CLEVELAND - The signs of progress each week must tell Browns coach Pat Shurmur that better times are ahead.
It could be Josh Gordon catching a deep pass from Brandon Weeden. Maybe running back Trent Richardson takes off with a screen pass for a big gain. Offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz might have a solid day in pass protection.
The Browns are so close to getting it right that the losses have to frustrate Shurmur, who now must answer to emotional owner James Haslam III. Based off the actions Haslam displayed in the press box last Sunday in Indianapolis, close might not be good enough to save Shurmur's job.
The task for the 1-6 Browns won't be easy when they host the 3-3 San Diego Chargers today at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Chargers, who are coming off a bye, are still smarting after blowing a 24-0 halftime lead in a 35-24 loss to the Denver Broncos.
Four of the Browns' losses have been by a touchdown or less. The inability to make big plays at opportune times has been costly. None stand out more than Gordon's drop of a pass that would have been the go-ahead touchdown in a 17-13 loss to the Colts.
"Look at all the plays where we had a chance to make a big-time play," Weeden said. "Whether it was a throw, a catch, a block. We've had a play in games where we had a chance to put ourselves ahead or to win the game, and we've come up a little bit short. I don't know how you fix it other than to make a play.
"That's a good sign for a young team like us. We're in ball games. We're not a gimme. We're not going to lie down and give them one."
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is considered among the elite at his position in the NFL, but he looked less than average when he threw four interceptions in the second-half meltdown against the Broncos. Even with such a terrible performance, Rivers has an above-average passer rating of 85.3.
"You have to move on to the next game," Rivers said. "You learn from your mistakes and then build on the positive. What's lost in a game when you have turnovers like we had, you begin to feel like you did nothing good.
"The truth of the matter is we did a lot of good. We have to eliminate the bad. We had a bye week to regroup, and we have a tough road trip ahead of us."
Rivers can still depend on tight end Antonio Gates, who played at Kent State University. Gates, who has 19 receptions for 224 yards, presents a matchup problem in man coverage for any linebacker or safety.
"I haven't seen a lot of the teams that we've watched on tape defend him all that effectively," Shurmur said. "It's important that we get pressure on the passer. I think it's important that we challenge all the throws and whoever's covering him, whether it be a safety or a linebacker or he's running through a zone. We've got to do a good job of trying to disrupt the throws."
The Browns could be without Richardson, who injured his ribs two weeks ago. Richardson played against the Colts but was benched in the second half because if ineffectiveness.
Richardson was clearly not himself against the Colts, finishing with 8 yards on eight carries. He felt much better physically during practices this week compared to a week earlier.
"It's just the mindset and being around my teammates," Richardson said. "My teammates tell me that I looked way better than I did last week, and at the end of the week I will look way better than I did at the end of last week. I feel way better."
The Browns will need more from Richardson than what he supplied last week.