(Brad Rempel/Icon SMI 2 :: Daniel Gluskoter/ICON SMI)
(Brad Rempel/Icon SMI 2 :: Daniel Gluskoter/ICON SMI)

Plenty in the Tank

The Browns may have traded their biggest star last week to position themselves for next year’s draft. But a thrilling road win put the focus back on the present, and the locker-room leaders say the mood is positive

By
Jenny Vrentas
· More from Jenny·

MINNEAPOLIS — A bloodstain on his lower right leg proof of a hard-fought victory, D’Qwell Jackson popped his head out of the visitors’ locker room at the Metrodome on Sunday. He needed to find a football.

An equipment manager hastily pulled one out of a long black bag. The veteran linebacker’s voice boomed over his boisterous teammates as the locker room doors closed behind him. “First team win!” Jackson called out. “Coach gets first game ball!”

Another cheer rose as Jackson handed the ball to Rob Chudzinski, the Browns’ 45-year-old rookie head coach who secured his first victory—a 31-27 road win over the Vikings—just four days after Cleveland traded running back Trent Richardson to the Colts. Sunday was about much more than getting something for the mantelpiece; this was a statement by Chudzinski and his players: The Browns can win now.

Moving Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, in exchange for the Colts’ first-round pick next spring was an investment in the future by the Browns’ new brass. But it left many wondering about the present. Going into Sunday’s game, Cleveland had an 0-2 record, a starting quarterback sidelined by a thumb injury and plenty of speculation about who would be shipped out of town next.

“For fans to even say that we’ll tank the season,” says Jackson, “it’s a slap in your face as a player.”

But Sunday, at least, was in the hands of the coaches and players, the ones who ultimately control the Browns’ fate no matter what long-term personnel decisions the front office might make. Says Jackson, “For fans to even say that we’ll tank the season, it’s a slap in your face as a player.”

Now in his eighth season with Cleveland, Jackson the longest-serving Brown and the glue that bonds the locker room. For Chudzinski, the veteran ’backer is also the pulse of the team, which is why it was important for the two men to have a one-on-one talk after the Richardson trade. Jackson said it was brief, sometime mid-week and at the team’s practice facility in Berea, Ohio. The fact that they talked isn’t out of the ordinary, but the subject matter was.

“It was about the team, how would the team respond [to the trade], and seeing if there were any issues that needed to be addressed,” Jackson says. “But there were none. There were no issues that stood out to be that I thought needed to be addressed.”

Chudzinski tried to soften the blow in the locker room—cornerback Joe Haden was among those who initially thought, What the … just happened? after the trade—by reminding everyone that the goals hadn’t changed. But the coach needed his player leaders, like Jackson and seventh-year left tackle Joe Thomas, to reinforce the message.

(Jim Mone/AP)
The Browns needed two trick plays and a last-minute touchdown drive to pick up their first win, but that didn’t damper the celebration at the Metrodome. (Jim Mone/AP)

Even after Sunday’s win, Jackson kept reciting a line he attributed to Chudzinski: “Keep your mind on your goals, and they’ll come forward.” Another motivational message was written in marker on a cardboard box containing bags of pretzels in the locker room: “For our players. Play for each other. You have our undying support. Win!!!”

A win, of course, would have been the greatest morale-booster. And the Browns got it, even if they needed to rely on some trickery—a fake punt that set up a field goal, and a fake field goal that resulted in a touchdown—and a last-minute touchdown drive.

“He made some gutsy calls today, and if they don’t work, with everything that happened this week, he was in for it,” Jackson said of Chudzinski. “He knew what he was signing up for [by coming here to rebuild the Browns], but I don’t know if he was ready for that last week.”

No one was.

Thomas points out that ever since his 2007 rookie season, when the Browns traded starting quarterback Charlie Frye in Week 2, he’s understood that anything can happen in the NFL. But moving Richardson was still a shock. “When you go home, you wonder what’s going to happen with your future; it’s natural,” admits Thomas, who along with receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little has been mentioned in reports as a potential trading piece. But Thomas says that if you let such distractions creep onto the field, “then you are tanking the season.”

To keep things in perspective, the Browns are just 1-2. Next up are the division-rival Bengals, who just knocked off the Packers. There’s also an emerging quarterback controversy after Brian Hoyer’s three-touchdown, 321-yard performance. But the Browns are 1-0 post-Richardson, which alone says something about the direction of this franchise.

“Whoever Chud feels is the guy to lead us, I’m behind it,” Jackson says. “With everything that happened this past week, hey, they know more than I do. So I’m going to continue to lead the troops, continue to do my job on defense, and let the powers-that-be make those tough decisions.”

