Browns part-time starting quarterback Seneca Wallace walked through Cleveland’s locker room carrying empty cardboard containers over his head.
Either he’s got late Christmas gifts to ship or he’s getting an early jump on packing away this season — another troubling one for the Browns.
On Monday, players returned to work and did their best to distance themselves from Saturday’s 20-14 loss in Baltimore, a game that followed a familiar script for Cleveland. The Browns (4-11) fell behind early, fought their way back against a team that steamrolled them three weeks earlier, but came up short after making a couple of bone-headed plays.
“We have to play smarter,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “We can’t be our own worst enemy. That’s an important thing to learn.”
It’s a lesson the Browns haven’t grasped yet. There may not be another team with as many shoulda-coulda-woulda moments this season.
Shurmur spent a portion of his news conference reviewing two game-tilting plays: Wallace’s decision to call a running play in the closing seconds of the first half when the Browns were out of timeouts and rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor inexcusably being drawn offside by the Ravens on fourth down with two minutes left.
Shurmur didn’t criticize either of his players, choosing to accept blame and responsibility for what went wrong.
“I’m responsible to make sure things get executed,” he said. “So I need to do a better job. I’m going to leave it at that.”
The Browns have let several games slip away because of their own mistakes, starting with the season opener against Cincinnati. The Bengals caught Cleveland’s defense napping, quickly snapped the ball and completed a game-sealing touchdown pass. There have been other missed and blown chances, leading to the Browns’ fourth straight season of at least 11 losses.
“I can point out five games that we should have won,” safety Mike Adams said. “But as [defensive coordinator] Dick Jauron said, ‘What should have happened, happened.’ We lost the game. At the end of the day, our record is four and whatever. So we didn’t win those games. We didn’t get it done. We didn’t make the big play when we needed.
“And that can separate us from Pittsburgh and Baltimore. When it’s time to make that big play, they make that big play. When it’s time for us to make that big play, we technically don’t make that big play. And that’s what we’ve gotta get better at as a team.”
The Browns have one last chance to show improvement. They’ll host Pittsburgh on Sunday in a meaningful game for the Steelers, who are battling Baltimore for the AFC North title and also have playoff seeding at stake. For the Browns, it’s an opportunity to right some wrongs and end a nine-game losing streak to division opponents.
Shurmur said injured quarterback Colt McCoy will have a chance to play in the season finale — if he’s healthy.
McCoy has missed Cleveland’s past two games with a concussion from a helmet-to-helmet hit by Steelers linebacker James Harrison on Dec. 8. Harrison drew a one-game suspension for the illegal hit, and the NFL changed its game-day procedures on treating head injuries after the Browns failed to check McCoy for a concussion and sent him back into the game after missing only two plays.
Shurmur said McCoy worked out and took part in team meetings. He was vague when asked if McCoy was still experiencing symptoms from the concussion.
And, as for his QB’s playing status, Shurmur said that won’t be decided until McCoy is cleared by doctors.
“I can’t cross that bridge yet,” Shurmur said. “We’ll know more Wednesday when we start practicing for the Steelers and then we’ll talk about it then.”
McCoy has not spoken to the media since Dec. 8, and Shurmur said the QB is not permitted to talk until he’s cleared to practice.
However, the league’s policy states a player can do interviews once he has been permitted to resume physical activity and Shurmur said McCoy began that last week.
Wallace has started Cleveland’s past two games, but he believes if McCoy is healthy then the second-year QB — and not Wallace — should finish the season. Wallace said McCoy “seems fine” in meetings.
Wallace, who is wrapping up his ninth season as a pro, didn’t duck any responsibility from his first-half gaffe, which he blamed on a miscommunication with Shurmur. It was more growing pains for the Browns, who have pushed their agony meter to new levels.
“Obviously, we all know we’re going through some things,” he said. “We’re growing and getting better. But at the same time, it’s almost like we have to play the perfect game in order to get a victory. We’re not the best team out there right now. We’ll get there eventually.
“We have to try to take advantage of every opportunity and make sure we do it at 100 percent. Do it at a high level and minimize mistakes. Against teams in this division, we can’t give them easy ones.”