Browns first-year coach Pat Shurmur said it best during a Sunday postmortem at midseason.
"This," he said, "is a no-excuses league."
And yet, that's all the Browns seem capable of delivering with any consistency. Unless you count "almost" wins.
I'm not sure what those actually are, but I'm pretty sure the Browns lead the NFL in that category. I can't define an "almost win," but having watched every Browns game this season - and with apologies to former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart - I know it when I see it.
Stewart, of course, wasn't talking about the Browns in Jacobellis v. Ohio in 1964, but the mistakes Shurmur and his team made in a 20-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday could be described as obscene in nature, frequency and timing.
Exhibit A: The Browns were running the ball right at the Ravens with Peyton Hillis and enjoying success on their opening possession, but on third-and-1, Shurmur called a screen pass to Mohamed Massaquoi. Quarterback Seneca Wallace's weak effort was intercepted, but it probably wouldn't have mattered, since Massaquoi was 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage when the ball was delivered.
Exhibit B: With the Browns trailing 17-0 late in the first half, they burn a timeout after a pass to Greg Little resulted in a first down. It was their final timeout of the half. Then, after a short completion to Evan Moore, Wallace didn't hear Shurmur shouting "Clock! Clock!" That meant either a pass to the end zone or a spike to stop the clock.
Wallace did neither and called an off-tackle run to Hillis, who was dropped for no gain as the final seconds of the half evaporated and with it, the Browns' scoring opportunity.
Exhibit C: After Joshua Cribbs got the Browns back in the game with an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown to make it 20-7 late in the third quarter, the Browns got the ball back and drove for a touchdown. Wallace, flushed from the pocket by pressure, rolled right and delivered a 6-yard strike to Moore to make it 20-14.
So what's wrong with that? Nothing. Except the Browns burned two timeouts during the 12-play, 80-yard drive.
Exhibit D: After forcing the Ravens to punt, the Browns took over with a chance to drive for a go-ahead score. But the march stalled at their 45. Faced with a fourth-and-5, the Browns burned their final timeout and decided to go for it with 4 minutes to play.
After a sideline discussion, Wallace threw a pass to Hillis in the left flat. The running back had no chance at a first down and was run out of bounds by Brendon Ayanbadejo for no gain.
The Ravens took over and ran out the clock, but not before
Exhibit E: With 2 minutes to play and the Ravens facing a fourth-and-2 at Cleveland's 37-yard line, Baltimore lined up clearly not intending to do anything but try to draw the Browns offside. As they did, I texted a friend, "Browns jump here."
And rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor did just that on a hard count by Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, allowing Baltimore to keep the ball and run out the clock.
Don't blame Taylor. Yes, he made a mistake at a critical time in the game, but even if the Browns had held and forced a punt, they'd have been looking at 85 or 90 yards with no timeouts and Wallace running the offense.
That's the same Wallace who struggled simply to recognize the play calls, get his teammates lined up and the ball snapped in a timely fashion.
Yes, Wallace is the backup and took few snaps against live competition until Colt McCoy's concussion. But it's Week 16. Are we supposed to believe Wallace didn't get enough snaps in the preseason and during every week of practice in the regular season to know what he was doing on the field against Baltimore?
I guess not, since Wallace seemed lost more often than not Saturday.
More troubling is that Shurmur also seems lost. The gaffe at the end of the first half apparently can't be blamed on the first-year coach, but it's telling that Shurmur's playcalling has been so erratic that reporters had to ask if he had called the running play to Hillis in the waning seconds of the first half.
The third-and-1 call on the opening series smacked of Shurmur trying too hard to be creative. He has been bashed for being predictable, but on the road against the Ravens, you had Baltimore's defense on its heels with Hillis running hard behind an offensive line that - at that point - was winning up front. In Ravens territory and you need a yard. Give it to Hillis.
The missteps have added up and undermined the Browns all season. There have been at least five games - all defeats - in which critical mistakes and questionable play calls have combined to enable the Browns to turn what could - or should - have been an outright victory into the kind of excruciating defeat they ought to have patented.
Raise your hand if you wanted a few of them and muttered, "Typical Browns" as the final seconds ticked the clock.
Browns president Mike Holmgren says these aren't the same old Browns. You look at how hard they played, especially in road losses to AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and you want to believe they're close. The Browns have been in nearly every game, which is what makes the losing even more frustrating.
Some of the losses have been because of a lack of talent and matchups that simply had the Browns outmanned. Those are going to happen until the Browns bring their talent level up to comparable levels with the Steelers and Ravens.
But letting winnable games slip away because a coaching staff isn't on the same page with its quarterback in Week 16? That's not acceptable in Week 16. Not in the NEL - the No-Excuses League. Sure, the Browns were hurt as much or more than any team by the lockout and the loss of OTA workouts, especially with a rookie coach and one of the youngest teams in the league.
But it's not September anymore. It's December, and by now, Shurmur isn't a rookie coach.
It's his job to get the plays into Wallace - or whoever is running the offense - and to make sure the quarterback understands them. Shurmur appointed himself offensive coordinator, so he has to be accountable. The debacle at the end of the first half doesn't often happen to high school teams.
It should never happen in the NFL. But these things always seem to happen to the Browns.