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Browns offense struggles to capitalize on prime opportunities


CLEVELAND -- The sting of Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts was too fresh for Mike Pettine to dig into the specifics of why the Cleveland Browns' offense labored for a second consecutive game.

Faced with a barrage of questions about the Browns' situation at quarterback, Pettine made one thing clear: Cleveland's recent offensive struggles go beyond one player and one position.

"I'm sure it was more than just the quarterback," Pettine said, repeatedly stressing he'd need to watch the film before making a complete assessment of the Browns' offense in their 25-24 loss Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. "There are 10 other guys out there."

Though the running game was more productive than last week, the Browns never really found a rhythm when they had the ball against the Colts. Thanks to strong efforts from the defense and special teams, Cleveland had three drives start in Indianapolis territory but came away with a combined three points on those possessions.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer didn't mince words about a performance that saw the Browns pick up just three first downs in the second half in a game they led for the majority of 60 minutes.

"What a great opportunity we just blew," Hoyer said. "We've got to regroup and move on to next week. There are three games left. I don't know exactly what the situation is, but we'll learn from it, find out what the mistakes are and fix them."

Hoyer finished 14-of-30 for 140 yards and two interceptions, the second of which came on a long pass attempt with 2 seconds to play and the Browns pinned deep in their own territory. It marked the second consecutive game in which the Browns scored only one offensive touchdown and the third straight with at least two interceptions.

Without veteran Miles Austin and tight end Gary Barnidge, Hoyer found his most success with tight end Jordan Cameron, who caught four passes for 41 yards in his first game since Oct. 26. Andrew Hawkins caught four of the seven passes thrown his way for 38 yards.

Cameron took the blame for Hoyer's first interception, a ball former Brown Mike Adams plucked off a deflection in the end zone to end a promising drive.

"I needed to go under the guy and I went above him," Cameron said. "It's my fault. It's on me."

Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon had two receptions for 15 yards on seven targets. Gordon, who had 15 catches for 195 yards in his previous two games, wasn't on the field much on third downs, as the Browns "wanted to get Josh's reps down a little bit" after targeting him 29 times in the past two weeks, Pettine said.

"We'll watch the film and realize we have to play better. I have to play better," Hoyer said. "With each game that goes by, there are less and less opportunities to figure out how this season is going to go."

Pettine said he hadn't even thought about who would start at quarterback next week against Cincinnati. He stressed he did not consider a change within the game one week after rookie Johnny Manziel played two series at Buffalo.

Within 15 minutes of the final whistle, Hoyer was quick to focus on Cincinnati.

"I expect to start and play Cincinnati at home," Hoyer said, "and I'll prepare that way."

The Browns' offense was at its best on a second-quarter series that directly followed the Colts' first touchdown of the game.

Hoyer bounced back from a deep overthrow to a wide-open Taylor Gabriel by making arguably one of his best throws of the game, a 27-yarder to Travis Benjamin on third-and-7 to get the Browns near midfield. The completion promptly opened up the running game, as Terrance West took a carry 12 yards for his longest gain of the day. After two 1-yard runs, Hoyer fired back-to-back 12-yard passes to Andrew Hawkins and Gabriel before Isaiah Crowell ran it 9 yards for a touchdown.

It was Hoyer's first touchdown drive since the third quarter against the Falcons.

"We fought so hard and just had a couple mistakes that cost us the win," said Crowell, who had 54 of the Browns' 111 rushing yards. "We have to come out next week and keep fighting."

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