1) Browns offense does itself no favors vs. tough Rams D
At one point Sunday, the Rams, thanks to two Browns turnovers, had 10 points and 3 yards of offense.
It was a theme that prevailed throughout most of the game, as Cleveland played well in spurts on offense and defense but helped the Rams far too often with self-inflicted errors.
"It is a pretty simple formula to lose a football game," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "It is the level of consistency, we have to play at a higher level."
For the third time this season, the Browns committed double-digit penalties. On Sunday, they had 11, with seven coming in the second half, each one feeling costlier than the last.
Seventeen of the Rams' 24 points came off the Browns' four turnovers – all fumbles -- with seven coming from a 17-yard fumble return for a touchdown just a few minutes into the game. It marked the second time in as many weeks that Cleveland's opponent got its first marks on the scoreboard with a defensive touchdown.
"We were just fighting out of holes all day," Browns quarterback Josh McCown said. "It's hard to be a good offensive football team when you're doing those things. Whatever we've got to do throughout the week in our preparation to be better, we've got to do that and find a way to get it fixed."
The Browns offensive line and tight ends were responsible for eight of the 11 penalties. Four came on a particularly frustrating drive in the third quarter that saw the Browns, who trailed 10-6 at the time, lose a 10-yard gain from Robert Turbin and a 36-yard catch from Travis Benjamin on a third-and-9 because of penalties.
Cleveland ultimately punted the ball back to St. Louis, which scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession to take a double-digit lead it would not relinquish.
"You're moving around the field and you're making some big plays. You're gaining some momentum and all of a sudden it's coming back and not only is it coming back, but it's coming back 10 yards even further behind," Turbin said. "You have to rebound. As a team, we've got to be able to handle situations the right way, recover and move on to the next play."
Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said the Rams defensive line, which features five players drafted in the first round, changed up a number of its looks during the team's bye week. That, coupled with the noise of a dome, led to communication problems between the offensive linemen. Four of the eight penalties came before the snap.
"We just made way too many mistakes on offense to expect to be good against a good defense like that," Thomas said.
2) Injury update
Along with McCown, safety Jordan Poyer is also dealing with a shoulder injury, Pettine said.
Poyer started in place of Tashaun Gipson for a third consecutive week, as Gipson continues to recover from an ankle injury.
Tight end Gary Barnidge was treated for a busted lip during halftime but returned to the game and finished with a team-high six receptions for 101 yards. Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins was evaluated for a concussion.
3) The costliest penalty
McCown was waiting all game to launch a deep pass Benjamin's way. The way St. Louis played its safeties, it just wasn't feasible.
But that opportunity opened midway through the third quarter when the Browns faced a third-and-9 from their own 43-yard line. McCown saw it pre-snap, dropped back and heaved a pass down the sidelines toward Benjamin, who hauled it in for a 36-yard gain.
The fourth penalty of the drive put a halt to Cleveland's momentum. Thomas was flagged for holding.
"It is frustrating anytime you hit big plays and you look back and you've got a flag on the turf," Pettine said. "That is frustrating."
On third-and-19, McCown connected with Duke Johnson Jr. on a 14-yard pass, and the Browns were forced to punt. St. Louis scored on the following possession.
Thomas was seen talking with one of the officials about the call. He said he was trying to gain clarity on the situation because he heard one official call out Mitchell Schwartz's number while the referee called out his number when announcing it to the crowd.
4) Early hole nothing new for Browns
For the fourth time in the last five games, Cleveland faced a double-digit deficit in the first half.
The Browns fell behind, 10-0, less than 6 minutes into Sunday's game after a Greg Zuerlein field goal. Unlike the previous two weeks, the Browns weren't able to overcome the early disadvantage and hold the lead at any point during the game.
Turbin said the offense wasn't fazed by the early disadvantage.
"It's never really about how you start, it's all about how you finish," Turbin said. "Teams come back all the time from being down 10-0 in the first quarter."
5) Props for Barnidge
Barnidge became the fourth Browns tight end in franchise history to collect three 100-yard games in a single season. He joins the company of Ozzie Newsome, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Milt Morin. Morin had the most with four in 1968.
Barnidge is second on the team in receptions (33) and receiving yards (514) and first with five touchdowns.