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Keys to Victory: What we're watching in Cincinnati

  1. The Browns travel to Cincinnati this weekend in hopes of securing their first win of the season against an in-state rival and AFC North foe. And after a narrow loss to the Jaguars this past weekend, coach Hue Jackson said the young Browns are still trying to learn how to win.

He hopes they turn a corner Sunday in the Queen City.

"Our team plays hard. They play extremely hard. They try, but trying and playing hard in the National Football League just gives you a chance," Jackson said. "You have to do it. That's just the way this league is, and I think our players, to a man, can see that more and more, but it's going to take a little more than what we're doing."

Jackson said the Browns have "melted" in "critical moments" throughout the season, especially in their past four games, where they've unraveled down the stretch. 

"We've been in more football games than any of you think we should be in. Let's just be honest. We have," he said. "That's because we ask our players to play extremely hard. They do what we ask them for the most part to do. The difference is, we haven't gotten over the hump to winning and those key moments where they are making those plays consistently in the fourth quarter where they're making them in the first quarter. That's what you have to do to win in this league. The fourth quarter is where you win games in this league for the most part."

  1. The best day of DeShone Kizer's young career was followed by one of the toughest this past weekend against Jacksonville. The rookie quarterback combined for four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) and was sacked five times by a tough Jaguars defense. 

Kizer, who was critical of himself after that game, looks to bounce back against a Bengals team that nearly shut out the Browns back in October. 

"He's shaken it off. He's good. He saw the corrections he has to make. Being very honest with you guys, I think where that comes from is there were some balls that he missed," Jackson said. "The ball sailed over our guys' heads and one ended up as an interception. I think he knows that that's not big-time quarterback play and that's not who he wants to be. We have to fix those things."

Kizer, whom Cincinnati held to 118 yards passing in their first meeting, believes he's improved since then.

"This is my first time in the NFL where I get to play an opponent twice," he said. "For me, this will be the first opportunity for me to step out there and learn from my mistakes at that time. Obviously, I was in [Week 4] at the time and did not have the experience needed to be at my tip-top shape. Now, I believe I have grown a lot since then and look forward to making corrections from that game, understanding what they have done since that game and properly preparing myself for that game."

  1. The Browns' defense, which has been a bright spot this season, will try to continue that trend despite multiple injuries to key players. A week after losing Pro Bowl linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. in Detroit, Cleveland lost second-year defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah when he broke his foot against Jacksonville. They also lost defensive tackle Jamie Meder (ankle), who's been a reliable interior defender the past two seasons for the Browns. Both were placed on injured reserve last week. 

Ogbah, a second-round NFL Draft pick in 2016, was starting to come into his own as an emerging playmaker for Cleveland's young defense. In his place, the Browns will lean on second-year player Carl Nassib (a third-round pick in 2016) and others to help fill the void at left end.

"It's tough losing Emmanuel, tough losing any of our guys at this time, but that's football," Jackson said. "Next man up. We'll find a way to continue to play strong over there on defense and continue to get better throughout the football team."

  1. Sunday could mark the last game before wide receiver Josh Gordon returns to a football field. Gordon, who led the NFL in receiving in 2013, hasn't played in almost three years because of multiple violations of the league's substance abuse policy and a public battle with addiction. Gordon, a Pro Bowler in 2013, returned to practice Wednesday and is on track to play next week against the Chargers in Los Angeles.

"You can just see there's a different spirit at practice," Jackson said. "Josh is just a different talent. I think we all recognized that and appreciate that. I think his teammates see it … There are a lot of things he has to continue to do and work through, and I think he's willing to do that."

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