1) The 2014 version of the Cleveland Browns are good enough – and confident enough in themselves – to realize a 23-7 loss to the Houston Texans does not mean the sky is falling. This is the NFL. A week after posting a 2.0 quarterback rating against the Browns, Andy Dalton went off for three touchdowns. At this point, with a 6-4 record, one loss after three straight wins is a blip on the radar. Like we wrote in our column Sunday night, there's no time to fret over a bad game. They happen. And they are easily recoverable next week.
2) I liked what Paul Kruger said in the locker room after the game: "We've got to continue to play with the formula that got us here. If we do that, we're going to be fine."
3) That formula: play with more energy than the opponent, win the turnover battle, get third-down stops, rush for more than 125 yards, take deep chances down the field. It's easier said than done.
4) We saw how important Brian Hoyer is to the success of the Browns against the Texans. He was inaccurate. He was under pressure all afternoon. He did throw for 330 yards, but again: that's not what the Browns winning formula looks like. When Hoyer isn't given the proper time to make throws or doesn't have at least a semi-productive running game to lean on, it's hard for the Browns to overcome it. The rare shaky performance against Houston speaks to how well he's performed this season.
5) That's not pinning the loss entirely on Hoyer at all. Outside of Joe Haden, K'Waun Williams and Spencer Lanning, no player on the Browns will likely be happy with their grade sheet the coaches will hand out Monday morning. The Texans ran the same running play up the middle at least a dozen times without Cleveland having an answer for it. Games in the past have been true team wins; this was a true team loss.
6) I wonder if the Browns should rip a page from the Texans playbook going forward. The short, quick-hitting passes on the sideline from quarterback Ryan Mallett were lethal against the Browns. It kept Mallett in a rhythm. This isn't to say the Browns play calling has been problematic, but the type of passes Houston ran kept third-downs on the shorter end of the spectrum.
7) The biggest play of the game was Isaiah Crowell's fumble in the second quarter. If you re-watch the tape, Cleveland's offense was rolling at the time. Another touchdown there could've completely altered the pace and flow of the game. After the fumble, the Browns seem deflated and they never truly recovered. Protecting the football has been imperative to Cleveland's success this season. During this final six game stretch, turnovers have to be limited for the Browns to advance their season into January for the first time since 2002.
8) Coming off a loss, the timing of wide receiver Josh Gordon's return couldn't be any better. The offense needs a pick-me-up right now. What better addition to make than a receiver who analysts say plays like Randy Moss? Whether the Browns ease Gordon in or let him loose right away – it won't matter: his presence alone dramatically alters how the Atlanta Falcons will have to play defense next Sunday. Sending Gordon on deep routes down the field could open up the running game.
9) The ramifications of losing Karlos Dansby could be extensive. There are no specific details on his injury yet, only that he's set to receive an MRI on Monday. Dansby has been the quarterback on defense, making the play call and communicating presnap audibles to his teammates on the fly. Several players have told me Dansby is the smartest football player they've ever played with. Cleveland feels confident Craig Robertson, who is quietly having a solid season. But kind of like Alex Mack, fully replacing Dansby's impact just isn't going to happen.