Coach Kevin Stefanski listed several reasons during his postgame interview Sunday to explain why the Browns fell short Sunday against the New York Jets.
He blamed the execution, which wasn't as crisp as it should've been at key moments of Cleveland's 23-16 loss. He blamed the play-calling, which he believes could've helped the Browns avoid a 17-point deficit midway through the third quarter. He blamed himself, and he wishes he had done more to put his players in position to win.
Stefanski was leaving no room for excuses. He didn't pin any blame on how the Browns learned Saturday they'd be without four of their top wide receivers and two top linebackers. The Browns received word of a positive COVID-19 test and placed six players on the reserve/COVID-19 list before departing on a late-evening flight to New York.
None of that — not the lack of experienced players at key positions on the roster or the jumbled travel schedule — was a factor in Sunday's loss, Stefanski said. And he was adamant about it.
"That has nothing to do with the results of this game," he said. "We got beat today. I got outcoached. We got outplayed. We did the things you can't do. We were minus-two in the turnover battle – you can't do that. Penalties. Drops. Not good. That is going to get you beat."
The Browns certainly had chances to win and clinch their first playoff berth since 2002. Two of the Jets' touchdowns happened after broken coverages led to open receivers downfield, and another touchdown was set up by a fumble recovery from New York deep in Cleveland territory.
Other opportunities were missed, too. The running game, which entered Sunday ranked third in the NFL, mustered a season-low 45 rushing yards. Quarterback Baker Mayfield finished 28-of-53 for 285 yards but committed three fumbles and didn't connect on a few key throws to open receivers.
He didn't have any excuses, either. Sure, he was without top wideouts in Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge, but he wanted to make the most out of the reliable hands from his tight ends. Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant and David Njoku combined for 26 targets, and Hooper led all receivers with 71 yards and seven receptions.
Ja’Marcus Bradley, an undrafted rookie who's spent the season on the Browns' practice squad, was called up and thrown to 11 times. He caught five passes for 60 yards and made a few tightly-contested catches to fill in the workload from the absent receivers. He, as well as Marvin Hall — who was acquired by the Browns three weeks ago, made his debut Sunday and caught one pass for 12 yards — did everything the Browns asked.
So Mayfield felt as though the blame could only be placed on himself.
"I failed this team," he said. "I put three balls on the ground – two of them they recovered and the other on the fourth down. There is no excuse. We believe in the guys we have in this locker room, no matter who it is. That is why they are here. That is why they are Cleveland Browns. I didn't do enough and play well enough for us to win, and that is it."
Other players echoed those sentiments, too.
From cornerback Denzel Ward: "I know I did not play my best game, and I am one of the reasons that we did lose this game."
From defensive end Myles Garrett: "We didn't get any takeaways. If we can't get the ball to our offense, we have to pick up the slack on defense."
From guard Joel Bitonio: "It's a tough situation for everybody, but we didn't do a good enough job of executing the game plan. It wasn't good enough today. It wasn't up to our standard of play."
The Browns made themselves abundantly clear: They had all the talent they needed to win. Stefanski said he didn't make any major alterations to his game plan because he believed in all 53 players available to play.
The overall execution just wasn't there, and that's on himself, the players and coaches.
"We had all of the guys we needed," Stefanski said, "and we did not get it done."
Now, the Browns must move on and make sure the same mistakes aren't made next week.
That's when Cleveland, still in control of its postseason destiny, can make up for its Week 16 loss and still get into the playoffs with a win.The Pittsburgh Steelers — who defeated the Colts in a comeback win to clinch the AFC North title — will be standing in their way.
There won't be room for excuses in that game, either. The list of reasons Stefanski gave to explain the loss Sunday will be addressed, and that's how he'll be spending his next six days before the final game of the regular season.
"We have to put a great plan together and we have to go to work," he said. "We have to get back to the basics because that just was not good enough today."