CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – There are worse things than being .500 through four games, but the frustration in Cleveland is real.
The Browns could easily be 4-0, or at least 3-1, but blown opportunities Sunday in Atlanta and then in Week 2 to the Jets are haunting.
With the perceived easiest part of their schedule behind them, the Browns are just 2-2 and tied atop the AFC North thanks to their 29-17 win over the Steelers in Week 3, but they’ve squandered any chance of building themselves a cushion headed into a difficult seven-game stretch.
“It is very tough, but there is no looking back,” tight end David Njoku said. “It is always on to the next. We have to change our focus to the Chargers, and that is what we will do.”
Against the Jets the Browns blew a 30-17 lead with less than two minutes to play and lost.
Sunday, they were their own worst enemy starting with head coach Kevin Stefanski, who has come under fire for not kicking a field goal on the opening drive after the Browns failed to score on fourth down.
“You get a first-and-1 down there, we absolutely obviously have to come away with seven points,” Stefanski said. “Didn’t punch it in on first down. Passed it and got a hold which backs us up, which is really frustrating. I feel confident with some cracks at it from the 1 we are going to score a touchdown obviously. I think the overall point is it is players, it is coaches and it is all of us, we have to be better.”
The Browns ran 11 plays inside the Falcons 11 and gained three whole yards. They got to the two twice and came away with just three points.
Stefanski took the blame for their failure to capitalize.
“For me in all of those decisions, it is 100 percent me making the decision,” Stefanski said. “I take in information from our coaches and from our staff up in the booth and on the sideline, and then ultimately, you have to own them.
“When they don’t work, you are frustrated, but it is my decision. I understand what you are asking, but when we get down in those situations, I take in all of the information, and I make a decision.”
Another fourth quarter defensive breakdown cost Cleveland big time.
The Falcons completed a 42-yard pass and Denzel Ward was flagged for a facemask, compounding the problem and moving Atlanta into field goal position with just over three minutes remaining.
“Sometimes it is miscommunication,” Stefanski said. “In this case, just didn’t play a technique how we want to. That is unfortunate. Those are the type of things where big plays can happen when we got out of a gap, we miss an assignment or whatever it is.
“The bottom line is we own this as a team. We own the wins as a team, we own the losses as a team and similarly, players and coaches there is plenty of stuff we can all clean up.”
The 45-yard kick from Younghoe Koo, and Stefanski’s decision not to kick a field goal on their opening drive, was the difference on the scoreboard.
“I think the frustration is not winning,” Stefanski said.
Every mistake seems to cost the Browns.
Be it Njoku’s fumble or not executing in the red zone, or blown defensive coverages, assignments or techniques, the Browns have only themselves to blame for an underwhelming start to the season.
“It is never OK when as a team we beat ourselves,” Njoku said. “We are just going to go back to the drawing board, go back to work and correct the mistakes.
“I believe every mistake we made is 100 percent fixable.”
Unlike years past, this isn’t a quarterback problem either.
Jacoby Brissett has played well enough for them to be undefeated or above .500.
After splitting against lower tier quarterbacks Baker Mayfield, Joe Flacco, Mitchell Trubisky and now Marcus Mariota, who completed just seven passes Sunday, things get much more difficult for the defense and Brissett, who will be tasked with trying to keep up with the opposition.
Justin Herbert and the Chargers roll into town this wee followed by the Patriots then a trip to Baltimore to take on Lamar Jackson, back home for Joe Burrow and the Bengals then a trip to Miami, Buffalo where Josh Allen awaits and then a visit from Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.
Myles Garrett’s car wreck that could sideline him multiple weeks, although the Browns say he is improving, and Jadeveon Clowney’s ankle sprain which has sidelined him the last two games doesn’t help.
The Falcons turned the tide on the Browns by rushing for 172 yards in the second half while Stefanski is still trying to figure out how to use his prolific backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt week-to-week.
“I want to put our guys in best position to succeed,” Stefanski said. “When I don’t do that, you look at it and you certainly want to make sure that you are making all of the best decision for your guys. We will look at all of those type of things. At the end of the day, I think our team understands how we want to play – offense, defense and special teams how we want to play – game in and game out and just give our guys opportunities to succeed.”
Like his team, Stefanski and his coaching staff is .500 in that department, and that’s as disappointing as their 2-2 record because they and it should be better.