DETROIT — The Browns traded punches in Sunday's loss to the playoff-contender Lions, meaning there were bright spots to be gleaned from another frustrating defeat.
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer played his best game of the season. They ran for a season-high 201 yards against a tough Detroit defense. Cleveland flustered Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford for much of the game before he mounted a late and ultimately insurmountable rally.
But that all surely would've given the winless Browns and coach Hue Jackson something to hang their hats on.
"No. We lost. We're still losing," Jackson said in his postgame news conference. "I'm going to say it again. I didn't come here to lose. I came here to turn this organization around. I'm not going to get off of that."
"There's no moral victories, there's no 'we played better,' there's none of that," he continued. "There's winning and losing. They keep score, we're 0-9, so that's the way it is."
The Browns watched a lead late in the third quarter evaporate when Detroit scored 21 unanswered points in the final 16 minutes. All three of Stafford's touchdown passes came during that span.
Because of that, Jackson and players shrugged off an effort that was admirable but not enough to lift them to their first victory of the season.
"It doesn't matter how close you come, this isn't horseshoes," safety Jabrill Peppers said. "Our offense did a great job in putting us in positions to win, it's just we have to execute on defense. I feel like I say the same thing every week."
Peppers, who returned to the lineup from a toe injury, lamented self-inflicted wounds and missed opportunities, which have been recurring themes through nine games.
Cleveland's typically-stout run defense watched Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick break off big runs in the first half while Stafford carved up the secondary in the fourth quarter.
"It's more us beating ourselves. I'm not taking away from anything they did, they did a great job and played a tremendous game plan," Peppers said. "Matthew Stafford is a hell of a quarterback, can make all the throws, but we knew that coming in. We just have to execute, get the ball back for our offense in the shortest way possible. I think that will put us in a better position on."
The Browns' offense, meanwhile, put together its second-best statistical display this season but stumbled down the stretch. The unit also had two turnovers, including a fumble recovery that Nevin Lawson returned for a 44-yard touchdown, and untimely penalties that spoiled promising drives.
"We've had the chance to do this in a lot of games. We hung on to the ball for the most part. I had a costly one," said tight end Seth DeValve, who was stripped by Lawson in the second quarter. "We had a good plan. We executed. We've had an emphasis of starting fast for a while and we accomplished that. We've just got to finish fast now."
That remains the focus as the Browns search for answers, knowing moral victories and close calls won't tide them over in the meantime.
"I know our fans are disappointed, but I just keep telling them, hang in there," Jackson said. "We just need to keep working and keep getting better."