BEREA, Ohio — The Browns were eliminated from playoff contention in their loss to the New Orleans Saints last week, but with two games left on the schedule, they've set their sights on a new goal—eyeing leadership and passion for the game as they wrap up the year.
For the Browns, players have said since the game that they have plenty to play for—their paycheck, their pride, their passion, each other, the fans and the city all among motivators. But is that really important to the team?
For cornerback Greg Newsome II, it's the most valuable takeaway from the next two contests against the Washington Commanders and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It's a lot ton of value. First of all, these last two games, you're going to see who the true competitors are. When you're not playing for a playoff spot and you see guys still out there flying around, giving it their all—those are the guys that you want to be around. Those are the guys you want to play around," Newsome said.
Around the roster, guys will have their eye on each other, getting a good look at who gives their all, who is still fighting. That will matter more than most things that occur in the two final games because that is what will carry over into next season.
Tight end David Njoku referred to the situation as "a test." It's something that matters to a locker room and something this team won't be taking for granted after a frustrating end to the season that saw them miss the postseason for the past two years.
"This is a big test to see who loves this game as much as they say they do, number one. Number two, I know me, I know the tight end group, we’re going to give it our all—I know the whole team will," Njoku said. "I have no doubt that we’re going to put our best foot forward and give the Commanders hell."
As of Wednesday, that work includes everyone on the roster, even some of the staple guys who have been dealing with injuries like Nick Chubb and Myles Garrett. With no postseason to compete for this year, guys like Chubb and Garrett could be sat to rest them. Instead, they're expected to play both games and serve as leaders by examples.
"We got two more times to go out there and play and play for each other and play for the city. So that’s the bright thing about it, it’s not over yet," Chubb said.
Having the presence of players like Chubb on the field to not only highlight why they play the game, but how to do it at a high level, is something the Browns could use more of. The NFL's youngest roster by average age can only benefit from seeing veteran leadership on full display for the full year.
“I think every rep is valuable. I think practice reps are valuable, but anytime you can get young guys in game settings and see them respond, yeah, I think it's good. We have had a lot of young guys play for us," said head coach Kevin Stefanski."I really try to evaluate all of it from the meeting rooms to the practice field to the game field. Yes, of course, two more games to see how guys respond in certain settings I think is important.”
The Browns won't yet reflect on what went wrong this year, but through the final two games they have found new motivation and something to build upon as the season comes to a close—each other.
And with issues of continuity throughout all three phases of the game having plagued the Browns throughout the year, building as much of a foundation of that to end this year may prove to be vital for the future.
"You want to continue to take strides, make strides, score some points and do our part to help our team. I think that's the focus for the offense, the focus for the defense and the focus for the special teams versus a good Washington team is to go do your part,” Stefanski said.
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