Browns doomed by injuries, turnovers, bad luck in 0-4 start
BEREA, OHIO >> Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler emerged from a workout wearing a long-sleeved, gray T-shirt that showed one of the team's slogans on the back.
It said: "2016 Cleveland Browns Turnaround."
Yeah, a slow, difficult and painful one.
At 0-4, the Browns are the NFL's only winless team and the losing streak to start the season is being heightened by an alarming eruption of major injuries, costly turnovers, blown leads, missed opportunities and just some rotten luck.
"It's like nothing can go right," wide receiver Terrelle Pryor said Monday.
Browns first-year coach Hue Jackson entered the season knowing it would be tough balancing the growth of one of the league's youngest teams — Cleveland has 16 rookies on its roster — with success on the scoreboard and standings.
"I didn't think it would be this difficult," the cheery Jackson said, cracking a smile.
"It's tough, but I'm seeing a lot of young guys improve. We're just not seeing what I want to see, and what the team wants to see, on the other side of the ledger."
Cleveland's rough start under Jackson continued on Sunday with a 31-20 loss to the Washington Redskins, who took advantage of two fumbles — one on a quick whistle — and an interception thrown by Kessler to put away the Browns.
The loss included another significant injury as starting center Austin Reiter tore his left anterior cruciate ligament in his first pro start and is done for the season.
Reiter is the eighth starter to get hurt and continues a constant shuffling of Cleveland's offensive line.
Reiter was starting because John Greco had moved back to right guard after Jackson benched Alvin Bailey for one game following his arrest last week on suspicion of operating a vehicle while impaired.
Greco had taken over at center after starter Cam Erving sustained a bruised lung in the season opener.
So in four games, the Browns have had three quarterbacks and three centers, a troubling scenario for any team to handle never mind one as inexperienced as the Browns.
With Erving expected to miss at least a few more weeks, Greco anticipates returning to center and Bailey will be back in the lineup after Jackson said his punishment is over.
"I don't hold grudges," Jackson said.
Maybe, but it would be understandable if Jackson had some lingering resentment toward Sunday's officials after the Browns lost a fumble they recovered.
With Cleveland trailing 24-20 in the fourth quarter, Browns running back Duke Johnson lost the ball after a 5-yard carry.
As line judge Sara Thomas looked in the pile to see who had the ball, Johnson emerged and held it over his head.
Washington was awarded possession and while the Redskins didn't score on their subsequent drive, the turnover — one of three straight by Cleveland — prevented the Browns from scoring and chewed some time off the clock.
Jackson said Thomas told him the play couldn't be reviewed, just another bad break for the Browns, who can't seem to catch a good one.
"I know people want me to jump on the officials right there and run on the field and go bananas and all that, but what is that going to do?" Jackson said.
"I'm not going to let my team ever see me lose it like that. It looked awfully close to us, and obviously, Duke had the ball when he got up. It seemed like a bang, bang play. We have to go with their decision."
Pryor, who caught his first TD as a pro, was so upset at the call and loss that he refused to speak with reporters following the game.
He calmed down enough to address the controversial play and Cleveland's inability to win.
He can't explain it.
"It's crazy, man," he said. "We're battling our butts off. I don't know if it's us not being able to catch a break. We practice hard. This is a very good team. I believe we're going to keep on making strides and we're going to win games. But it's crazy how so many times we're up and we're beating them, and then something goes wrong."
Things won't get easier for the Browns, who have the misfortune of hosting New England on Sunday in quarterback Tom Brady's return from his "Deflategate" suspension.
"Not fun at all," Jackson said.
NOTES: QB Robert Griffin III will have his injured left shoulder re-examined this week. Jackson said the checkup could determine whether RG3 needs surgery. ... The Browns released linebacker Armonty Bryant, who returned Monday from his four-game league suspension. ... TE Randall Telfer sustained a high ankle sprain and will likely miss several weeks. ... Pryor was mystified by the "unsportsmanlike conduct" penalty he received for celebrating after his TD. He was cited for "using the ball as a prop."
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