The way Browns players see it, the time is now to prove they have what it takes to become a more consistent team and remain a playoff contender this season.
That time, to be exact, is nine games, and each of them have grown increasingly important after three losses in the last four weeks. Nine games might seem like plenty of time for the Browns to consistently show their strengths and return to the winning ways they showed in the second half of last season, but their record, 4-4, is not what anyone on the team expected at this point of the year.
Every game left on the schedule is a big one for the Browns. To them, the biggest game is the next one: Sunday against the Bengals, who are one loss behind the Ravens for the lead in the AFC North and the primary focus in the locker room for the next four days in Cleveland.
"The margin for error is extremely small," S John Johnson III said Thursday. "This is the time where teams start to separate themselves. You can either start losing, or you can start winning. We want to start winning."
Check out exclusive photos from the practice fields at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus of the Browns preparing for their Week 9 game against the Cincinnati Bengals
The Browns have the mentality that their backs are against the wall after a 15-10 loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday further exposed some of the flaws that have made wins more challenging to find. Players from the offense and defense both took accountability for the loss and were hard on their collective groups for not playing the complementary football they expected to play by the season's halfway point.
The primary goal this week has continued to be about preparation for Cincinnati despite ongoing outside speculation about Odell Beckham Jr., who was excused from practice Wednesday and Thursday.
Coach Kevin Stefanski stressed Wednesday the Browns were only concerning themselves with what was on their plate for each day of practice this week. Other players echoed those sentiments Thursday.
"I think we're in a good spot," G Joel Bitonio said. "We've got to go out there and find a win. That's kind of our goal this week is to go 1-0 and just find a way to win."
A win this week requires shutting down a team many around the league believe to be one of the top risers this season.
Bengals QB Joe Burrow has piloted Cincinnati into position to make a playoff run — he's sixth in the NFL in passing yards — while first-round rookie WR Ja'Marr Chase is third in the league in receiving yards and leads the league in yards per reception.
The Browns, though, are one win away from having the same record as them and making up ground in the AFC North, which is why the importance of Sunday can't be overstated.
"They've got a complete offense," Johnson said. "It's going to be tough, but that's why we're putting in the work this weekend. I think we're in a good place right now."
Offensively, the Browns are focused on upping the production in their passing game and helping quarterback Baker Mayfield get back to the sharp play he found in the second half of last season. The Browns need Mayfield, who's been playing through a complete tear of his labrum in his left shoulder, to find that spark, which could reignite the rest of the offense and help boost the Browns back to the top of playoff contenders.
"My confidence in Baker is big," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "He's the leader of this offense. As he goes, we go. He just has to again maintain the laser focus of getting him ready for this week."
The same message applies for the rest of the Browns — they can't take anything lightly when it comes to Sunday's game, and they can't focus on anything beyond the Bengals.
"We can control our destiny," Johnson said. "We can win out, we can win the majority of our other games and we can win these division games. We have a chance. I think we're in a good place, but we definitely want to do better, kick it up and notch and get ready for this little run we're about to make."