CLEVELAND — Hue Jackson was in good spirits after a loss to the Steelers in their season opener. After all, the Browns had just gone toe-to-toe against a bitter divisional rival in a game that was decided in the final minutes.
"Guys, we weren't going to go 16-0," the second-year head coach said with a smile. "This game is behind us. Next week, we have to get ready for this game and get better. We have watched teams in the regular season make a huge jump in Week 2 when you really can see who you are and what you are. I now can see better, exactly about who we are."
In a game where the Browns held Pittsburgh's high-powered offense to 290 yards, they were ultimately undone by Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown (11 catches, 182 yards), an uneven offensive display and a blocked punt on the first series.
But even in defeat, the young Browns believe there's a silver lining to be gleaned from this weekend.
"We were with them the whole time. There's no doubt in my mind that we can go out there and win that ballgame," linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "We have to eliminate some of the big plays on special teams like the blocked punt. If we get rid of that play, it is a super close game. No excuses for us. We just have to get better."
For a roster that features 41 players — including 12 rookies — in either their first, second or third NFL season, veteran left tackle Joe Thomas said the Browns showed they're "a better team than we were in the past."
"Even though we do have so many young guys with none or very little experience, I think they were able to overcome that in how they played," the 10-time Pro Bowler said. "The type of people there are on this team, they play with resolve and composure. They don't ride the roller coaster. A lot of guys are young, but they are steady. It seemed like a lot of guys who were out there today played with a steadiness that you wouldn't expect out of a young or a first- or a second-year guy."
Indeed, Sunday offered bright spots for a young team hoping to make good on a promising offseason that saw them add a slew of talent to the roster, including three first-round picks and rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer.
"When I look at our team, we just lost to who everybody has favored in the division, 21-18," Jackson said. "We're going to have some games like that. We have to find a way to score more points, and we have to find a way to stop teams better and be better on special teams, but I feel good about today."
In Kizer's regular season debut, the former Notre Dame star passed for 222 yards and a touchdown and added a 1-yard touchdown on the ground. "His first live, big game, I thought he handled himself extremely well," Jackson said of the former second-round pick.
With new coordinator Gregg Williams at the helm, Cleveland's defense — which allowed just one touchdown in four preseason games — held Pro Bowl running back Le'Veon Bell to 32 yards while keeping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in check.
And while the Browns offense sputtered at times, it put together an eight-play, 73-yard drive that gave them a chance to win with under four minutes to play.
"It's not a moral victory – I'm not saying that – but I watched our football team fight and play," Jackson said.
"There's grit, there's toughness, and there are things that we have talked about that I've seen and that I needed to see as a head coach from the beginning, and it's shown itself. Now, we just have to take it to another level."