The question now is whether coach Rob Chudzinski’s tenure will come to a conclusion after only one season on the job.
As the short-handed Browns were dominated by Pittsburgh, speculation swirled about Chudzinski’s job security.
“Our focus is on the game today. We will not discuss any evaluation of the season until this upcoming week,” the organization said in a statement.
That the team chose not to deny the speculation will only fuel the fire and extend the conversation.
A coaching change after only one season — especially considering Chudzinski was the first signature hire of new CEO Joe Banner — seemed highly unlikely only a couple of weeks ago. But an embarrassing 24-13 loss to the Jets last week that upset owner Jimmy Haslam preceded the loss to the rival Steelers (8-8).
The Browns (4-11) lost their last seven games for the first time in franchise history. They dropped 10 of the last 11 games. They won one fewer game than last season, when coach Pat Shurmur was fired the day after the season ended with a loss at Pittsburgh.
As the ugly facts stockpiled, the speculation from national NFL insiders grew.
“One place of turmoil (again) to monitor is Cleveland Browns, where there’s some turmoil & unhappiness with how team folded 2nd half of year,” ESPN’s Chris Mortensen tweeted.
“Like everyone else, I am hearing Rob Chudzinski could be in trouble after only one season,” ESPN’s John Clayton tweeted.
“Dissatisfaction with Rob Chudzinski from up high is real, from what I hear. Effort issues, accountability issues. One to watch,” NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted.
The Browns were no match for the Steelers, who clung to small playoff hopes with the win.
Pittsburgh scored early and steadily increased its lead. Cleveland went 0-for-3 on fourth down, each time from inside the Pittsburgh 40-yard line. Quarterback Jason Campbell (23-for-41 for 240 yards, a touchdown and an interception) threw incomplete each time.
A bright spot was that receiver Josh Gordon became the first Browns player to lead the NFL in yards receiving. He finished with a franchise-record 1,646.
The Browns avoided a shutout with a 35-yard catch-and-run by running back Fozzy Whittaker with 2:46 left.
Chudzinski has had to deal with plenty in his first season as a head coach. The Browns abruptly traded running back Trent Richardson in Week 3, have used three starting quarterbacks and haven’t had a reliable running game all season.
The last time Banner spoke to reporters, he raved about Chudzinski. That was before the losing streak.
“I’m hard pressed to think that in nine weeks a first-time head coach can do any better or any more than he’s doing,” Banner said Nov. 13. “All of the measurables that you’d look to come up with — if you even wanted to create a yardstick of measuring at this moment — I just think he’s doing an outstanding job.”