Looking for the Colts’ side of the the Trent Richardson deal? Indy GM Ryan Grigson talked to our Robert Klemko.

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16 comments
BrownieDog
BrownieDog

As a loyal Browns fan, I accept that my access to information is somewhat limited. We can only imagine what the real story line is.

Very frustrating being in this position as a fan who cares a lot about the Browns. I want our players to also really care and to demonstrate their bonding with the community and the team members. When I read about TRich's half-hearted engagement with teammates and lack of "buying in" to the team, then I am just as glad to see him go. Get what we can for him before everyone finds out he is a selfish and 'entitled' sort who seems focused on himself and not on really developing the team chemistry thing that unifies strong teams in a team sport.

btcvsolo
btcvsolo

Precisely why I don't 'root' for ANY team in the Narcissistic Fools League....

Just give me a good game is all I ask...don't care who wins, just serve your real purpose and ENTERTAIN me!



lionoah
lionoah

Richardson was no stud. Constantly faced with nagging injuries and never producing the way the team needed, he should have been shipped. He is a change of pace back or something like that, but in no way is he a Rice or Gore or whatever we thought we were getting. Trade him now while the potential is still there. He wont turn out to be anything other than another guy who after year 3 in the league everyone will know who he is. Even with the motivation of being traded to a good team with a good QB wont coax a 1000 yard season out of him. He just doesn't have it. All that talk in the preseason and the end result is just that he doesn't have what it takes to be a superior back. It was Alabama that made him what he is, and he doesn't play for Bama anymore.

marino.eccher
marino.eccher

The focus on the Richardson trade continues to be maddening. He was a high draft pick and their most recognizable name to the casual fan (or fantasy player), but he wasn't their best player. He wasn't their second-best player. He may not have been in the top five. They got a good pick for a player they knew wasn't turning the franchise around. Stop acting like trading a mediocre running back was giving up on the season or blowing the whole thing up.

carnage_2012
carnage_2012

Cleveland is going to tank this season. History says so.

ianlinross
ianlinross

Congrats to the Colts and Browns for two inspiring road wins. This is what I love about the NFL.

TerrapinStation87
TerrapinStation87

"The Browns are 1-0 post-Richardson, which alone says something about the direction of this franchise."

The fact that they traded their 2012 #3 pick for a 2014 #20 pick (and blew their other 2012 1st round draft pick) says much more about the direction of this franchise. 

Sulkaman
Sulkaman

Let the local boy Hoyer start for his home town team. He earned it.  Let's go Browns!

MarkSweetipo
MarkSweetipo

>“Whoever Chud feels is the guy to lead us, I’m behind it,” Jackson says

Yeah lets see if we start seeing anonymous quotes of discontent if Weeden gets a chance to stink it up again.  He is garbage.  There should be no controversy.

MatthewEugeneHaag
MatthewEugeneHaag

@lionoah Really?  Correct me if I am wrong but did he not put up more yards and TD's as a Rook than vaunted Browns hero back Jim Brown did as a Rook?  Delude yourself if you want but the Browns now have no Running Game.  Proven IN the game against the Vikes.  If their passing game hits a bump they won't move the ball.

jason12345
jason12345

@lionoah "never producing the way the team needed" 

Did you see his stat line last year as a rookie? Solid. Very solid. 

MatthewEugeneHaag
MatthewEugeneHaag

@marino.eccher Not mediocre.  He was distinctively the best OFFENSIVE player on the team.  Hoyer has potential but without a running game the teams they play will adjust and Cleveland will have difficulty moving the ball.  You are correct though about him not being in probably the top 5 best players on the Browns.  That distinction goes to their defense.

hjpronk
hjpronk

@carnage_2012  And the Steelers and Giants are going to the championship.  Afterall history says so. 

MatthewEugeneHaag
MatthewEugeneHaag

@MarkSweetipo Question.  What happens when the league adjusts to the LACK of a real running game and Hoyer goes 12 of 20 for 129 yards and 4 picks?

fishead015
fishead015

@MatthewEugeneHaag @lionoah He did it in 6 more games them Brown did, so you can't compare it not even close.  They got a first round pick out of a running back.  How many running back in the league would you give a first round pick for even if it's  at the bottom of the first.  Just because he was drafted number 3 doesn't make him good.  He's not the style running back they wanted long term FO made a bold move.  Chud rallied the troops and it's time to move on.  Even with T-rich on this team it was at BEST 8-8.  I like the trade for both teams.  Tired of the tanking crap and tired of hearing how good T-rich was because he was the 3rd overall pick.  

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