PITTSBURGH (AP) – The worst season in franchise history won’t cost Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson his job.
If anything, owner Jimmy Haslam is doubling down on his bet that Jackson, general manager Sashi Brown and the rest of the front office are the right people to turn things around.
The revolving door that’s been an offseason fixture since Haslam bought the team in 2012 is stopping, even after a 27-24 overtime loss to the backup-laden Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday that left the Browns an NFL-worst 1-15.
“Clearly not an acceptable year,” Haslam said. “Really since we bought the team, it’s totally unacceptable performance, which as ownership we’ll take the entire blame for.”
And not, Haslam stressed, Jackson or Brown, both of whom were brought in last winter to revive a team that’s 15-49 over the past four seasons.
“Could not be more pleased with the job Hue and the staff are doing,” Haslam said. “You wouldn’t think this was a 1-14 team with the way this team was out there battling (today). Really pleased with Hue and really pleased with our personnel group. I think we have the right people in place.”
If not the right results. At least, not yet. Their final game of 2016 looked an awful lot like the 15 that came before it: flashes of competence undone by questionable play-calling and occasionally bad luck.
The Browns fumbled inside the Pittsburgh 5 with a minute to go in regulation and had a first-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 2 turn into a field goal by Cody Parkey, extending the game.
Oh, and they had a potential pick-6 by Briean Boddy-Calhoun turn into a touchback when Pittsburgh’s Darrius Heyward-Bey punched the ball out of Boddy-Calhoun’s hands as he stretched for the goal line in the third quarter.
A touchdown would have put Cleveland up 21-7 in the third quarter.
Instead, the Steelers went right back down the field to tie the score.
And so it goes.
While the loss assured the Browns of the top pick in the draft this spring, it provided little solace after the Steelers responded to Parkey’s field goal by going 75 yards in nine plays, the last a 26-yard touchdown lob from Landry Jones to Cobi Hamilton .
“We were coming here to win the game,” Jackson said. “We weren’t coming here to get a No. 1 pick. Those guys gave it everything they had.”
Isaiah Crowell ran for a career-high 152 yards for the Browns, who have been playing football since 1946 (save for a brief three-year break from 1996-98) and never finished with a “one” in the win column.
Not exactly that Jackson envisioned when he took over last January.
“You can’t sugarcoat this,” Jackson said. “It is what it is. I would hope we get a chance next year to earn a different type of record. That’s where it starts. We’re 1-15. I never would have thought that in a million years, but we are.”
Robert Griffin III passed for 232 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but Cleveland missed a chance to beat the Steelers on the road for the first time since 2003. Griffin, signed to a two-year deal last offseason, said getting a chance to compete for the starting job in 2017 would be “awesome.”
He also acknowledged that the broken bone in his shoulder suffered in September never fully healed, though he was quick to point out it did not have a significant impact on his play.
“You’d be naive to think a guy that breaks a bone in season is going to come back with a fully healed bone,” Griffin said. “The doctors felt I was healed enough to return to play … but to say I was 100 percent healthy is a lie.”
Like Haslam, Griffin praised Jackson and his staff for doing what they could in a difficult situation.
“I think those guys are the right guys,” Griffin said. “I think in the offseason what those guys are going to do is give the Cleveland Browns the best chance to win going into next year.”
Cleveland wide receiver Terrelle Pryor caught seven passes for 94 yards to go over 1,000 yards on the season, heady territory for the converted quarterback.
Browns offensive lineman Cam Erving left with a knee injury and will be evaluated on Monday.
The Steelers already banged up defensive line took another hit. Ricardo Mathews left with an ankle injury and did not return. Rookie Javon Hargrave went into the concussion protocol in the second half. He was cleared and returned for one more series, but spent the rest of the game on the bench. Hargrave missed a game last month because of a concussion.
Browns: “With the first pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select.”
Steelers: Meet the Dolphins in the playoffs for the fourth time in franchise history and the first time since the 1984 AFC championship game.