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Cup of Joe: The right way to rebound after a big loss

In his weekly column, Joe Thomas explains how a team can properly bounce back from a loss like the one Cleveland suffered last week in Pittsburgh


Catch Joe Thomas TONIGHT at 6:30 p.m. when he co-hosts "Browns Live" powered by FirstEnergy with Nathan Zegura. The 100 percent fan-focused show, which will stream on all of the Browns social platforms, will feature multiple segments with Coach Kevin Stefanski, interviews with players, film breakdowns and more.

Each game week, Joe will share his insights, memories and more in this weekly column, "Cup of Joe."

Depending on how you look at it, I'm either the best person or worst person to ask about bouncing back from a tough loss.

Either way, I know from my experience that there's a right way and a wrong way to respond from the kind of loss the Browns suffered at the hands of the Steelers last week.

When there's a close loss, it's a lot easier to find the positive in things. It's a lot easier to say, "Oh, well, we were right there. We had a good game plan. We executed pretty well, and it just came down to a few plays." But it's easy to come out of there positive, optimistic, hopeful and motivated to get back on the practice field so that you're out there trying to fix those couple things that are going to tip the tide, and you're going to end up winning that next game. 

When you have a bad loss, everyone feels really bad. This week we heard from Kevin Stefanski, who said he had a lot of plays in that game he felt like he'll probably never call again because he didn't put the players in a great position to succeed. The players didn't execute. Nothing went right. And you almost feel like it's a back-to-the-drawing-board type mentality. 

Sometimes, the best approach to make sure you don't allow one loss to turn into two is to watch the film, be critical, but don't dwell on the couple mistakes that every single player probably made. You almost have to just flush it and refocus toward next weekend, especially when you're going from a team like the Steelers, who have the makings of the best team in the AFC, to a team that's toward the bottom like the Bengals. You need to refocus and regroup quickly and start the preparation right away, get that bad feeling out of your stomach from the Steelers game and make sure that everyone understands how important the preparation is this week. You say it's not the same Bengals team, but if we prepare with energy, if we prepare with focus in the right way, this is a game that you've got an opportunity to bounce back and play a great game.

The first practice after a big loss can go one of two ways. 

It could be really sloppy, and the coach goes ballistic. Or, it could be really good, where there's a lot of focus, there's a lot of guys that got the humble pie that they needed. Sometimes you just need that little refocus, and a loss can actually be helpful because everybody kind of refocuses and regroups and remembers the level of preparation and detail it takes to go on a four-game win streak. That first practice is vital to sort of set the tone for that week. A lot of times, a coach is going to script a practice for success. You don't ever want practice to be easy, but you also sometimes want to see a lot of simpler looks in practice so guys aren't getting confused. They're going to be able to go on the practice field and the focus can be on their technique, practicing fast and coming off that practice field with confidence. The last thing you want to do as a coach is script up a bunch of difficult looks on offense or defense where you have to do a lot of plays over, where you have to restart the drill because somebody missed something or got confused on something. That practice is important from a player standpoint to have hope and optimism when it's over and to be able to practice fast and focus on technique during it. Then, later on in the week, you can start to maybe hone in more on the complex looks you're going to see, especially in those walkthrough periods.

Based on what I've seen and heard, I think this team is in great shape. I know there's a lot of question marks in the national media and the local media. Anytime you lose a game — especially anytime you lose a big game to the crosstown rival and with the way they lost — there's going to be a lot of question marks. Is this for real? That type of stuff. 

But I liked what I heard from Jack Conklin when he said, "we've got to remind ourselves we're 4-2." When you hear a player say that, he is helping you read the emotion of that locker room that everybody was down, they were feeling really good going into the Steelers game, and everyone was disappointed with how they played. But having a leader in the locker room that's been through some of these battles like Jack, he is lifting up all of his teammates by giving them that reminder of where this team is, where this team has come from, and that this is a really good team. He's telling them if they do what they're supposed to do, they will be in a position to make a run at the division crown. We're going to get another chance at Pittsburgh at home but let's first take care of business this weekend against a Bengals team that we beat once already, and we're going to need to be better than we were the first time in order to beat them again.

That kind of message is among the many ingredients required to bounce back the way I expect the Browns to do so Sunday in Cincinnati.

Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Cincinatti Bengals