Inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson has become a leader in the Browns locker room.
Not the leader – the overall leader -- mind you. Jackson is in just his fourth season, and there are a lot of much older players who are candidates for that role.
But Jackson is the leader among the younger players, and they would do well to follow his lead. That's because he gets it. He really gets it when it comes to understanding what the NFL – especially in a football-crazed town like Cleveland – is all about.
After Sunday's 34-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings – a game that wasn't even that close since the Browns scored a touchdown in the final 30 seconds during mop-up time – Jackson was asked by a media member if the defense became fatigued at the end of the game, allowing the Vikings offense, particularly running back Adrian Peterson, to take control of the game.
For a young guy – he won't turn 26 for about a week and a half – and a friendly guy who is continually a candidate for the Dino Lucarelli Good Guy award given out by the media each year to the player who goes out of his way to be accommodating , he sure has a menacing glare, and he exhibited that when he immediately looked at the reporter.
It was like Cleveland Cavaliers TV analyst Austin Carr with his well-known saying of, "Get that weak stuff outta here." Jackson wanted to no part of an excuse. Tired? Tired?! The way he looks at it, the Browns shouldn't have been tired. They can't have been tired after going through all that strength and conditioning work in the offseason. If a player – or players – did get tired, then they simply need to work a little harder in the weight room this week. And they had better make sure to get in there so that what happened Sunday – whatever it was that caused the Browns to lose – doesn't happen again next Sunday when the Browns visit the Denver Broncos.
For it's clear that Jackson doesn't care about anything other than winning. He's not worried about style points – about coming close against a great team like the Vikings and getting a moral victory as a piece of the foundation the Browns are putting down in this rebuilding process.
If the Browns lose, then he didn't play well. His teammates didn't play well. No one played well. If they had all played better, then the Browns would have won. But they didn't, so the Browns didn't.
And that's all that matters, period.
Compare that to the comments of two young players – who shall remain nameless because they're good guys who probably didn't think before they spoke – who said they were pretty satisfied with the way they played, that they had performed well.
That kind of "Win or lose, let's just do the best we can" attitude has permeated into the souls of too many players in that locker room, particularly of the players who were part of last year's team, and maybe even were part of other Browns teams in recent seasons that, aside from 2007, have generally struggled.
Remember what you heard coming out of the locker room a lot following that 2007 campaign? It was that the Browns had had a good season.
Finishing 10-6 and failing to make the playoffs is not a good season.
Finishing 4-12, like the Browns did in 2008, is a much worse season. It's a terrible season, especially considering the fact they were picked by some people to go to the Super Bowl.
When the New England Patriots finished 11-5 last year and failed to get into the postseason, no one in that locker room was saying the club had performed well. The fact that all-everything quarterback Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opener is, in reality, why the Pats didn't get into the playoffs, but their thinking is that no matter what – injuries or whatever -- they have to find a way to win, for winning is all that counts.
It was exactly what they were thinking on Monday night when they were getting embarrassed by the Buffalo Bills – the Buffalo Bills – on national TV. Sure, Brady was still trying to find his groove after not playing, basically, last year, but the Pats had to find a way to win. For in the end, no one will remember if they played well or poorly, individually or collectively. They'll just remember if the Pats won or lost, so they went out and found a way to win.
Winning solves everything. It's the bottom line. It's what everyone comes to see, and looks at first. The Pats get that. The good teams all get it.
There are some who may not like to hear about the Browns teams of old, but those players knew how to win. Individual statistics meant absolutely nothing. Neither did the quality of play the team put forth as a whole. The object was to find a way to win, no matter what it took. Nothing less than that was unacceptable. There was no such thing as playing well in a loss.
Teams need to learn how to win. It's a process they go through. They need to learn how to close down a game when they lead 13-10 at halftime. They need to learn how to score a touchdown, and not settle for a field goal, when they get a first-goal at the 6 and have a third-and-goal at the 1. They need to learn how to stop the opposition from scoring a TD when they make it start a possession at its own 18. They need to learn how to tackle a ball carrier so that he doesn't race 64 yards for a TD on the first play of a drive.
The fact the Browns played a good first half doesn't count for anything in the big picture. Neither does anything else positive the Browns did against the Vikings.
Oh, sure, you have to take baby steps before you can take big steps and eventually start running, and that is obviously the process the Browns are going through now. But the players can't be satisfied that they're making progress. Real progress can be seen only in victories, and the Browns haven't had any this year, and not many in recent years. And in 2007, when they had a lot, it still wasn't enough to get them into the playoffs, which is the only measuring stick that can be used for true success – not some made-up facsimile thereof.
So when Jackson gets mad and disgusted when the Browns lose, no matter what they might have done well, his fellow young players need to get mad and disgusted, too – and mean it. It's the only way things will change.
And they need to change. Enough with the losing already. Browns fans, the best anywhere, deserve better. They've waited a long time – way too long, in fact – for these expansion era Browns to get it right.
So, while everyone will understand if the Browns struggle some in the first year of head coach Eric Mangini's rebuilding process, no one will understand – or should understand – if the Browns fail to try to find a way to win, to ramp up the speed on this process to make it go as quickly as possible and get to the point where this club is a legitimate playoff and even title contender.
Only people in fantasy football care about a player's stats, or that he did well.
That's what that kind of world is – a fantasy.
In the real world, all that counts is that you win – or at least that you do everything possible to win, and are bitterly disappointed when you fall short of that.
With that icy stare, D'Qwell Jackson proved he's in the real world. Now he needs to make eye contact with some of his young teammates – the supposed core of this rebuilding process – to make sure, willingly or not, they join him.