Browns still haven't mastered art of finish


Browns still haven't mastered art of finish

BEREA, Ohio (AP) Browns coach Pat Shurmur sounds like a broken record when he talks about his team's broken record.

More times than he'd care to mention, Shurmur has spent his Monday news conferences explaining why his young team couldn't win a close game.

It's been a painful, recurring theme this season for the Browns, who blew a 13-point halftime lead on Sunday in Dallas and lost 23-20 in overtime to the Cowboys, who exploited Cleveland's injury-riddled secondary in the second half and capitalized on penalties - some of them questionable.

``We just have to find a way to finish,'' Shurmur said. ``We have a whole locker room full of winners. This whole organization is full of winners. We just have to put it all together and do it.''

The Browns (2-8) are perfecting the close loss. According to STATS LLC, Cleveland has lost an NFL-leading 18 games by seven points or less since 2010. This season, the Browns have lost five such games and their inability to finish what they've started has intensified the pressure on Shurmur, who dropped to 6-20 in two seasons and may need a flurry of wins to save his job.

On Sunday, the Browns were 67 seconds away from snapping an 11-game road losing streak when it all unraveled.

The Cowboys, aided by two penalties for 50 yards against a Cleveland defense missing top cornerback Joe Haden, drove for a game-tying field goal with two seconds left before winning in OT.

It was right there for the Browns. And once again, they came up short. The losses are growing in number along with the frustration level for players accustomed to winning.

``It's real difficult, because it's a difference when you're losing by 20 points or 30 points,'' rookie cornerback Trevin Wade said. ``But just losing at the end by one score in well over multiple games is really hard and stressful. We're just right under the hump and we just need to find a way to get over.''

Shurmur is sure that day will come. He was on a Philadelphia coaching staff that went through a similar experience with losing tight games. He learned there are no shortcuts, and that the only way things will get better is by working and winning.

``You just play. You just keep working on the fundamentals and you develop some mental toughness and then you go and do it,'' he said. ``That's what it is. There are no formulas for it. That's what you do. You put together a locker room of guys that are willing to fight and willing to work and then you do what you can to play the next opponent and then you go do it.''

For most of the young Browns, losing is as new as anything else they've experienced in their first year as pros. They came from solid college programs, where winning was routine.

``I've never been on a team that doesn't win,'' said rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson, who played at Nevada. ``In college, we were all on good teams. In high school, I was on good teams. But I feel like this team and the teams that I've been on there's not that big of a difference. It's not like we're getting blown out and embarrassed.

``Every game we're in until the end.''

The Browns didn't help themselves with costly penalties. Dallas picked up 10 first downs on penalties, seven of them called against Cleveland's defensive backs.

A few of the infractions against the Browns were border-line calls, including an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a hard hit by safety T.J. Ward on the game-tying drive, but Shurmur refused to blame the officiating for another gut-wrenching loss.

``I'm not going to go there,'' Shurmur said when asked if the officials had too much of an impact on the outcome. ``The Browns played the Cowboys and it was officiated. That's it.''

While Shurmur wouldn't touch the officiating issue, Wade said the inordinate number of yellow flags thrown against the Browns was alarming.

``I was really surprised,'' he said. ``It seemed like every third down or so there was a flag that gave Dallas a first down. It was real shocking and just crazy.''

Shurmur won't allow his players to use any excuses for their current state. He's focused on making them better, and anything that steals their attention from improvement or preparing to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) next Sunday is counterproductive.

If and when the Browns start winning consistently, maybe they'll get the benefit of the doubt on calls. Until then, their only choice is to work on putting together a complete, 60-minute game.

The losing may be taking its toll on Browns fans, but Shurmur believes his players haven't been broken.

``Unfortunately, dealing with adversity and developing mental toughness is part of this thing as you're building,'' he said. ``We know there are going to be some tough days. That's unfortunate, but that's where it's at. That's why you just stay with a nice tight focus on the next game.''

Johnson is one of the many rookies taking his lumps this season.

He thinks it won't be long before the Browns are giving some back.

``It's frustrating,'' he said. ``You want to win, but at the same time, I know what we have here and who we have coaching that we can win. I know that. I can tell just by being around these people.

``We're going to win one day.''


NOTES: CB Joe Haden's absence Sunday with an oblique injury hurt the Browns, who are 0-5 in games he's missed this season. Haden was injured during practice last week and was a game-time decision that Shurmur said ``went right to the wire.'' Shurmur said the Browns would try to get Haden ``ready to go'' against the Steelers, who could be down to third-stringer Charlie Batch at quarterback. ... CB Dimitri Patterson said he'll test his injured ankle this week in practice and could return to the lineup after missing five games with torn ankle ligaments. ... Shurmur felt rookie QB Brandon Weeden (20 of 35, 210 yards, 2 TDs) ``was pretty efficient'' against the Cowboys. Shurmur said Weeden made mistakes and there are ``plenty of things he can do better.''


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One crazy stat that connects Dwayne Haskins with Cam Newton, but also Mark Sanchez

One crazy stat that connects Dwayne Haskins with Cam Newton, but also Mark Sanchez

The Redskins selected Dwayne Haskins with the 15th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. While his record at Ohio State was impressive, Haskins didn't log many starts. 

