Dropping the ball

CLEVELAND – The dropping of the crystal ball in Times Square can’t happen soon enough for players and coaches on another losing Browns’ team.

Since the Browns won’t be in the playoffs for a sixth straight season, the players will be free to attend the big New Year’s Eve party in Manhattan if they so desire. It might be the best way to soothe the pain of what is currently a 4-10 season, but, more importantly, the celebration would welcome in a new year and the promise that accompanies its arrival.

That means putting the 2013 season in the rear-view mirror and concentrating on what the Browns hope will finally be a change of fortunes.

“It has to (improve),” cornerback Joe Haden said. “What else are we going to do? Keep letting this (stuff) happen? We’ve got to start eventually making things happen. Our D was starting to go up, and now we’re starting to go down a little bit, and we can’t let that happen.”

Haden echoed a common theme in the aftermath of a 38-31 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday in the final home game of the season. While disappointed with what has transpired since being 3-2 and in first place in the AFC North Division, players talked optimistically about how close the Browns are to turning things around.

That might be a tough sell to a fan base that has losing embedded into its thinking. Coach Rob Chudzinski all but promised better times ahead during a conference call Monday.

“I’m disappointed with the performance (Sunday),” Chudzinski said. “It’s really frustrating for us as coaches and players and for the fans. I appreciate all the support from the fans. It will pay off.

“We were unable to put the pieces together and play a close game and win. I’m not going to say how we’re going to get better, but we’re going to be proactive and challenge players and coaches to be part of the solution.”

Haden, who suffered a hip injury Sunday and could miss the remaining two games, was more straightforward. He’s been upset several times trying to understand a losing streak in which the Browns have lost eight of nine games.

“This is not the same old Browns,” Haden said. “No one is saying that. We just believe we can make it happen. Between the players and the coaches and everybody, we’re trying to figure out ways to make that change because something has to shake. We’re trying to figure out what that’s going to be.”

It could be as simple as the arrival of a franchise quarterback. While that would drastically change the situation for the better, it’s obvious that other changes have to happen.

One has nothing to do with talent. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson talked after the game about the need to develop a winning mentality. There’s a feeling in the stadium for every home game that something is going to go wrong in the second half, and it usually happens.

A key component against the offensively talented Bears was to keep the offense clicking in the second half. The unit did score two touchdowns in the half, but one – a 43-yard pass from Jason Campbell to Josh Gordon – came late in the fourth quarter. A third second-half touchdown came on a return of a fumble by safety T.J. Ward.

“I feel like we’re close,” offensive tackle Joe Thomas said. “When you look at this game specifically, it was very difficult to throw into that wind. We’re a heavy passing team. We run the ball just to keep them honest, for the most part.”

Closing the gap between losing close games and winning could be a matter of some fine-tuning more than an overhaul.

“When you look at the areas, there is a lot of improvement and a lot of young players playing well,” Thomas said. “Games are coming down right to the wire. It’s a matter of making a couple of plays here and there.”

That might true, but it doesn’t make the losses any easier to deal with for frustrated players, coaches and fans.