Just outside the door to the locker room there is a mural of the offensive line getting ready to start a play. The word “Unity” is painted just below and beside Alex Mack. On the top of the wall leading out towards the tunnel that the players run through are the words “Win At Home.”
Following yet another home loss, the Browns were busy inside the locker room getting showered, visiting the trainers room and getting dressed to leave. The first out of the door was Joe Haden. Haden was hurt in the third quarter of Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the visiting Chicago Bears. He was kneed in the hip by a rather large offensive lineman while pursuing a run. He left the game and would not return.
On his way out of the locker room and past the media throng gathered waiting for the green light to go inside, Haden didn’t want to talk. He politely shook his head as he walked past when asked to comment about his injury. After the injury, the Browns surrendered 21 points. In the fourth quarter alone, Chicago was 4-for-4 on third-down conversions. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler threw for a pair of touchdowns. The running game exploded. Basically, all hell broke loose, defensively speaking. It was another game that the Browns had a chance to win, but as has been the theme of the season, they simply couldn’t finish it off.
Twenty-one fourth quarter points given up against the Bears on Sunday. Sixteen last week against New England in gut-wrenching fashion. Ten points given up by the defense against the Jaguars in another home loss. Add them up and a defense that was proud of their efforts just a few weeks ago are left scratching their heads.
Inside the locker room, following the most recent loss, it was quiet. There was the sound of water running and equipment managers ripping tape off shoulder pads. Johnson Bademosi sat in his chair in front of the locker with his name and the number 24 emblazoned on the top. He sat hunched over with his face in his hands as if in disbelief. Jordan Poyer stood talking with another player while still wearing his uniform, including his shoulder pads and brown jersey with the white 33 and orange and white stripes on the sleeves. Poyer and fellow rookie Leon McFadden played more snaps than they anticipated following Haden’s exit. A few lockers down where the wide receivers are grouped together, Davone Bess was dressed and gathering his belongings to head out the door. Bess had a big drop in the first half—it would have given the Browns a first down inside the red zone, but they were forced to settle for a field goal. Bess was targeted three times in the game, and made one catch for nine yards. Not exactly the contribution he was brought in to make, but such has been the case for the veteran all season long.
Barkevious Mingo and the linebackers are the closest position group to the door. Like Bess, Mingo was showered and nearly dressed when the media were let into the room. Mingo politely declined to speak. His face was long and his words were hushed, which is unlike the rookie everyone got to see at camp. Gone was his Louisiana smile and laid back attitude. Mingo’s day was very much like the rest of the defense. He played well for the most part for those first three quarters. He made a nice play on a run early on and was credited with a tackle for loss. Late in the game, Mingo was victimized when his over-aggression put him out of position for a Matt Forte pitch and run around the end. Forte would become the first back this season to go over 100 yards rushing against the Browns. A couple of his longer runs were to Mingo’s side.
One by one they emerged from the showers and got dressed in silence. A few said goodbyes and wished happy holidays to attendants that don’t work at the team facilities in Berea. Tashaun Gipson stood in front of his locker and talked about his two interceptions and touchdown. Like Gordon’s big days the past few weeks, Gipson would have much rather been discussing these plays after a win.
Buster Skrine was one of the key players coming into the game if the Browns were to pull out a win. The Browns had not seen a pair of receivers this talented all season long. Haden typically draws the toughest assignment each week, but against Jeffery and Marshall it was pick your poison. Skrine played well, but was no less upset after the defense gave up 31 points.
“Yeah, we always pride ourselves on playing well,” Skrine said when asked if he felt the defense let the team down. “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.”
T. J. Ward came to his locker wrapped in towels and shivering. A Browns communications team member showed him the day’s stat sheet as he began getting dressed and ready to face the media. A few weeks back the frustration of the season started to wear on Ward. He made comments about the defense playing well, but the being put into bad position from turnovers. Since that week, the defense has been shredded in the fourth quarter, and the team hasn’t won despite holding leads late in all three contests.
“Anytime you lose a game it’s upsetting,” said Ward. “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.”
The questions came fast from the 30-or-so media members pressing in around Ward’s two lockers.
“We were out of position a couple plays, they got a couple of big runs on us, kind of a throw up ball, I think that was in the third quarter,” Ward answered in response to a question of what happened in the second half. “They just made more plays than we did.”
The questions for Ward wouldn’t just be about the loss to the Bears. His rookie contract is up at the end of the season, and there has not been any extension agreed to. The strong safety having his best season could be heading to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, and to another team in 2014. Reality set in: This could have been Ward’s last home game in a Browns uniform.
“No. I wouldn’t worry about that. I just come out and do what I can do and play my best ball and just give it all I can every week,” said Ward about the contract situation. “I think this is the best team I’ve been on since I’ve been here. Whatever it is, we need to get over that hump and we have to start winning games because I know we have the players and staff to do it. We just have to do it, point blank, we just have to do it.”
As the locker room thinned out, defensive captain D’Qwell Jackson spoke at length as he always does, saying all the right things—again as he always does. To his right, Craig Robertson sat at his locker and listened for a few moments. The usually upbeat Robertson finished up and headed home. No joking, no laughing for Robertson after this one.
As the last pieces of equipment were bagged and loaded onto carts, attendants picked up stray laundry and collected trash, most of it spent tape, Gatorade bottles or energy bar wrappers. As quiet as the Orange and Brown locker room was following Sunday’s game, it will sit even quieter, once again, throughout the playoffs.
(Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)