CLEVELAND -- Rob Chudzinski told his team on his first day as the Cleveland Browns coach that they should expect a certain approach.
He wanted to be aggressive, and he wanted his team to be aggressive.
“He hasn’t disappointed,” left tackle Joe Thomas said.
No, he has not. Twice in the 24-18 win over the Baltimore Ravens Chudzinski called for his team to go for the first down on fourth-and-1. Both were important moments in a close game. Both went the Browns' way.
That makes it 19 times this season that Chudzinski has gone for the first down on fourth down, a league high. (The Browns have made it 10 times.) Some coaches might not go for it on fourth down twice in a season; Chudzinski is doing it twice a game.
“That’s his mindset,” said wide receiver Davone Bess. “That’s his mentality.”
The Browns knew they’d have an attacking defense, but Chudzinski’s attacking approach on offense goes against the grain of almost every NFL coach. In a league where most talk about “managing the game” and “having a chance” to win, Chudzinski goes after it. That it came in a division game against the Super Bowl champions was even more noteworthy.
“We’ve been a kid brother in this division for a long time,” Chudzinski said. “You have to go play, and if you want to change that then you have to go do things to change it.”
Players love a coach who has faith in them -- especially when he’s not afraid to show that faith. Over time, the aggressive message seeps in and players start to believe as much as their coach.
Chudzinski shows this aggressiveness with a team that has not won six games in any of the previous five seasons, but heads into the bye week two games behind the Bengals in the AFC North with a 4-5 record -- a mark in Cleveland worth smiling about.
The first fourth down against Baltimore came in the first quarter, at the end of the Browns' second drive. The Browns got to the Ravens 1, and on fourth down Chudzinski went for the touchdown.
“I felt good about what we had game-plan wise to be able to score,” Chudzinski said. “I think it was important in this game for our guys to have the mentality to play to win.”
Jason Campbell was able to thread a pass to Bess for a touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, the Browns led by three and had a fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 43 with 3:12 left. Again, the conventional thinking would be to punt, pin the Ravens deep and play defense. But often, that conventional thinking prevents a win. Chudzinski again went for the first down.
“We had the opportunity to take the game at that point,” he said.
Campbell had to scramble and throw back across his body, but he again found Bess for a sliding catch and a first down. Eight plays later the Browns kicked the game-securing field goal with 17 seconds left.
“It’s not just a matter of being reckless,” Chudzinski said. “But it’s a matter of being aggressive. Sometimes it’s going to work; sometimes it’s not going work, and I understand that.
“Fortunately it paid off today.”
Chudzinski has set the tone with his decisions, which have included fake punts and field goals. And he’s been consistent all season.
His attitude is aggressive, it’s determined -- and it’s refreshing.