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Game Day

Browns just keep finding ways to win and are by no means satisfied

Cleveland wins its 3rd straight game with big offense and just enough defense

Joel Bitonio has seen games like Sunday's end in completely different fashion.

A missed opportunity or a weird moment or two used to be enough adversity to send the Browns to an unfortunate loss. The margin for error simply wasn't enough to survive a few bad bounces.

Sunday in Jacksonville, though, served as a reminder of just how little the past has meant to the present version of the Browns.

The Browns lost the turnover battle. They failed to convert a key fourth down in the fourth quarter. They thought they made a game-sealing defensive stop, but a penalty summoned them back to the field.

All of it contributed to the nail-biting drama. None of it ultimately mattered when it came to the end result — a third consecutive Browns victory that gives the team its most wins in a season (eight) since 2007 with five games still to play.

"We all have a mindset that it is (on to) the next play," said Bitonio, the longest-tenured Browns player. "Bad things happen in this league. There are times you get beat, but we come out there the next drive and we are like, 'Hey, we have to answer right now,' and guys make plays in big situations.

"When you see someone need a little help, you help them up and then you go on to play the next play. I think it is just a mindset starting with Coach (Kevin) Stefanski and working its way down."

The Browns' eight wins can be divided into two distinct categories. 

There were the first four, which stretched from Week 2-5 and featured a high-scoring offense and fourth quarters filled with multiple-possession leads. Then there's the last four, which have come over the past five games during a six-week stretch that has also tested the Browns' ability to adapt to whatever circumstances the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic throws their way.

Cleveland's been forced to dig deep in all of its recent games, whether it be the comeback it needed in Cincinnati, the adjustments it needed to make in wild weather conditions against Houston and Philadelphia or the straight-up resolve it showed late in the game Sunday against a feisty Jaguars team that wouldn't go away.

With a chance to extend their lead to two possessions midway through the fourth quarter, the Browns couldn't convert on fourth down. Thinking the game was sealed when Olivier Vernon and Adrian Clayborn sacked Mike Glennon on fourth down with 3:43 to play, the Browns were forced back on the field after Vernon was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Three plays later, Jacksonville scored and had a chance to tie it with a two-point conversion.

The Browns didn't let Jacksonville's momentum carry any further, forcing Glennon to throw an incompletion thanks to a mix of a good pass rush and tight coverage, and the door was slammed. Finally.

"We have played in a bunch of different games," Stefanski said. "We have had to find a way to win a bunch of different ways, and that is not going to change."

All throughout the season, Browns QB Baker Mayfield has declined to compare this year's team and its successes to teams of the past — even when the comparisons involve players who were a part of them. To Mayfield, this season was a fresh start and an opportunity for this group of players and coaches to forge their own identity.

Through 11 games, the Browns have shown they know how to win, even when the game isn't going as they planned.

"It is just a completely different team personnel-wise and obviously staff-wise," Mayfield said. "We talked about building a culture and a foundation of winning early on in the spring and having to do that over Zoom meetings. I think that foundation is coming in clutch when these close games happen."

These close games offer more than enough opportunities to improve in the coming weeks. The Browns left Jacksonville with plenty to clean up on both sides of the ball, and there was a clear awareness about it as the players packed up and prepared to return to Cleveland.

The Browns have maintained a "1-0 every week" mentality from the very beginning of the season. Past performance only matters when it comes to the players and coaches saying it won't be good enough the next time.

"There are things that we did on that field that obviously we can't get plays back after they are gone, but at the same time, there is always room to grow," WR Jarvis Landry said. "There is always room to learn, and we can learn a lot from the things we did today, whether it was successful or not successful. 

"I think we took a step in another direction toward where we want to be ultimately."