CLEVELAND - The Browns have a way of taking the festive spirit out of the holidays better than a stocking full of coal.
For most of 15 seasons, losses have mounted up to the point that the home finale is usually played before a sparse gathering of fans, many of whom are wearing jerseys of the visiting team. This year it was a chance for fans of the Chicago Bears to buy up tickets for Sunday's game at First Energy Stadium and cheer on a 38-31 Bears' win before an announced crowd of 71,153.
The Browns have lost five straight and eight of the last nine games to fall to 4-10. Their home record dating back to the 1999 season is 42-78, turning the concept of homefield advantage on its head.
Chicago wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) stretches across the goal line for a 45-yard touchdown catch against Cleveland defensive backs Julian Posey (38) and Tashaun Gipson in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
Like in many of the defeats this season, the Browns couldn't find the intangible needed to win a close game. No one knows the answer to the problem, which makes it all the more exasperating.
"That's the frustrating thing," Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. "As you look at it, each game is different, and the reasons why may be different. I'll look at this one so I can completely know what the reasons are. The biggest thing is being able to correct them."
There always seems to be a breaking point in each of the losses. It could be a penalty. Often times it's a turnover. Sunday the course of the game seemed to turn early in the fourth quarter when guard Shawn Lauvao was called for holding on an 8-yard run by Chris Ogbonnaya that would have given the Browns a first down at the Bears' 19.
The penalty moved the ball back to the 37. A pair of incompletions by quarterback Jason Campbell was followed by a punt.
The Bears (8-6) scored on their next three possessions to turn a 24-17 deficit into a 38-24 lead. Alshon Jeffery pulled down a pass between the coverage of Julian Posey and Tashaun Gipson on a 45-yard scoring play as Chicago tied the score. Quarterback Jay Cutler tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett on the Bears' next possession for the lead. Michael Bush tacked on an insurance score on a 40-yard run.
"It's something you have to develop," Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said of the struggle to win. "You just have a quiet confidence about yourself of, 'You know what, you're going to win this game.'
"Not to say you don't when you lose, but look at last week the New England Patriots. They hadn't recovered an onside kick since 1995 against the Browns, and it happened. The weirdest things have happened. The longer I've played this game, they continue to happen."
It looked like this might be the Browns' day when they scored a pair of defensive touchdowns. Gipson returned an interception on an overthrow by Cutler 44 yards for a score in the second quarter, and safety T.J. Ward picked up a fumble by Martellus Bennett and ran 51 yards for a touchdown in the third period.
"Today was one of those games where you score two defensive touchdowns early and you tell yourself, 'You know what; if we keep on playing good defense and don't give up the big play, we should be okay," Jackson said. "That wasn't the case."
The offense managed 366 yards, but that was more than offset by the 440 yards generated by the Bears. Cutler, back in the starting lineup after missing four straight starts with an ankle injury, was off target early. He had two passes intercepted by Gipson, including one in the end zone on a pass that was tipped by Ward on the first drive of the game.
Cutler settled down and was 22 of 31 for 265 yards and three touchdowns.
"It started off rusty," Cutler said. "I had some throws that were high. The guys rallied around me, though. They played really well. They made some nice catches and the offensive line played great. It feels good getting back out there."
The Browns weren't able to get receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron involved in the offense as much as they did in previous weeks. Gordon finished with three receptions for 67 yards and a 43-yard touchdown late in the game. Cameron caught three passes for 23 yards.
"We had an opportunity in the fourth quarter to maybe get a field goal and go up and we did some things that went against us (the Lauvao penalty) and moved us backward," Campbell said. "We have to do our part. It's not on one side of the ball. We have to look at the film (and ask) did I play great today? No, I didn't. I didn't have one of my best games."
Campbell was 23 of 39 for 273 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Zackary Bowman returned one of the interceptions 43 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter.
Billy Cundiff put the Browns ahead 3-0 with a 35-yard field goal. Robbie Gould kicked a 23-yard field goal to tie the score.
Gipson's interception return gave the Browns a 10-3 lead. Cutler then threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Brandon Marshall to tie the score, 10-10, at halftime.
Bowman put the Bears ahead, but the Browns answered with an impressive 10-play, 85-yard drive to score on a 2-yard run by Edwin Baker. Ward's fumble return gave the Browns a seven-point lead.
The Browns are at the New York Jets Sunday.