The Browns cleaned up their penalties. They avoided turning the ball over at all Sunday.
And yet, they still lost. Head coach Freddie Kitchens was asked plenty Monday about why the Browns fell to 2-6 against a Denver Broncos team that was playing a first-time starter at quarterback in Brandon Allen, and he repeatedly landed on the same conclusion: His team failed to execute enough to win.
The most glaring failure of execution came on the game's most important play, fourth-and-4 with the Browns trailing by five but deep in Denver territory. A pass intended for Jarvis Landry fell incomplete, turning the ball over on downs, and since the Browns were out of timeouts, effectively ending their chances of a comeback.
The play was far from the only instance in which suboptimal execution produced an unfortunate result. As with any game, there were at least a handful of good and bad results that significantly affected the outcome (you can read the six biggest from Sunday here).
There was the lack of proper tackling on Noah Fant's 75-yard touchdown reception. There was Myles Garrett's near interception that instead landed on the ground, and would have been negated anyways by a defensive holding. And there was Demetrius Harris' would-be touchdown reception, had his feet landed in bounds instead of on the painted white back line.
"When the field diminishes and I think we called that from the 8- or 9- [yard line], you have to be real precise in your execution," Kitchens said of the score that wasn't. "You have to be precise with your landmarks. So the little details can never get lost the closer. They actually have to ramp up the details of route running, precision in routes, throws, protections and things. Because the room for error diminishes when you are down that tight."
The Browns ended up settling for a field goal on that drive, and eventually lost by five. Had they scored a touchdown, they could have instead attempted a field goal late in the fourth instead of being forced to go for it. But again, the what-if game is a dangerous one to play.
The point Kitchens made repeatedly Monday is that no matter the circumstances, his team simply has to execute better.
The most important area in which they must improve, in which they've not been very good all season, is the red zone. After scoring a touchdown on two out of every three red-zone trips in 2018, the Browns are doing so just 46.15 percent of the time — and just once in five tries Sunday.
Credit is due to kicker Austin Seibert for executing successfully, going 4-for-4 on field goals and 1-for-1 on point-after attempts. But ultimately, you don't want your kicker scoring the majority of your points.
"We had 10 drives. Seven of them should have resulted in points," Kitchens said. "We ended two drives on fourth down, and we scored on five drives. We did not score enough touchdowns in the red zone, or the conversation would be different. Just simply put, you know. We got to convert. We got to be more successful in the red zone. We got to play better red-zone football."
From the red zone outward, the Browns have to be better. They'll work on that this week while preparing to host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Check out photos of the Browns against the Broncos