The Browns have never shied away from being aggressive on fourth down under head coach Kevin Stefanski.
His decision to follow that trend early Sunday to the Falcons has been in question after the Browns' 23-20 loss, one that happened after Cleveland failed to capitalize on several critical moments to score points.
The first of those moments was on fourth-and-3 from Atlanta's 4-yard line on the Browns' first possession of the game. Cleveland moved deep into Atlanta territory after Jacoby Brissett connected with TE David Njoku on two connections of 25 and 20 yards. Brissett also found WR Donovan Peoples-Jones for a 13-yard gain on the first play of the game.
Cleveland was humming on offense, and Stefanski opted to go for it on fourth down for the seventh time this season. The Browns were previously 4-for-6 on fourth downs, which was tied for sixth-best in the league, but the attempt failed as Brissett's pass went over Njoku, who was well-covered by Falcons defenders.
"I don't want to get too far into the weeds and into the details other than to tell you that we didn't come off exactly how we wanted to, and that is unfortunate," Stefanski said. "(Brissett) was trying to throw a high ball to Dave, and the ball got away from him. Listen, (there are) plays I want back and plays he wants back – that is the nature of this game."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Falcons in Week 4
The Browns supported Stefanski's play call and overall aggressive play style — it shows he has trust in them to make big plays in critical moments.
"To be honest, stuff like that excites me," Njoku said. "It shows we're not afraid to put it all on the line. Sometimes, we're able to execute. Other times, we're not so lucky."
Brissett had no qualms with the decision, either.
"We've been going for a lot of fourth downs, and we've been getting it," he said. "Obviously, we're behind an aggressive play and we live with the results, and we go to the next play. We respect Kev for giving us that trust and this team because it's not just about offense, it's about the defense and the special teams in that sense.
"They trust us to go for it. We've just got to convert it, and we will."
Sure, in hindsight, the Browns would've perhaps chosen differently, or at least run a different play that would've better positioned a receiver to be open in the end zone. The incompletion was costly, but it was far from the only example Sunday where Cleveland didn't execute in a crucial situation.
The Browns suffered a holding penalty on second-and-1 from the Falcons' 1-yard line in their final drive before the first half — it ultimately led them to kick a field goal rather than possibly score a touchdown from a much shorter distance.
They allowed the Falcons to run 10 straight plays on a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
They gave up a 42-yard pass play and surrendered an additional 15 yards to the Falcons due to a facemask penalty on Atlanta's go-ahead field-goal drive.
They also threw an interception on their final pass attempt, a deep shot from Brissett to Amari Cooper on third-and-23.
Each of those plays affected the outcome to a similar degree as the fourth-down play call, which is why the Browns are sharing the blame from a loss that stings but will serve as a base for improvement as they begin a much tougher stretch of the regular season.
"It's never OK when, as a team, we beat ourselves," Njoku said. "We're just going to go back to the drawing board, work and correct mistakes."
The Browns are 2-2 after playing the fourth-easiest schedule in the league and hold the second-toughest schedule in the remaining 13 games, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. With an upcoming matchup next week against the Chargers (2-2) and future games against the Ravens (2-2), Dolphins (3-1), Bills (3-1) and Buccaneers (2-2) in the next two months, the Browns will have to be better in all areas to remain in the playoff race in December.
To stop being aggressive on offense against those teams would be a poor choice. The improvement lies in the execution, which is what the Browns are focusing on most as they turn the page from a difficult defeat.
"We know where we are, and we know we have an AFC opponent coming to our place this week," Stefanski said, "so we have to make sure that we learn from it and then move on."