CLEVELAND -- Defensive coordinator Joe Woods quietly conversed with Myles Garrett on the way out of the locker room. A few feet away, quarterback Jacoby Brissett sat at his locker, talking to quarterbacks coach Drew Petzing for several minutes. And from the postgame podium, coach Kevin Stefanski had a hard time explaining how his team had just gotten decimated by the New England Patriots 38-15 on Sunday.
“I don’t have a ton of answers right this moment,” he admitted.
After a third consecutive loss, the 2-4 Cleveland Browns are desperately searching for a panacea -- with none readily available.
“I know I believe in the people in that locker room. I really do. I’ve seen it,” Stefanski eventually said. “We just have to focus on one game at a time. I understand what that looked like. I understand that we got beat. That’s what it looked like. That’s what it felt like. I get it.”
What it felt like was Cleveland’s multitude of puzzling issues from this season culminating in a single horrifying and humbling performance.
Once again, the Browns surrendered big plays in the running game, namely a 31-yard touchdown dash to Rhamondre Stevenson on third-and-10, which gave the Patriots the lead for good in the second quarter.
Once again, Cleveland’s secondary inexplicably turned opposing receivers loose, namely on a 31-yard touchdown pass to tight end Hunter Henry, who had 7.5 yards of separation, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, when the throw arrived.
And once again, Brissett committed backbreaking turnovers, chief among them an interception in the third quarter that set up Henry’s touchdown catch and handed the Patriots a 24-6 lead late in the third quarter.
“We win together; we lose together,” said Brissett, who addressed the team in the locker room after the loss, though he declined to specify what he said. “I felt like everybody had their handprint on this one, including myself in a big way. I think we have to go back and start from scratch -- not start from scratch -- but start from our basic fundamentals and technique, and those things will take care of themselves.”
Will they, though? It’s getting difficult to see how as the losses pile up.
As favorites, the Browns couldn’t beat Joe Flacco (Jets), Marcus Mariota (Falcons) or Patriots rookie Bailey Zappe -- a fourth-round draft pick out of Western Kentucky who cooked Cleveland for 309 yards in just his second career start.
Now, to keep their season from spiraling, the Browns have to find a way to knock off Lamar Jackson (Ravens), Joe Burrow (Bengals) and Josh Allen (Bills) in the coming weeks as likely underdogs.
“It is hard for me to answer that,” said Garrett when asked how a team with so much talent could lose three in a row. “[We have to] look in the mirror, not only at yourself, but in the film and look at your position. You can’t be scared to tell your teammates what is and what isn’t. We have to be able to call a man out and not be afraid to be called out yourself.
“At the end of the day, there are a lot of mistakes going on on the field -- a lot of big plays, downs and first downs -- and it’s killing us. We’re getting ourselves behind, and we are taking ourselves out of ball games that we have a chance to win. We just have to hold each other accountable.”
Stefanski seemed to all but rule out significant imminent changes. Meaning the Browns are likely rolling with what they have.
That should be more than enough to keep this team in the playoff hunt. Yet thus far, it hasn’t been remotely close.
“It’s frustrating, disappointing and all of those things,” Stefanski said, “but we’re going to regroup, learn from it and move on ...”
The Browns have much to regroup from, and plenty more to learn. The answers aren’t easy to pinpoint -- the biggest disappointment of an increasingly frustrating season.