BEREA, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Joel Bitonio has seen his fair share of collapses down the stretch with the Browns since being drafted by the team in 2014.
The fear is that this year’s team, which has lost five of their last six after a 2-1 start, could be headed in that direction.
Even with Deshaun Watson set to debut in two weeks, the Browns are a disappointing 3-6 and their playoff hopes are on their ninth and final life, which begs the question, could Bitonio be forced to endure another nosedive?
“If we play our game and we execute and play well, we can beat teams in this league,” Bitonio said Thursday. “And I think there's a pride in the group too. No one's like, oh man this is dumb. You play every game to win every game, and that's our mindset.”
Of the eight teams remaining on the schedule, five are .500 or better and are contenders for playoff spots starting this weekend with the 6-3 Bills at Ford Field in Detroit.
“We have a huge test this week, they're one of the better teams in the league, but I've sensed no doubt in people's mind,” Bitonio said. “It's just like, hey we have to go out there, we have to play better, we have to execute.”
No matter the odds or how good or bad things are going, Bitonio has always been a beacon of light and this year is no different.
“I think I have all the faith in the world in this locker room and the coaches, the work these guys put in, guys come into work and they're ready to put their best foot forward,” Bitonio said. “And we understand the Bills are a great team, so it's gonna be a huge challenge for us. But we have faith in ourselves.”
Bitonio admitted staying positive hasn’t always been easy for him, and there have been seasons where he could sense things were falling apart around him, but that is not the vibe he feels now.
“In the past, there was times when we were obviously really like 0-10 and stuff like that where it was not a good vibe,” Bitonio said. “But no, the guys, I think we have faith in everybody in the building and we're working as hard as anybody to try and right the ship.”
Only twice since Bitonio was drafted have the Browns finished a season strong.
In 2018, after firing Hue Jackson as head coach and offensive coordinator Todd Haley midway through the season, they won five of their last seven after starting 2-6-1 to finish 7-8-1. Then in 2020, after staring 5-3, the Browns won six of their last 8 to finish 11-5 and end an 18-year playoff drought.
Then there are the collapses.
His rookie year saw a 6-3 start crushed by a 1-7 dive off a cliff that included the Johnny Manziel circus. Bitonio played 10 games his sophomore year and the Browns lost 10 of their last 11 following a 2-3 start.
Bitonio only played in five games during the 1-15 campaign of 2016 while suffering through 0-16 in 2017.
In 2019 the Browns dropped four of the last five to finish 6-10.
Last season, a 3-1 start ended in an 8-9 season because they lost four of their final six games.
So, if there’s anyone who can project what might be in store over the final eight games, Bitonio is the guy to ask.
“I think some of those, we just didn't have enough talent,” Bitonio said. “I think guys, at least from my perspective, I can only talk about myself, there's a heck of a lot of pride every time you go on the field to perform to your standards, to your team's standards. And I think a lot of those teams did have pride. But you know, you look back on the records, you see we didn't finish the season strong a few of those years, but I don't sense that here. I think the guys understand what it takes to win and are really trying to fight to get a win.”