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Browns learn from dangers of slow offensive start

Most of what happened for the Browns on Sunday wasn't up to the standards the team sets for itself.

What had Josh McCown and Joe Thomas talking Monday was the first few minutes of a game in which the offense saved its best for last and it was too little, too late.

By the time Cleveland picked up its second first down of the game, it faced a 10-0 deficit and its defense had already been on the field for more than 15 minutes. It wasn't ideal and served as a direct contrast to the previous week, when the Browns jumped on the Titans with back-to-back touchdowns on their first two possessions.

Cleveland's first 13 plays went for a combined 40 yards and the first three drives ended in punts. By the time the Browns began their first scoring drive, Oakland ran 32 plays to the Browns' 13.

"It comes down to being able to stay on the field on third downs," Thomas said. "When you have a three-and-out early in the game and you put your defense behind the 8-ball, not getting the rest that they need, it becomes tough on them and you don't get the opportunity to extend drives, to get the plays called that you want and set things up. It minimizes the number of plays you get in a quarter or a half and that is tough on a team."

What made Sunday frustrating was it hasn't been the norm for McCown and the offense dating back to the first game of the preseason.

The Browns scored on their first possession in preseason games against Washington and Tampa Bay. In the season opener against the Jets, the offense drove 90 yards on 17 plays before McCown fumbled on the goal line. The group followed with a touchdown on Johnny Manziel's first possession to take an early 7-0 lead.

Sunday marked the first time Cleveland didn't hold a lead within the game since its Week 15 loss to Cincinnati last season.

Because the Raiders' lead was at multiple possessions throughout most of the second half, Cleveland's offensive game plan shifted to a pass-first mentality. The Browns rushed the ball just three times in the second half and finished the game with 39 yards.

"I think we just have to execute better earlier," McCown said. "It felt like everybody took a turn early. In offensive football, when all 11 guys aren't firing, it will stifle you quick and it slows things down. I think that is what contributed to it more than anything. I felt like, obviously, we were attacking later in the game as far as throwing the ball. We were throwing it more.

"We talk about establishing the run with the team and how our team is built. That is something we won't ever get away from. I don't necessarily think we weren't attacking. It is more of where we were execution-wise than anything."

Sunday's fourth quarter brought out some of the best from the Browns' passing game, as tight end Gary Barnidge and veteran receiver Brian Hartline made the most of their opportunities. Travis Benjamin showed he was more than just a deep threat by taking a short slant near the goal line and dragging a defender into the end zone on a touchdown that brought the Browns within one score.

But the margin for error, as coach Mike Pettine said, was slim, and a McCown interception with less than a minute to play sealed Cleveland's fate.

"I think we did some good things, but we didn't do enough good things to win the game," Thomas said. "Coming back in the NFL is a difficult thing to do when the other team has a significant lead … We came close at the end of the game, but we put ourselves in too big of a hole early on to come back and get the win."

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