AMAGANSETT, N.Y. (Nov. 29, 2006) -- From his owner's suite, Randy Lerner watched, worried and wondered about his Cleveland Browns.
On Nov. 26, Lerner was repulsed by the way the Browns were manhandled at home by the Cincinnati Bengals and troubled by wide receiver Braylon Edwards' sideline rant against his teammates.
"I found Sunday to be sickening," Lerner said.
And what made him the most ill?
"Across the board," he said. "Everything. I thought the lack of composure. The lack of performance. I thought the wheels came off on Sunday."
The Browns appear to be a broken-down mess -- again -- and Lerner's candid assessment of their most recent performance underscores a multitude of issues confronting the club as it heads into a final, critical month of the season.
Coach Romeo Crennel is fighting for his job. Edwards is fighting his teammates. And Browns fans, at least the ones who aren't too ashamed to acknowledge their loyalty to the orange helmet, are fighting mad.
Crennel has come under scathing public attack for a perceived lack of discipline on the club, and particularly with the motor-mouthed Edwards, who threw a tantrum during the third quarter of the 30-0 loss to Cincinnati.
Edwards blamed losing his cool on his "passion for the game." He doesn't feel some of his teammates are displaying the same desire to win as him. And for the second time this season, Edwards' criticism was directed at the club's offensive line, a unit depleted by injury and now missing right tackle Ryan Tucker (undisclosed illness) for the rest of the season.
Following Edwards' latest rant, the greatest Brown of them all weighed in on the turmoil.
"It's really the leadership that has to clamp down on things," Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown said. "I imagine that would be Romeo's job to make sure these things aren't happening. That's not a putdown on Romeo. It's that it's his arena. He's the boss."
For the moment.
Crennel, who won a handful of Super Bowl rings as a defensive coach, is now 9-18 in his first two seasons as a head coach. Crennel's biggest flaw might be his sense of loyalty. He stood by embattled offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon until it became clear the players had lost faith in his play calling.
Crennel believes he has control of the team and is convinced he can keep the Browns from splintering over the next five weeks.
"You'll see this team stay together," Crennel vowed. "This team will fight, this team will compete as we go forward. Part of my task is to make sure we do that."
He also believes he still has the backing of Lerner and general manager Phil Savage.
"If I didn't have the support, I probably wouldn't be sitting up here talking to you," Crennel told reporters at the team's training facility. "I'm assuming that I have the support. Until I know otherwise, or I'm told otherwise. I feel like I have support."
If Crennel, who said any discipline of Edwards would be handled privately, doesn't hold the team together, the Browns will be forced into another winter of dramatic change. Crennel is Cleveland's third coach -- and third with no NFL head coaching experience -- since 1999. A fourth coach in eight years would not be a sign of progress.
Linebacker Willie McGinest led a chorus of support from the Browns locker room for Crennel, known by his initials, RAC.
"For RAC to be ridiculed or prosecuted for what went on and what's going on, I think is ridiculous," said McGinest, who played under Crennel in New England. "The man's a decorated general in this game."
Edwards also backed his coach, saying the players should take the blame for the last two weeks. He doesn't believe Crennel's future hangs in the balance as the Browns face Kansas City on Dec. 3, then play a Thursday night game at Pittsburgh.
"I don't think these 10 days will save Romeo's job. I don't think his job, to be honest, is in danger," Edwards said. "There's a lot of talk right now. There's a lot of media hype. But in actuality, I don't think Romeo is going anywhere and I don't think he needs to go anywhere."
Maybe Edwards should stay put, too. Crennel said he was bothered by Edwards' decision to fly by helicopter to the recent Michigan-Ohio State game in Columbus without permission. The trip made Edwards, who played for the Wolverines, late for a meeting that night.
Lerner hasn't lost hope in the Browns or Crennel. While his team has again been plagued by costly injuries and quarterback Charlie Frye has been batted around like a pinata, the Browns have shown some encouraging signs of growth. That is, growth for them.
Other than two lopsided losses to Cincinnati, they have been competitive every Sunday. Only a week earlier, the Browns led the Pittsburgh Steelers for 3½ quarters before collapsing.
However, in the aftermath of the debacle against the Bengals, Lerner found it difficult to feel much satisfaction from a could've, should've loss.
"What I saw with the Steelers game was a very motivated, passionate Cleveland Browns that wanted to win and played to win," he said. "But I don't know that I would be prepared to elevate it to a positive. Winning would have been positive, but we're not there yet."
The Associated Press News Service
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