Browns coach Pat Shurmur sounds like a broken record when he talks about his team’s broken record.
More times than he’d care to mention, Shurmur has spent his Monday news conferences explaining why his young team couldn’t win a close game.
It’s been a painful, recurring theme this season for the Browns, who blew a 13-point halftime lead on Sunday in Dallas and lost 23-20 in overtime to the Cowboys, who exploited Cleveland’s injury-riddled secondary in the second half and capitalized on penalties — some of them questionable.
“We just have to find a way to finish,” Shurmur said. “We have a whole locker room full of winners. This whole organization is full of winners. We just have to put it all together and do it.”
The Browns (2-8) are perfecting the close loss. According to STATS LLC, Cleveland has lost an NFL-leading 18 games by seven points or less since 2010. This season, the Browns have lost five such games and their inability to finish what they’ve started has intensified the pressure on Shurmur, who dropped to 6-20 in two seasons and may need a flurry of wins to save his job.
On Sunday, the Browns were 67 seconds away from snapping an 11-game road losing streak when it all unraveled.
The Cowboys, aided by two penalties for 50 yards against a defense missing top cornerback Joe Haden, drove for a game-tying field goal with two seconds left before winning in OT.
It was right there for the Browns. And once again, they came up short. The losses are growing in number along with the frustration level for players accustomed to winning.
“It’s real difficult, because it’s a difference when you’re losing by 20 points or 30 points,” rookie cornerback Trevin Wade said. “But just losing at the end by one score in well over multiple games is really hard and stressful. We’re just right under the hump and we just need to find a way to get over.”
Shurmur is sure that day will come. He was on a Philadelphia coaching staff that went through a similar experience with losing tight games. He learned there are no shortcuts, and the only way things will get better is by working and winning.
“You just play. You just keep working on the fundamentals and you develop some mental toughness and then you go and do it,” he said. “That’s what it is. There are no formulas for it. That’s what you do. You put together a locker room of guys that are willing to fight and willing to work and then you do what you can to play the next opponent and then you go do it.”
For most of the young Browns, losing is as new as anything else they’ve experienced in their first year as pros. They came from solid college programs, where winning was routine.
“I’ve never been on a team that doesn’t win,” said rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson, who played at Nevada. “In college, we were all on good teams. In high school, I was on good teams. But I feel like this team and the teams that I’ve been on there’s not that big of a difference. It’s not like we’re getting blown out and embarrassed.
“Every game we’re in until the end.”
The Browns didn’t help themselves with costly penalties. Dallas picked up 10 first downs on penalties, seven of them called against defensive backs.
A few of the infractions against the Browns were borderline calls, including an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a hard hit by safety T.J. Ward on the game-tying drive.