Brutal Browns running out of time in painful, winless season
CLEVELAND (AP) Just when it can't get any worse for the Browns, it gets worse.
As the losses - 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 in a row - have multiplied, the pain has intensified.
''It's been a long year,'' running back Duke Johnson said.
Cleveland is two defeats from the ultimate disgrace - going 0-16, a fate only experienced by the 2008 Detroit Lions, the sad standard for futility for one season after losing every game. The Browns are now being compared to the hapless 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an expansion outfit which lost 26 straight over two seasons and whose coach John McKay famously said, ''I'm all for it'' when asked about his team's execution.
The Browns (0-14) have time to change history, but it's running short.
''No one is going to come in here and help us get a win over these last two weeks,'' said quarterback Robert Griffin III, who will start Sunday at home against the San Diego Chargers. ''We have to do it, and I think everybody is motivated to make that happen.''
Sunday is Cleveland's only realistic chance to end the losing skid, which stretches to 17 since last season. The Browns, who haven't won since fallen quarterback Johnny Manziel led them past San Francisco on Dec. 13, 2015, will finish the season in Pittsburgh, where several previous seasons have ended with losses followed by coaching changes - and the Steelers won't lie down for their rival.
And while Hue Jackson's job appears safe despite the current 0-fer on his resume, the Browns would like nothing more than to reward their coach with his first win as an early Christmas gift.
The difference between 1-14 and 0-15 may not look like a lot, but don't tell the Browns that.
''It would be a big difference,'' cornerback Joe Haden said. ''From the outside, you really don't know what we put in, what we go through together, trying to get the scheme, get the game plan, execute it during the week. It's huge. When you win the games and come into the locker room, there's nothing like a winning locker room. And since it's a home game, being able to go here, celebrate.''
Nothing compared to the Browns' downward slide, the Chargers (5-9) have dropped three straight and five of seven in what has become a woulda-coulda-shoulda-type season.
San Diego has lost eight games by eight points or less and now wants to avoid being the team lets the Browns up off the mat.
''I don't think that motivates us,'' Pro Bowl cornerback Casey Hayward said. ''It just happens to be the Browns this week and they don't have a win. We haven't won in a couple of weeks ourselves, so we want to get back on the winning streak.''
Here are a few other notable items as the Browns attempt to avoid imperfection:
RG3, ACT 3 : Jackson toyed with the idea of changing the quarterback this week, but is giving Griffin a third consecutive start. Jackson has seen some improvement over the past two weeks in RG3, who missed 11 games with a broken shoulder bone. Griffin is 29 for 56 for 300 yards and one TD in his past two games.
Jackson hinted that he'll have a short leash with Griffin and won't hesitate to bring in rookie Cody Kessler, who has made eight starts.
OPENING THE GATES: Chargers star tight end Antonio Gates, who played basketball at nearby Kent State, still needs three touchdown catches to break Tony Gonzalez's NFL record of 111 for the position. Gates hasn't caught a TD pass in four games. Philip Rivers and Gates have connected on 82 TD passes, the most in NFL history between a QB and tight end.
Gates has actually caught 84 since Rivers became the starter, but two of those were thrown by running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
HOME ALONE: In addition to dodging 0-16, the Browns are also trying to not go winless at home for the second time. The 1999 expansion team lost all eight home games.
''Coach emphasized we want to win at home, want to do it in front of the crowd and just give them something to cheer for,'' Johnson said.
FLOWING RIVERS: San Diego's quarterback has been brilliant early in games, recording a perfect 158.3 passer rating on opening drives. Rivers is 37 of 44 for 532 yards and five touchdowns without a pick the first time the Chargers get the ball.
''That is how you put pressure on the other team,'' Jackson said. ''That is the goal when you start your openers. You want to go finish with points. They have done a good job with that, and that is something we have been working our tails off to do.''
RUNNING NEAR EMPTY: With Melvin Gordon likely to miss another game due to a hip injury, former San Diego State running back Ronnie Hillman is expected to carry the load for the Chargers. Hillman made his debut by running for 34 yards in a 19-16 loss to Oakland last Sunday. Gordon is three yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season.
For more NFL coverage: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL