(Three points of interest in today’s game)
Coach Rob Chudzinski started the week by reminding everyone today is the home finale. Chudzinski grew up a Browns fan and still relates to the people freezing in the Dawg Pound, so his comments are genuine. Focusing on the last home game is also a good way to try to keep a team motivated when the playoffs are no longer a possibility.
“We have great fans here. I really appreciate them,” Chudzinski said. “It’s important for us to show them (today) the direction that we’re going. We’re committed to being our very best for this game.”
The Browns are 3-4 at FirstEnergy Stadium, and a .500 finish would be a tangible sign of progress. It won’t be easy. The Bears (7-6) are fighting for a playoff spot and could have a lot of fans in the stadium with tickets cheap on the resale market. The Browns (4-9) are focused on moving past the loss to the Patriots, a four-game skid and seven losses in eight games by finishing strong. They can still eclipse last season’s win total of five and build some momentum for 2014.
“It’s huge for a young team to end strong and really get it going, and for the fans especially, it’s really important not to leave a bitter taste in their mouth,” tight end Jordan Cameron said. “This is the last time we’re going to put a show on for them this year and hopefully we can come out with a lot of energy and feed off their energy.”
Most of the discussion in Chicago during the week was about first-year coach Marc Trestman’s decision to start quarterback Jay Cutler coming off an ankle injury even though backup Josh McCown had been playing so well -- 109.8 rating. According to the Browns, the most important player for the Bears’ second-ranked scoring offense (28.3 points per game) lines up behind whoever’s playing quarterback.
“The guy who really is the key to their offense is Matt Forte, a complete player, a complete back,” Chudzinski said.
“They have a great running back,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “He’s one of the rare do-it-all backs that we have in this league, and he’s pretty much doing it by himself. He’s deadly whether he’s catching the ball or running the ball. We’ve got some things lined up for him that we think we can take advantage of. But at the same time, you can’t stop a guy like that, you can hope to contain him. He’s that good.”
Forte is third in the NFL with 1,591 yards from scrimmage, fourth with 1,073 rushing yards and second with 78 first downs (58 rushing, 20 receiving). He has seven rushing touchdowns, 65 catches and two receiving touchdowns and averages 122.4 yards from scrimmage. He’s second behind Walter Payton (16,726 and 21,264) in Bears history with 6,400 rushing yards and 9,243 from scrimmage in six years.
The Browns were burned by New England running back Shane Vereen last week for 12 catches and 153 yards, so they must make adjustments. It won’t be easy against Forte.
HOT IN CLEVELAND
Just enjoy it. Receiver Josh Gordon is the brightest spot in another dark season for the Browns and has a chance to make more history today. Gordon owns the best two- (498), three- (649) and four-game (774) stretches in NFL history and needs 88 yards vs. the Bears to pass Detroit’s Calvin Johnson (861) for the top five-game streak.
Gordon is playing the best football this side of Peyton Manning and should earn his first Pro Bowl trip in only his second season. He’s turning into a superstar before our eyes and is the best reason to watch the final three games, as he will try to keep his league lead in receiving yards (1,400), yards per game (127.3) and yards per catch (19.7). The fact that he’s only 22 is just another reason to be excited about his future.
“I’ve got a front-row seat to a great show and it’s fun to see what he does and when you see him do something it’s kind of amazing, you kind of just stop and watch him run down the field and do what he does,” Cameron said. “It’s awesome to have a teammate like that. We’re going to take a look back in the offseason and really say, ‘Wow, what he did was pretty special,’ the numbers he’s putting up in the limited games he’s played in. It’s awesome.”
Gordon has played 11 games and is within striking distance of Wes Chandler (129.0 with San Diego in 1982) to post the best season average in NFL history.
Quarterbacks who’ve had 300-yard games this season – Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell -- a first for the Browns. Six teams have accomplished the feat in NFL history.
Combined catches for tight end Jordan Cameron (72) and receiver Josh Gordon (71), which ranks third for a pair in team history. Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards had 162 in 2007 and 150 in 2006.
Kick-return touchdowns by Chicago’s Devin Hester, an NFL record by five. He has 13 on punt returns and five on kickoffs.
The Bears have more to play for, and they have Matt Forte. Bears 27, Browns 24.