CLEVELAND (AP) — The ominous signs point to change. Browns coach Mike Pettine is ignoring them.
With the losses piling up and his future in Cleveland very much in doubt, Pettine said Monday that he has not yet spoken to owner Jimmy Haslam about whether he will return for a third season.
Amid constant conjecture about what Haslam may or may not do with his floundering franchise, Pettine said his sole focus is on this Sunday’s season finale.
“I have a job to do, and the job is to prepare this team as well as I can to play the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Pettine said on a teleconference. “I don’t get caught up in that.”
Pettine’s record fell to 3-17 in his past 20 games on Sunday as the Browns (3-12) battled but fell short in their comeback against the Kansas City Chiefs (10-5), who may have gotten lucky that Johnny Manziel ran out of time.
Down 17-3 at halftime, Manziel brought back the Browns, who outplayed the Chiefs in the second half and nearly pulled off the upset.
While it may have been another tough loss, Pettine found several positives: His looked prepared, played hard and may have given Haslam more to consider — assuming, that is, he hasn’t already decided an overhaul is in order.
By no means was Pettine satisfied with losing, but he took solace in his team’s effort.
“We’re not into moral victories,” he said. “It’s pass-fail and we came up short again. Just effort and playing hard isn’t just enough. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to play smarter for a longer period of time.”
Pettine speaks with Haslam regularly, but they have not discussed any plans beyond this week. The two were scheduled to meet Monday, when their conversation could include some long-term issues.
Pettine’s second season has been marked by blowout losses and nail-biters, costly injuries and the ongoing sideshow that is Manziel.
On Sunday, Manziel reverted to some of his Johnny Football ways and ran for 108 yards — the most by a quarterback in team history — and the Browns racked up 232 yards rushing, their third-highest total since 1999. It was vintage Manziel, who zigged and zagged around Arrowhead Stadium’s turf the way he did at Texas A&M.
Trouble is, Manziel didn’t throw the ball well enough (13 of 32) to lead his team to a victory, and there remain doubts about whether he can play from the pocket.
Unable to get off one last play deep in Kansas City territory before the clock expired, Manziel yanked off his helmet and slammed it to the ground in frustration.
The ending aside, Pettine viewed Manziel’s performance as evidence of more progress.
“If you go back to where he was essentially a year ago to now, he has covered a lot of ground personally,” Pettine said. “We know there has been a setback or two there, but he has covered so much ground professionally, and it shows up in the results. He has bought into what we are doing.
“Professionally, he has been outstanding for us this year. That is why when you talk to our players in the locker room, they respect him because they are with him every day. They see it. They see his preparation. They see him in the huddle and the night and day difference calling plays, confidence, knowing what to do, knowing where to go with the ball, and they see how competitive he is, how much he cares.”
“Sometimes he is almost too emotional. He gets upset with himself as we have seen over the time that he has been in there. We see that as a positive.”
But, as always, there is a negative.
Over the weekend, a video surfaced of Manziel, wearing a “Merry Manziel” sweater, rapping to a song while another person appears to be drinking alcohol.
Although Manziel isn’t doing anything illegal, it’s probably not a good look for the Browns or the 23-year-old, who lost his starting job last month by Pettine for defying coaches and becoming a distraction during the team’s bye week.
Manziel only got his job back after Josh McCown broke his collarbone.
“Anytime there’s something with our players that casts them potentially in a bad light whether it’s Johnny or any of our other guys, it’s certainly a concern,” Pettine said. “I’m sure I’ll see it, I’ll have a discussion with him about it.”
NOTES: OLB Armonty Bryant, who was arrested on Christmas with Adderall, will be inactive for the finale. He did not travel with the team to Kansas City. … Pettine said the team has not discussed adding another kicker. Travis Coons has had four long kicks blocked recently.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL