Just a couple of questions into his post-game press conference, Brian Hoyer borrowed a phrase from New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick as he looked ahead to the Cleveland Browns' immediate future.
"I'm just disappointed we lost and moving on to Cincinnati," Hoyer said after the Browns' 25-24 setback to the Indianapolis Colts. "There are three games left and we have to make the most of them."
There's no way around it: Sunday's loss to the AFC South-leading Colts dealt a body blow to the Browns' hopes of making the playoffs for the first time in 12 years. Wins by the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens didn't help, as the Browns sit one game behind both teams and 1 ½ behind the division-leading Bengals, who come to FirstEnergy Stadium next Sunday.
Losses by Miami, Buffalo and Kansas City and a win by Houston put the Browns in a group of five AFC teams at 7-6 with three games to play. The group could grow to six if San Diego loses to New England in tonight's primetime showdown.
"It just puts our margin for error to zero," linebacker Paul Kruger said. "We're still in it. We can still get it done. We just can't afford to lose in this division."
The three-game stretch will require the Browns' best football, as Cincinnati comes to Cleveland looking to bounce back after its loss Sunday to the Steelers. The last time the Browns swept the season series against the Bengals, they made the playoffs.
A win over the Bengals would need to be followed by back-to-back victories against teams that looked mighty impressive Sunday. Carolina is 4-8-1 but is still alive to win the NFC South after its 41-10 rout at New Orleans while the Ravens soundly defeated the Dolphins, 28-13, in Miami.
Simply put: A trip to the playoffs goes through three teams with the same goals.
"Until they tell us we can't make it," Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said, "that's going to be our goal."
The Browns hadn't lost consecutive games this season until Sunday, a streak players wore as a badge of pride throughout a season that's seen the team's resiliency tested. Pettine said Friday that wins and losses needed to be treated the same in terms of how long they're celebrated, rued or analyzed.
Like Hoyer, many Browns players opted to completely skip the "rue" phase in the immediate aftermath of a loss cornerback Joe Haden described as the worst of the season.
"We have to forget about it and get ready for Cincinnati coming into our house next week," Haden said. "We are going to come in tomorrow, study the film, and figure out what we need to do better. The best way to move forward is by beating Cincinnati."