BEREA - Trailing 13-0 at halftime, the Dallas Cowboys had the Browns right where they wanted them last Sunday.
It sounds like strange logic, but that's become a common theme for the Browns this season. Play well in the first half and often take a lead into halftime, only to let it all slip away in the second half.
Every week TV analysts point out that the Browns are close to becoming a winning franchise. The missing ingredient, they say, is that they haven't learned how to win.
During the Browns' 23-20 loss to Cowboys, CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf said it best: "Nobody wants to play the Browns on homecoming."
What separates teams that know how to win from those that don't is hard to distinguish. Browns coach Pat Shurmur doesn't think it's even a factor.
"I don't agree with that," Shurmur said. "We just have to find a way to finish. We have a locker room full of winners. We just have to put it all together and do it."
Whatever it's called - not knowing how to win, inexperience, etc. - the Browns don't know how to finish off games with wins. They've now lost 12 straight road games dating back to a win in Indianapolis in the second game of last season. With two more defeats they will have reached double figures in losses for a team-record fifth straight season.
"Every game is a different story," Shurmur said. "We get ahead in this one. We get behind and get back ahead. You just have to do it.
"We talk about finishing all the time. We talk about starting fast. We talk about fighting throughout, and we talk about finishing."
There was plenty of finger-pointing last Sunday at the offense's ability to generate just seven points in the second half, but there are at least 10 reasons why the defense let the team down. That would be the 10 defensive penalties that gave the Cowboys first downs.
In fairness, the defense played without cornerback Joe Haden, who was out with an oblique injury. Buster Skrine, Haden's replacement, left in the fourth quarter with a head injury. Already without cornerback Dimitri Patterson, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron was forced to play rookie draft choice Trevin Wade and undrafted rookie Johnson Bademosi at the corners.
The Cowboys took advantage of the personnel mismatches. Receiver Dez Bryant had 12 receptions for 145 yards and one touchdown, forcing Skrine into three penalties for illegal contact.
Shurmur hopes to have Haden back for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. If not, Shurmur expressed confidence in the troops he might have at his disposal. He specifically avoided using the lack-of-depth factor as an excuse.
"We did give up some plays in the passing game, but that happens against every team," Shurmur said. "I was proud of the way our guys in the secondary battled. As we move forward, when we're in base we'll put two corners out there; when we're in nickel we'll put three, and when we're in dime we'll put four. Whoever those guys are, I have trust they're going out there to do a good job."
The run of penalties became absurd. Skrine got away with a couple of plays in which he could have been penalized for illegal contact.
Shurmur said the remedy is simple simply tell the players they can't get away with being overly aggressive. In the situations last Sunday, it was more self-preservation than it was aggressiveness.