CLEVELAND (AP) — Browns coach Hue Jackson didn’t drive to work on Monday as much as he floated to his office.
The weight has been lifted in Cleveland by one, hard-to-get, almost-hard-to-imagine win.
The Browns erased that ugly zero on their record.
“It is very freeing,” Jackson said with a chuckle on Monday, two days after the Browns got their first win in more than a year, 20-17 over the San Diego Chargers . “I feel better today than I did at any time during this year to be very honest with you.”
Pressure has given way to relief for players, coaches, fans, everyone associated with the Browns (1-14), who no longer have to discuss the possibility of joining the 2008 Detroit Lions in the NFL’s exclusive 0-16 losers club.
During a festive time of the year, that’s something worth celebrating.
“It is a relief, especially for the veteran guys who do not have very many cracks left at this, if at all,” wide receiver Andrew Hawkins said.
“You never want to be associated with that — a historically bad season. I was glad I was able to avoid it.”
Jackson had spent weeks preaching to his players to keep fighting, that the only way for them to end their misery was to play a complete game. And while Saturday’s performance was far from flawless, it was good enough.
When Chargers kicker Josh Lambo sailed his rushed 45-yard attempt to the right as time expired, the Browns had ended a 17-game losing streak stretching to last season and gave their fans an early Christmas gift, not another lumpy loss.
When they reached the locker room, weeks of despair, double-digit losses and disappointment were forgotten.
The Browns celebrated with cheers and tears of joy.
Jackson struggled to address his players, and at one point tackle Joe Thomas, who was selected to his 10th straight Pro Bowl last week and has endured more suffering than any player should have to, wept openly in front of his teammates as he embraced his coach.
The raw emotion deeply moved Jackson.
“I cried like a baby with him to be very honest with you,” Jackson said. “That was probably one of the moments that I will always remember in my coaching career, watching a future Hall of Famer overcome with emotion because he knows how hard he has worked to help this young team and these players get this victory.
“He was very deserving of it, and he did everything he could in that game to fight to make sure that we have a chance to win.”
Hawkins said seeing the respected Thomas being so sentimental toward Jackson was poignant and powerful.
“People who don’t know Joe, he doesn’t normally have that relationship with coaches,” Hawkins said.
“He is someone that every guy in this locker room respects and looks up to. When you see the amount of love and respect that he gives Hue and how much he cares for him, it is special. That is how a lot of the young guys know that was real.”
Jackson had somehow kept his players motivated and hungry, a challenge as difficult as any he had ever faced.
He knew his team had become a national embarrassment and that some fans incensed over the team’s continuous tumble were planning a parade to rejoice in a 0-16 finish.
The Browns, though, didn’t buckle and rewarded Jackson.
“I know how hard this group has worked and I know how hard it has been for these guys to go out every week and give it everything they have and come up short and to be the brunt of jokes and to be talked about and people saying we were going to be 0-16 and there were parades and this and that,” he said.
“I just thought all that emotion just came to a head. I was happy for them. It was more about them. It is not about me.”
NOTES: QB Robert Griffin III remains in concussion protocol and his status for Sunday’s season finale at Pittsburgh may not be known for several more days. If Griffin can’t make his fourth straight start, rookie Cody Kessler will be back in the lineup. Kessler replaced Griffin in the fourth quarter against the Chargers. Injuries have forced Jackson to make six changes at quarterback already this season. … CB Joe Haden sustained a neck injury that could keep him out. He’s already playing with both groins injured.