Rob Chudzinski has to be thankful every day that he's in his first season as coach of the Browns.
If it was year two, and certainly any year beyond that, Chudzinski would be grilling on a hot seat. Instead, he's able to talk freely about a 4-11 record and remain secure in the knowledge that he'll return as coach next season.
After a sixth straight loss and the ninth in the last 10 games Sunday to the New York Jets, Chudzinski can't move ahead fast enough. The Browns are taking on water at an alarming rate, ruining any chances of getting one more win out of the season.
It was much easier for Chudzinski when he was a fan of the Browns growing up in Toledo. At that time, he could sit back and be critical with the rest of the fans. Now he has to find a way each week to say all the right things to avoid falling into the trap of his predecessor, Pat Shurmur, who made a habit of making ill-advised comments.
"I grew up as a Browns fan," Chudzinski said the day after a 24-13 loss to the Jets. "I know the frustration. I understand the frustration. I've lived it. I can only say that there's nothing more that I want than for this place to be a winner and for us to turn it around. We'll get that done."
It's amazing how quickly this season has gone south. It reached another low point against the Jets when quarterback Jason Campbell pitched a two-interception performance in carving out a Brandon Weeden-like 37.3 passer rating.
Worse yet was the play of the defense, which has been touted as one of the best in the NFL most of the season. The Jets torched the run defense for 208 yards, including 109 by Chris Ivory. Jets quarterback Geno Smith, who's had an awful rookie season, had a 91.7 passer rating that included two touchdown passes, a touchdown run and no interceptions. Not bad for a quarterback who entered Sunday having thrown 21 interceptions.
The challenge won't get easier in the season finale Sunday on the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have a remote chance of making the playoffs despite a 7-8 record. To think that two months ago it was thought that the Browns might actually play a meaningful game in Week 16 and finish ahead of the Steelers in the standings.
"I expected it," replied Chudzinski when asked if being a head coach is more difficult than he envisioned. "I understood the challenges that we had and I know what it takes here specifically. I think we go back to the plan we have overall as an organization to establish the type of success long term that we want. That would take some time to get to.
"I know what I signed up for."
The story against the Jets was the squandering of another lead. The Browns scored the first 10 points before it all started to cave in. Jets receiver David Nelson, who was waived by the Browns in training camp, caught a pair of touchdown passes from Smith.
Smith put the win on ice with a touchdown on a 17-yard run into the middle of a vacated defense.
"Each week it's for different reasons," Chudzinski said. "The difficult thing is to pin one thing down. When you can pin it down to one thing, you can fix it. Sometimes you fix one thing and something else pops up.
"You look at tape and there are some good things. Overall there are things we need to get better at to grow as a team, because if we do and are able to protect those leads or score and continue to build on those leads and win those games, that's the difference."
It will take more than just getting Brian Hoyer back at quarterback next season.