By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CLEVELAND -- Long after the rest of the Cleveland Browns had showered and started to leave the locker room, tight end Kellen Winslow, still wearing his uniform, sat at a chair in front of his locker with a daze on his face.
Winslow, known as much for his controversial comments as his playing ability, chose his words carefully.
When he did speak, he mumbled, staring straight ahead, not looking anyone in the face.
"We can't listen to what the papers say and what you guys [reporters] say," said Winslow, who attended the funeral for his younger brother earlier in the week.
"People are going to attack you left and right.
"We've got to stay together."
What's sure to be lost in the midst of an anemic performance by the offense in Sunday's 17-7 loss to Denver at Cleveland Browns Stadium is the fact that, right now, the Broncos are a much better team.
That fact's not likely to blunt the criticism of Browns offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, who has become the scapegoat for most of Cleveland's struggles this season. But, then, the team's biggest challenge over the next few weeks may not come on the field.
Where the challenge may lie
It might come in the locker room.
"We're trying our best to hang together," said Browns coach Romeo Crennel, who lingered in the locker room much longer than usual before his postgame press conference. "If we hang together, we give ourselves a chance.
"If not, if we start coming apart, there will be no chance at all."
Morale is one thing. Execution is another. The Browns (1-5) aren't looking good in either area. Despite a pretty good defensive performance -- Cleveland held Denver to 347 total yards and forced two turnovers -- the Browns' offense couldn't do much against a defense that had allowed just one touchdown in its first five games.
"We just didn't get it done," said Crennel.
Cleveland finished with 34 yards rushing -- Reuben Droughns had 33 on 12 carries against his former team -- and turned the ball over three times. Quarterback Charlie Frye completed just 19-of-33 passes for 149 yards and an interception, although he did hook up with wideout Joe Jurevicius for a 6-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter.
Frye shaken, but returns
Frye had to leave the game momentarily in the first half when he was sacked by Mike Myers on a fourth-and-1 play at the Denver 47. He was cleared to play minutes later and said the hit didn't affect his play. Cleveland's blocking, however, did. Frye was hammered on his interception, a deep floater intended for Braylon Edwards that Champ Bailey caught in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Minutes later, Denver quarterback Jake Plummer returned the favor, throwing an interception near midfield to Browns linebacker Andra Davis, who returned it to the Broncos' 26. That set up Cleveland's touchdown, which cut the deficit to 17-7.
The Browns had the ball three more times in the fourth quarter but never threatened, ruining a good defensive effort.
"We lost," said Davis. "No matter how we played, we lost. We didn't play too well. We gave up 17 points. We lost."
Jurevicius finished with a team-high four catches for 40 yards, but dropped back-to-back passes in the fourth quarter -- the first time he's dropped consecutive passes in his nine-year NFL career.
"Personally, I am disappointed," he said. "Once again, we showed some brilliance, but we also showed some young team mistakes."
Plummer, who led the Broncos to the AFC championship game last season, didn't play all that well either, completing 20-of-41 passes for 209 yards, a TD and two interceptions. His play certainly won't silence those calling for the Broncos (5-1) to play first-round pick Jay Cutler, but Broncos coach Mike Shanahan refused to put the blame on one player.
"Sometimes it looks like the quarterback is inconsistent, but it could be many different components," said Shanahan. "We never single anybody out."
Browns fans might not show Carthon the same courtesy. Arizona and Baltimore fired their offensive coordinators on Tuesday and the criticism of Carthon is only going to get louder this week. When asked if he's considering changes, either in personnel or on the coaching staff, Crennel didn't exactly give Carthon a sterling endorsement.
"We'll have to take a look at it and see," he said.
After the game, as the players were walking through the tunnel toward the locker room, Jurevicius caught sight of his wife, who was holding their young daughter. He took his helmet off, walked over and bumped fists with his daughter.
Judging by the empty stands at the end of Sunday's game, they may have been the only two Browns fans left in the stadium.
And soon, maybe, the city.