CINCINNATI — Browns coach Hue Jackson says his young team is still learning how to win, and you could consider Sunday’s 30-16 loss to the Bengals the latest reminder of that struggle.
After falling behind by double digits in the first half, Cleveland (0-11) rallied and cut the deficit to a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. It was ultimately too little, too late for a team with a small margin for error.
While the Bengals put the game out of reach when rookie running back Joe Mixon scored on an 11-yard touchdown with under three minutes to play, the Browns found themselves in search of tide-turning plays that never came.
“It’s players making plays in games, as you guys know, to win these games and we just this year haven't made enough of them,” Jackson said in his postgame news conference. “Sometimes we get the opportunity and sometimes we don't get any of the opportunities and we had some opportunities today. We’ve just got to make them.”
But the biggest thing Jackson took away from Sunday's loss was the fight in a team still searching for its first win. Despite trailing by as many as 16 points and briefly losing rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer and punter Britton Colquitt while they were evaluated for concussions, Cleveland hung around in a game that seemed out of reach.
And while the Browns struggle to put together a complete performance on both sides of the ball, it's not because of a lack of effort. “I’ve been saying this now for weeks, our guys fight extremely hard,” Jackson said. “We don't always do everything perfectly, but we work at it and it gave us a chance.”
Indeed, the Browns started fast on offense and finished with 405 yards, their third-best statistical outing this season, after posting a season-low against Jacksonville last week. They also racked up 169 rushing yards.
Cleveland’s defense, however, struggled to contain Mixon and a Cincinnati rushing attack that suddenly sprung to life. The unit — which has been a bright spot this season — allowed a season-high 152 yards to the Bengals and 114 to Mixon, who had the statistically-best rushing performance against the Browns this year.
Cleveland also continued their season-long struggles in the red zone, converting just one of four trips. It also watched penalties — including a taunting call on its second possession — and a missed field goal derail momentum in the first half.
“We’re just not good enough to overcome those things, that's just kind of where we are … it’s tough when we get down there,” Jackson said.
Still, he and the Browns took some solace in a group that won’t seem to give up with five games left on the schedule.
“I told our team, I’ve seen teams like this in this situation where you’re losing like we have, they just check out," Jackson said.
"Not these guys. So I’m proud of them for that, and they’ll keep fighting.”