Another season of high expectations fell short for the Browns (7-10), who finished with one fewer win than last season and missed the playoffs for the second straight year. The Browns concluded with a 28-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and missed a chance to sweep the season series from their rivals for the first time in 34 years.
“It’s definitely tough with the talent and the coaching staff and just the standard we have as the Cleveland Browns,” quarterback Deshaun Watson said. “It’s tough to win seven games and finish the season like that.”
The Steelers sacked Watson seven times on Sunday. Cleveland has lost its past 19 regular-season games at Pittsburgh and hasn’t won the season series since 1988. Cleveland has had 17 seasons with 10 losses or more since the franchise rebooted in 1999, but there’s promise with Watson under center.
Watson was suspended for the first 11 games of the season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. He went 3-3 as the Browns’ starter in the final six games.
“I knew it was going to be challenging,” Watson said. “I knew I wasn’t going to walk in and be the MVP of the NFL. I’ve put in a lot of work, but I have a long way to go.”
Watson completed 19 of 29 passes for 230 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions on Sunday, both of which the Steelers turned into points.
“The biggest thing really is the receivers getting used to playing with me,” Watson said. “There are certain things I do differently than they’re used to and I’ve got to get used to the timing and how they run routes in different situations. All six games were significant. I haven’t played football in two years. This is a new system, a new offense. ... Everything is new for me just to get out there and to play football again.”
Nick Chubb rushed for 77 yards and caught a touchdown, finishing the season with a career-high 1,525 yards and joining Hall of Famer Jim Brown as the only Browns players to exceed 1,500.
Coach Kevin Stefanski’s job appears safe, as Watson showed flashes of what he could do while playing an entire season.
Stefanski may have to make changes to his staff, however. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods has been on the hot seat most of the season after his unit underperformed while dealing with injuries. Jadeveon Clowney didn’t play on Sunday, banished for critical comments he made during the week about the organization and coaching staff.
The Browns were among the worst teams in the league against the run, and Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris took advantage on Sunday with 84 yards and a touchdown. There was a communication breakdown in the secondary on Pittsburgh’s first touchdown pass to George Pickens and rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett converted two long third downs during the scoring drive that put the game away.
Garrett believes the Browns’ problems are born out of frustration rather than a lack of commitment to the organization.
“You have to aim that frustration,” Garrett said. “You have to give it some direction and that takes leadership. I don’t think commitment is a problem. We have the talent to be a really good team. We have focus and understand where we’re coming up short and change that.”