CINCINNATI (92.3 The Fan) – For the first time this season there was audible frustration emanating from the Browns locker room following a loss – at least within earshot of reporters.
Linebacker Christian Kirksey let loose with an impassioned postgame speech that included some colorful vocabulary to his teammates after the Browns dropped to 0-11 following a 30-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
“It’s a man’s game, meaning don’t quit,” Kirksey said of his address. “So I was just encouraging the guys keep grinding, keep moving forward, don’t get down on yourself, don’t hold your head.”
Quarterback DeShone Kizer, who completed 18 of 31 passes for 268 yards while rushing 9 more times for 39 yards and a touchdown, declined to get into specifics about what Kirksey had to say but the message was crystal clear.
“This is a war that we’re in right now. Once we get over that hill we’re going to win for a long time,” Kizer said. “It’s about getting there. It’s about putting together a complete game, both offensively, and defensively, and special teams to drive us together for the first victory.”
A year ago it was Kirksey who declared following a Week 9 loss to Dallas at home that they would not go 0-16 and although they came close, a win over San Diego on Christmas eve saved the season.
“As a leader on this team I feel it’s my job to keep the guys pushing, keep sticking to the process and sticking to our goals and everything will work itself out,” Kirksey said. “It’s no time to complain about a call. It’s a man’s game.”
The call Kirksey referenced was the 15-yard penalty on rookie safety Jabrill Peppers for hitting a defenseless receiver that came with 3:57 remaining on third down from the 40 with the Browns down 7. Peppers was able to dislodge the ball from Bengals receiver Josh Malone but the officials determined the hit was flagrant. Cincinnati iced the game 3 plays later with an 11-yard touchdown run by running back Joe Mixon.
Loss No. 11 didn’t come because of that penalty, which clearly didn’t help their comeback bid. It just wasn’t the reason they lost.
In 4 red zone trips the Browns came away with 1 touchdown and 3 field goals. Rookie tight end David Njoku was called for offensive pass interference derailing their first possession, receiver Bryce Treggs’ taunting flag damaged the second series, cornerback Brien Boddy-Calhoun was unable to haul in a pair of interceptions, kicker Zane Gonzalez missed a 43-yard field goal, receiver Corey Coleman dropped a perfectly thrown 29-yard touchdown in the end zone, the defense gave up 152 rushing yards including 114 to Mixon and there were a few other ill-timed penalties too.
But anger is not what head coach Hue Jackson wanted reporters to perceive or take away from what was overheard outside the visitors locker room at Paul Brown Stadium.
“That was a guy on this team who is a leader, and he was telling this team to keep fighting,” Jackson said. “Please don’t take it that way. Nobody was upset. If anything, you are hearing the emotion and passion this group has to win football games. They keep fighting, and they want to get this right.
“Our coaches, players, and organization put so much effort into getting this right. We’re going to keep grinding and fighting until we get things done.”
Jackson fell to 1-26 as head coach of the Browns matching John McKay for the worst start with a team over a 27-game stretch in league history but Kirksey defended and praised Jackson.
“We’re all in it together, it’s not just Hue,” Kirksey said. “It’s the Cleveland Browns, so we’re not putting it all on 1 man’s shoulders. It’s on all of us. Hue’s been doing a great job with us. That’s my head coach and I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else.”