Raiders will be how much of Del Rio’s blueprint matters without a franchise quarterback.
When the Packers play the Lions on Sunday to decide the NFC North title, it will be the 175th meeting between teams that first battled in 1940. There is also this: It was the Packers on Dec. 28, 2008 who defeated the Lions, 31-21, and ensured the Lions’ 0-16 season. That is the only NFL season that ended 0-16. The Browns made sure of that.
Browns get first win in 377 days