Many Browns ready for year to be over

CLEVELAND – We’ve seen this picture many times before.

Players milling about the Browns’ locker room in the final week of the season with little on their minds other than to escape the upcoming game without suffering an injury and welcoming in the new year at a home in another location.

Former Browns cornerback Frank Minnifield was once criticized for being heard singing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” in the shower late in a difficult season. Unfortunately, for the Browns, that’s been the Christmas carol of choice for far too long.

This season is no different. It began to spin out of control when quarterback Brian Hoyer suffered a season-ending knee injury in a Thursday night game against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 3. Since then the Browns have lost 10 of 11 games and six straight.

Most players won’t admit it, but they’re anxious to put the 2013 season behind them and hope that better days are ahead next season.

“It’s been a long year,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “We haven’t been able to play to the expectations that we set for ourselves. It hasn’t been the year we wanted it to be. Everyone needs a time to settle down and get their minds right and think about how we’re going to come about the thing next year.”

Nowhere has the grind of the season seemingly been more damaging than on the defense. The unit was ranked in the top five of the NFL early in the season but has slipped to 10th in preparation for Sunday’s road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It would be easy to say that injuries and the normal wear and tear of the season have taken a toll. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton disputes that line of thinking.

“I think that’s the easy way out,” Horton said. “The Green Bay Packers a few years ago I believe (lost) 11 defensive starters, and they won the Super Bowl. Guys that are on the field want to be on the field and we expect them to play at a winning level.

“I’m not going to take the easy way and say injuries (were costly). It’s been done where teams have overcome injuries.”

The long haul has had a negative impact on the best of players, including receiver Josh Gordon. After four straight games with more than 100 receiving yards (including back-to-back 200-plus yard performances), Gordon was limited to 97 and 67 in each of the last two games.

“It’s a long season. There is a lot of wear and tear; guys are banged up, hurt and feeling real sore,” Gordon said. “This is the last week, so guys are going to give their last ounce of energy.”

Include Gordon among the players who aren’t sure they want the season to end. Yes, he’s tired of losing, but he knows all about the trappings the offseason presents.

“You always want to get ready for the future,” Gordon said. “I think that’s what we’re really doing here. We’re not ready for this to be over because in the offseason you’re bored and you have nothing to do. You need this structure in your life. I know I can’t wait to get it going again.”

To each his own.