At 4-11 and in fourth place in the AFC North Division, the Cleveland Browns are out of the playoff race.
However, as they head into Sunday’s season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, the coaches and players know there is a lot at stake in the Steel City this weekend.
While the Steelers need a victory, as well as outside help to clinch a Wildcard playoff berth, the Browns are playing for pride and the fans.
“There’s always something to play for anytime you step on the field,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “Our guys are competitive guys. This is our last game, and we want to finish this thing strong. Every week is a challenge, and that’s the way we play.”
In the last four games, the Browns have been tied with or held a lead over their opponents in the fourth quarter, only to go on to lose those contests, including last-minute setbacks against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 1, and the next week, at the New England Patriots.
However, watching the way his team has continued to work in preparing for the next game after suffering heartbreaking losses gives Chudzinski a good gauge of the type of character he has in the locker room.
“When you lose, and with some of the disappointing losses that we’ve had, that takes its toll on the guys,” Chudzinski said. “The key is bouncing back and then, having the resiliency and letting that drive you and push you forward.
“As I look at the games, I think from a team perspective, we’ve come out strong and played well early in the following games. That’s a credit to our guys. Those disappointments in getting knocked down and having to get back up and fight, that’s one of the toughest things in sports that you have to do.
“If you can do it, and as you continue to do it, you’ll get better, you’ll grow. That’s what our focus is on. Ultimately, to be a winning team and winning program, that’s the thing that we have to be able to do.”
After two days of meetings and video study of the Steelers, Chudzinski said the team is well aware of what will be at stake in Pittsburgh, and they have embraced the opportunity to end the season on a winning note.
“I hate to sound malicious, but it’d help to put them where we are, out of the playoffs,” said strong safety T.J. Ward. “We don’t want to see them succeed. It’ll be good, anytime you can knock somebody out of the playoffs.”
Six-time Pro Bowl left tackle