There’s a Christmas Eve gleam
There isn’t any question the Browns’ game Sunday in Chicago against the Bears is the most important game of the season.
And why is it more important than the 14 that have preceded it? Because it will be their last chance to win a game in 2017. There is absolutely no way they are going to march into Pittsburgh a week from Sunday and knock off the Steelers in the season finale.
Even if Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, half the offensive line and half the defense don’t suit up if the Steelers cannot improve their playoff position, the Browns will lose.
Same exact situation occurred in the final game of the 2016 season and the Browns still lost, 27-24, in Pittsburgh when backup quarterback Landry Jones threw three touchdown passes after Cleveland jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
The fate of the first winless season ever in the history of this once-proud franchise rests solely on the trip to Chicago. The Browns had excellent shots at preventing such a calamitous season against Tennessee, the Los Angeles Chargers and Green Bay and failed.
That’s why they drag a 14-game losing streak this season, 15 straight overall and 31 in a row on Sunday against a team that has struggled all season and is ripe for an upset, having lost six of their last seven games.
But take into consideration whom the Bears have defeated on their 4-10 journey through the season thus far and it’s no wonder oddsmakers have installed them as 6½-point favorites. They can make it an AFC North sweep with a victory after previously defeating Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore.
Now insert three rather interesting facts into the equation. Fact No. 1: The Bears have been favorites to win seven times under coach John Fox, six at Soldier Field, and are 0-7. The Browns were not one of those teams.
Fact No. 2: The Browns haven’t won a game in Chicago since 1969, when the Bears played at Wrigley Field. The time frame on this one is a little deceiving, though. The teams have met only 15 times since 1950, the Browns holding a 9-6 edge. They have met just nine times since 1969, three of them at Soldier Field, all Browns losses.
Fact No. 3: This game is being play on Christmas Eve afternoon. Hue Jackson has coached two Christmas Eve afternoon games as a head coach in the National Football League and won them both. He is unbeaten on Christmas Eve afternoon.
The first time was with the Oakland Raiders in 2011 at Kansas City. Then the Browns snapped a 14-game losing streak last season at home against the then San Diego Chargers. So if nothing else, Jackson has that going for him Sunday.
The Bears are keenly aware of the historic nature of this game from a Cleveland standpoint. The Chargers were embarrassed last season as the only team the Browns beat last season. The Bears are in prime position to be the Chargers of 2017.
“We won’t be that team,” declared Bears 6-5, 320-pound defensive end Akiem Hicks, who leads the Bears in sacks with eight. “Simple as that. We won’t let that happen.”
Bulletin board material? At this point of the season, just about anything would qualify as bulletin board material in the Cleveland clubhouse.
Mitch (Mitchell) Trubisky, the kid from Mentor and the University of North Carolina the Bears traded up for in this year’s college draft, is treating this like just another game on the schedule.
“I don’t think it will be emotional (for me) at all,” the rookie quarterback told the Cleveland media earlier this week from Chicago. “I’m an even-keeled player so I’m not going to get too high, not too low. . . . I just want to go out there, do my job and enjoy playing the game of football.”
His only motivation is to win.” We have a bunch of competitors and we’re trying to finish out our season strong,” said Trubisky, who grew up a Browns fan and is well aware of his childhood team’s plight. “We don’t care who rolls in here.”
He took over the huddle in week five after veteran Mike Glennon won only one of the first four games and was brought along carefully until recently when he was turned loose and responded with games of 250 and 306 yards.
The normally conservative Chicago offense, which runs the ball almost as much as airing it out, produced 831 total yards in those games, easily their highest two-game total this season.
When you have a running back like Jordan Howard, you make sure he gets a lot of touches. He averages nearly 20 a game and has produced 1,165 yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns.
Outside of Bell, Leonard Fournette and Joe Mixon (in the second Cincinnati game), Howard presents the biggest challenge for a Cleveland run defense that ranks in the top 10 in the league.
The underlying motivation to win this game is off the charts for the Browns. It means the difference between dynamiting, at least temporarily, one of professional football’s most odious records and suffering continued humiliation as the worst football team ever in the nearly century-long history of the NFL.
This team is faced with the daunting task of not just winning a game for the first time this season. It’s the last opportunity to once and for all grasp at least a sliver of respect and hope for the future and, at the same time, give some balance to the immediate past.
To do so, they must somehow summon whatever emotion they have left of their 2017 pride and play this game on a plane much higher than they have ever played it this season. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Jackson reaches down and actually calls a smart game on offense, makes correct decisions with regard to time management, while the defense neutralizes the Chicago offense and the Browns as a team rise to that plane of overachieving for 60 minutes and shatter the numerous losing streaks. Jackson remains unbeaten as a head coach on Christmas Eve afternoon. Make it:
Browns 20, Bears 17
Browns 20, Bears 17