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Browns’ 2014 Analysis: Rude welcome for rookie coach


BEREA, Ohio — Even men more experienced than first-year head coach Mike Pettine might have been challenged handling the Cleveland Browns in 2014.

The season began with the Browns spotting the Pittsburgh Steelers a 27-3 halftime lead, fighting back to tie the game 27-27 before losing 30-27. It ended with a 20-10 loss at Baltimore with undrafted rookie quarterback Connor Shaw starting his first NFL game. Shaw was the third quarterback to start for the Browns in December.

At one point, the Browns were 6-3. They finished 7-9 — their best record since going 10-6 in 2007 — but losing six of their last seven games took the glow off the season.

“I would tell you there are two sides to this season,” general manager Ray Farmer said Tuesday. “We started in a direction where there were some positives early. Then, there were some negatives late. I think in that instance, we learned a lot about ourselves. We learned a lot about our culture. We learned a lot about that foundation that we’re trying to lay, and it’s not perfect right now. It’s going to require us sanding some edges and making some adjustments, and we recognize that.

“At the end of the day, this is about creating a culture where we consistently win, and at the end of the day, we find a way to bring championships to the city of Cleveland.”

Pettine had to deal with star wide receiver Josh Gordon being suspended 10 games at the start of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon also was suspended for the finale, apparently due to the need of an attitude adjustment.

Ben Tate, signed last winter to be the starting running back, was released in midseason because of attitude issues.

Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who never missed a play from his first game as a rookie through the first four games this season, sustained a season-ending broken fibula in the fifth game of the season, a 31-10 victory over the Steelers.

Of everything that happened to the Browns in 2014, the injury to Mack was the most difficult to overcome. John Greco, Nick McDonald and Ryan Seymour took turns replacing Mack, but none came close to matching his skill.

“In some senses, it seems like a blur,” Pettine said of his first season. “In other senses, it seems like it’s been 1,000 years. I’m looking forward to being able to just kind of sit back and reflect on it. I’ve got pages of notes moving forward.”

The highlight of the season was beating the Bengals 24-3 in a nationally televised game in Cincinnati on Nov. 6 with Brian Hoyer at quarterback. Tate and rookie running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell each scored a rushing touchdown. The Browns intercepted three passes and held Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to a 2.0 passer rating.

The low point of the season was a 30-0 loss to the Bengals on Dec. 14. It was the first start for rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, and by then, the Browns were broken down and tired. Manziel completed 10 of 18 passes for 80 yards. He threw two interceptions.

Manziel sustained a season-ending hamstring injury a week later against the Panthers, so now the Browns have no idea who their quarterback is for 2015. Hoyer will be a free agent, and Manziel attempted only 35 passes, completing 18, before being injured.

“(Manziel) will be given every opportunity to contribute and compete, and he’ll also have to compete against guys that could be draft choices,” Farmer said. “They could be free agent selections. There could be any number of stones that we overturn to try to find the right guy to bring in here to help improve our roster.”

As the season disintegrated, players in the locker room openly complained about teammates who were not dedicated — specifically Manziel, first-round rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert and Gordon.

The Browns suspended Gordon for the last game because he missed the walkthrough the day before. Gilbert was deactivated for the final game despite being healthy. The next day, Pettine said Gilbert essentially was suspended for repeatedly violating unspecified team rules.

“I’ve been assured that we’re going to bring guys in (willing to work) and get guys off this bus that don’t really want to be here and do what they are supposed to do,” said strong safety Donte Whitner, one of the team leaders. “Any team in the National Football League where you have a good locker room, you have guys who understand what they’re supposed to do. They understand where they are supposed to be and where they’re not supposed to be.

“When you have those distractions, it kind of equals losses. Like I said, we need to get some guys off the train and get some guys on the train who want to win.”

Pettine does not plan any major changes on his coaching staff.

“There might be a change or two, but I was going to get away and talk with the coordinators and just kind of get a feel for it,” he said. “They do their own evaluations of their own guys as I do. We’re going to compare notes and see if we need to make any changes.”

Asked specifically about Kyle Shanahan, Pettine said the offensive coordinator would be retained.

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