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Browns loss to the Texans sparks immediate sense of urgency


The answers in the Cleveland Browns locker room after a 23-7 loss to the Houston Texans were different depending on the person.

Joe Haden thought the Browns lacked the normal "spunk" that they've displayed all throughout the 2014 season. He's right.

Cleveland can usually reach in their back pocket for a Taylor Gabriel 60-yard deep bomb from Brian Hoyer, or a Tashaun Gipson interception. Those timely instances just weren't there on Sunday against the Texans.

"When we had chances, we didn't come up with big plays," said Haden.

Paul Kruger gave credit to quarterback Ryan Mallett for managing the game. He's right.

Behind borderline brilliant play calling from Texans head coach Bill O'Brien, Mallett wasn't asked to go out and win this game for Houston. His passes were crisp and calculated – mostly short routes toward the sideline to maximize the first-time starters success rate.

"[Mallett] is going to be a good player for a long time in this league," Kruger said. 

Billy Winn concluded Cleveland just didn't execute their game plan. He's right.

The defensive plan was to stifle the Texans running game, hopefully forcing Mallett into mistakes. Instead, another inexperienced player, rookie running back Alfred Blue, gashed the Browns for 156 rushing on a franchise-record 36 carries.

"We have to get it fixed," said Barkevious Mingo.

The result ended up giving Houston very manageable short third-downs, where they converted 7-of-18 of them compared to Cleveland's 3-for-15 mark.

The offensive plan was similar to what it has been all season: let the running game set up play-action passes. Instead, because the Browns trailed most of the game, Brian Hoyer threw the ball 50 times, only completing 40 percent of his passes. Cleveland was also limited 24 carries for 58 yards – averaging only 2.4 yards per clip. Those 58 yards include a 35-yard scamper from Isaiah Crowell. There were no running lanes against the Texans.

"We had a good opportunity to come out here, and we let it slip through our hands," said Hoyer.

Whatever way you look at it, the Browns got outplayed in every phase of the game. They clearly know this.

As dozens of reporters questioned and second-guessed the Browns after the game, there was one answer nearly all the players reiterated: there won't be any panicking following an uninspired loss. There won't be any identity crises from Cleveland, either. The loss has sparked an immediate sense of urgency, strong enough to sense only moments after the game.

"This is NFL football, and they are not all going to be like last week's game against the Bengals," said Andrew Hawkins, who finished with six catches for 97 yards. "We are not going to harp on it. We are just going to go to work, look at the film and do everything we can to make sure Atlanta doesn't turn into two losses."

"We weren't going to put ourselves in the playoffs by winning this game and weren't going to take ourselves out by losing it," Hoyer said, bluntly. "It's a long season. Obviously it's terrible to come out here and have such a missed opportunity at home, but, you gotta' move on."

The storylines from the media will be easy to predict. They'll say the Browns celebrated too proudly about being in first place. They'll say the Browns continue to follow up momentous wins like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati with ugly losses like they did at Jacksonville and against Houston. They'll say the formula to beat the Browns is run the football nearly every play.

Those are valid and fair questions. But this loss will force the Cleveland Browns to do what they have thrived at for most of the season: ignore the external noise.

"It's something I'm personally going to make an effort for this week," said Kruger about telling younger teammates to stay focused.

Dwelling on losses are not a part of the culture in Cleveland anymore. With only six games remaining, there's just no time for that.

There are 20 other teams around the league that would kill to be 6-4. The Browns still control their own destiny. They are still getting back Josh Gordon bright and early Monday morning. They are still a football team nobody wants to play.

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