CLEVELAND — **In search of continuity on the offensive line amid injuries and other setbacks, the Browns watched those hopes dashed early Sunday in a loss to the Cowboys.
Instead, Cleveland was forced to reshuffle its unit for the seventh time this season when starting center Cameron Erving and Dallas defensive lineman David Irving were ejected on the fifth play from scrimmage for an on-field scuffle.
The moment was indeed a significant blow to an offense that struggled to mount much of an attack in the second half, but the Browns said postgame they wouldn't lean on that dynamic as an excuse.
"It's happened enough to us this season that we are done making excuses about it," said John Greco, who moved to center with Erving out of the lineup.
"We just have to rally and kind of just step in and be able to put together a game and continue like it has been the starting five."
That was what the Browns tried to do against a tough Cowboys defense that held them to 222 total yards, including just 28 in the second half. With Greco at center, Alvin Bailey moved from left to right guard, the rookie Spencer Drango played left guard while veteran Joe Thomas and Austin Pasztor held down the tackle spots as they've done all season.
"At this point, we are kind of used to having John Greco move over to center. It wasn't anything new," Thomas said, referencing Sunday's mixing and matching.
"It's not like we are dealing with new players at different positions, but it would be nice to have a game where you start the game with the line and you finish the game with the same line. At least we have guys that have plenty of experience this season, moving over and playing center and jumping in at guard."
The reshuffling began when Erving suffered a bruised lung against the Ravens in Week 2. Two weeks later, backup center Austin Reiter tore his ACL in his first-career start in Washington. Perhaps the biggest loss, however, came when left guard Joel Bitonio was placed on injured reserve last month with a mid-foot sprain.
Browns coach Hue Jackson on Friday emphasized the importance of establishing stability on the offensive line.
"It's really important over the next eight weeks to settle on a group and let them play. It would help with the improvement of our offense entirely," he said.
"Hopefully, we can keep guys healthy where they can be out there every day and practice together because playing line, I don't think people know what goes into that. There's a lot of working together, playing off of each other, playing off of communication and all of those things that go on and that takes time.
"When you're interchanging people all of the time, those things can get a little discombobulated a little bit," Jackson continued. "If we can get a group together, that is what I plan to do and just let them play, and we will work everything else out in the end."
But the Browns — who travel to Baltimore on Thursday night in search of their first win — won't let that be an excuse.
"That is just the game. Things happen that you can't control or something might happen like that, and you just have to move on," said quarterback Cody Kessler, who lauded the performance of the line despite less than ideal circumstances.
"You have to continue to trust the guys in front of you and whoever goes in there."