Washington head coach Jay Gruden talked about Haskins back in March during the league meetings, before the Burgundy and Gold drafted the quarterback, and said that because he played just one year in college he would need significant time to learn the NFL game. 

"You would like a guy to play more than a year to see how he’s developed over the years. Haskins has a unique skillset. He’s big, strong and can really throw it," Gruden said. Then, "Is he going to be ready for the first year?"

After OTAs and minicamp, it's obvious Haskins has all the talent needed to play quarterback in the NFL. He's made touch throws and he's rifled balls into tight windows. At the same time, he seemed confused in spots about play calls and struggled with the speed of the pass rush. 

All of that is normal for a player with just 14 starts. But it's that number, the one year of starting experience in college, that makes one statistic stand out about Haskins. 

That's some serious company, both good, bad and ugly. 

As a rookie in 2011, Cam Newton went 6-10 with 35 total TDs and 17 interceptions, not to mention a Rookie of the Year trophy. His running prowess made up for average numbers in the pass game. The more important comparison for Redskins fans is that Newton eventually developed into an NFL MVP and got the Panthers to the Super Bowl. 

For Mark Sanchez, the rookie numbers and the career comparison aren't as kind. Sanchez threw 12 TDs and 20 INTs in 15 games as a rookie, though he was at the helm as the Jets got to two straight AFC title games. Still, for his career, Sanchez threw more INTs than TDs and could not keep a starting job after his rookie contract. 

Trubisky is a different deal. He's only started 26 games since being the second overall pick in the 2017 draft with a record of 15-11. He's thrown 31 touchdowns against 19 interceptions, and run for another five scores. It's hard to describe Trubisky's game. At times he's terribly inaccurate, but in other spots, he looks like a future Pro Bowler. 

Newton is the sure thing, Sanchez is the poor outcome. Trubisky is still to be determined. 

For Haskins, it's not good company or bad company. With only 14 starts at Ohio State before the Redskins drafted Haskins, it's just the company he's in.


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Tomas Satoransky set to enter unpredictable free agent market for point guards

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Tomas Satoransky set to enter unpredictable free agent market for point guards

Of the Wizards' players set to hit free agency on June 30, one who has a good chance to return is point guard Tomas Satoransky. He and center Thomas Bryant are atop the team's priority list with Bobby Portis likely too expensive and Jabari Parker set to enter the market unrestricted.

Satoransky will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Wizards can match any offers made by other teams. And in talking to members of the Wizards' coaching staff and front office, they speak of Satoransky like he is part of their future.

Still, nothing can be assumed and especially in a year in which many teams have money to spend. As Kevin O'Connor of the Ringer noted this week, there is more cap room available this summer than the previous two combined. That could lead to 2016-level contracts where role players get paid like starters and average starters get paid like stars.

What will make Satoransky's market interesting, though, is the fact there are some much bigger names available at his position. At point guard, teams with the most money can go after All-Stars like Kemba Walker, Kyrie Irving and D'Angelo Russell. There is then a robust second tier that includes Malcolm Brogdon, Terry Rozier and Ricky Rubio. Then you have Derrick Rose, Elfrid Payton, Patrick Beverley, Darren Collison and Rajon Rondo.

It is a great year to be a free agent, but maybe not the best year to be a free agent point guard. The position class is absolutely loaded.

Satoransky, though, will still draw plenty of interest and among the teams expected to check in on him are the Mavericks, Pacers, Magic and Celtics, NBC Sports Washington has learned.

The Celtics have already been tied to Satoransky by Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports. But they also have their sights set on some of the bigger fish at point guard with rumors tying them to Walker, in particular.

The Utah Jazz were also expected to pursue Satoransky, but their trade for Mike Conley Jr. has taken them off the list. The Phoenix Suns could also emerge as a suitor, though they are being linked to higher profile free agents at this point.

Both the Wizards and Satoransky expressed interest in a contract extension midway through the 2018-19 season, as NBC Sports Washington reported, but those talks didn't get much further. The Wizards ended up putting a lot of things on hold once they drifted out of the playoff race and ultimately fired team president Ernie Grunfeld.

With senior vice president Tommy Sheppard serving in the interim, though, Satoransky has a big proponent calling the shots in the Wizards front office. Sheppard scouted Satoransky before the Wizards drafted him and was key in convincing him to leave Europe for the NBA.

Satoransky likes playing in Washington and recognizes an opportunity at point guard with John Wall set to miss most of next season due to Achilles surgery. But he also recognizes this as a chance to earn the biggest payday of his career.

How much money Satoransky will ultimately receive is hard to predict. Those in his camp are apprehensive to throw numbers out there because even they aren't sure. He wants a long-term deal and his fit in the rotation is a big consideration, according to someone familiar with his plans.

One potential comparison could be Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, who makes just over $9 million per year. Though VanVleet is arguably better, Satoransky is hitting the market with more money to go around. 

Many have tried to project Satoransky's market in the past few months. Soon we will find out just how valuable he is.