The Cleveland Browns' locker room was a somber place on Sunday afternoon, following their last-second 23-21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Heads were hung low. Answers to reporters were brief. There were no smiles.
Nobody likes losing, but to coach Mike Pettine, how his team immediately responded to the defeat, told him more about what the Browns can potentially become
"It was an emotional locker room," said Pettine during his Monday afternoon press conference. "And to me, that's when you know you are headed the right direction, when you got guys that care and losing bothers them. We talked about that in the team meeting today. We want the whole room to be like that. When you care that much, and it bothers you that much, then you know you are building something special."
That sense starts from a leadership standpoint at the quarterback position. Brian Hoyer threw for 290 yards and had a stretch where he completed 14 straight passes against the Ravens. He also hasn't thrown an interception in his last 156 pass attempts, currently the longest active streak in the NFL. Statistically and visually speaking, it might've been Hoyer's best game as a pro.
But as soon as the Browns needed a first-down to bury the Ravens, Hoyer and the offense stalled and couldn't keep the chains moving. In four fourth quarter possessions, the Browns totaled 16 plays for 65 yards, two punts and two missed field goals – and that lone big chunk of positive yards came on the 70-yard deep bomb to Taylor Gabriel.
When the game was on the line Sunday, the Browns' offense beat themselves. Recognizing that fact is why the team took the loss so hard. Hoyer has taken charge on the field and off of it, creating an open and honest atmosphere in how the team needs to improve.
"There were times when we have a chance to put it away and we didn't do it yesterday," said Hoyer on Monday at his locker. "Really, we're hurting ourselves. When it comes down to it, if we eliminate the self-inflicted wounds we win those games. That's what it comes down to."
The same could be said defensively. Besides rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro, the Ravens big-namers weren't much of a threat for most of the day. Torrey Smith was blanketed, Dennis Pitta fell to an unfortunate non-contact hip injury in the second quarter and Jacoby Jones had a key drop on a long pass from quarterback Joe Flacco.
But like a sleeping pit bull dog, the Ravens awoke and bit when it counted. Steve Smith's 32-yard reception on Joe Haden effectively ended the game. After 58 minutes of holding the veteran receiver in check, one slight miscue sent the Browns into the bye week with a loss that in all likelihood, should've been a win.
"When you play a game against a good team like Baltimore, if you make the wrong moves, especially at the end of the game, you are going to have a hard time winning," said linebacker Paul Kruger.
Added Pettine: "This is a bottom line business. You've got to win games. Especially when you put yourself in a position through a good part of the game to win it. We just didn't take advantage of opportunities we had to put the game away."
The positive about the Browns' losses is that they've both been by last second field goals. Against Pittsburgh, Cleveland battled back from a 24-point deficit and nearly pulled off one of the most miraculous comeback's in franchise history. The script was flipped against Baltimore. The Browns let a veteran team hang around for too long.
Had the Browns gotten drummed by the Steelers and Ravens, the mood would be more somber, and the expectations for a legitimate playoff push might've been sapped. That goal is not only still on the table, it's something Cleveland might feel more strongly about now, than they did heading into the season.
"I think as a group, we're committed to this," Hoyer said. "We realize where we're at. We realize how close we are. I think guys realize that."