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Browns waste solid first half effort, drop to 0-8

CLEVELAND — There’s a light in the Cleveland Browns’ locker room at FirstEnergy Stadium that splashes the phrase “Expect to Win” on the carpet for all the players and staff to see.

The sign doesn’t mention anything about when the winning is supposed to start.

Not that it matters. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess, including the luckless Browns.

Another halftime lead morphed into another befuddling loss, this time a 31-28 setback against the New York Jets that sent Cleveland spiraling to 0-8 at the season’s midway point. The Browns have dropped 11 straight overall and are 3-26 over their last 29 games.

Next week, the Dallas Cowboys come to town. Then, it’s a trip to Baltimore, followed by games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants. The weight of the ‘0’ is sure to only grow heavier as time goes by.

“It’s a no-brainer. Nobody wants to be 0-8, but that’s where we’re at,” cornerback Jamar Taylor said. “This game is real simple sometimes when you don’t get it done. We’ve still got eight games left — a long time — but you’ve got to fix the things you do bad.”

It’s not that Cleveland isn’t competitive. The Browns dominated the first half against the Jets (3-5), moving up and down the field with remarkable ease at times during quarterback Josh McCown’s return from a fractured collarbone. Yet, when the Jets responded after halftime, the Browns didn’t have an answer. Again.

“This is rough, but that is part of it,” coach Hue Jackson said. “We have to get better.”

Cleveland had a chance to put the Jets in a 17-point hole late in the first half, driving to the New York 10 with 47 seconds to play. An incompletion, a sack and a scramble by McCown forced the Browns to settle for a field goal instead. New York then took the opening kick of the second half and went 78 yards in 12 plays before Ryan Fitzpatrick hit Quincy Enunwa for a 24-yard touchdown in which he bounced off four Cleveland players on his way to the end zone. By the time Matt Forte scored the first of his two touchdowns later in the third, the Browns had seen their early momentum evaporate completely.

It’s hardly the first time. The Browns have been outscored 61-13 in the third quarter this season.

“When we do really good in the first half, we’ve got to figure out how to kickstart that thing in the second half,” cornerback Joe Haden said.

It simply didn’t happen. The Browns managed all of 133 yards after the break, most of them coming on a garbage-time drive in which the Browns lazily made their way toward the end zone even though they were trailing by 11. When McCown hit Andrew Hawkins for a second touchdown and followed it up with a 2-point conversion to Terrelle Pryor Sr., only 12 seconds remained.

McCown completed 25 of 49 for 341 yards and two scores, but also threw interceptions on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter that all but ended any chance of the Browns leaving FirstEnergy Stadium with their first victory in 322 days. The veteran fell to 18-41 in his career as a starter in his return from a fractured collarbone suffered in a Week 2 loss to Baltimore, a game Cleveland led by 20 at one point. Nearly two months later, nothing has really changed.

“One half, we played the way we always talk about playing, the way coach talks about playing,” McCown said. “That is how we played in the first half. In the second half, we didn’t. I say we, but I didn’t. I take this one squarely on me.”

It’s hardly McCown’s failure to own. On a day the franchise celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 1986 team that reached the AFC championship game and the hometown Cleveland Indians were a game away from clinching an unlikely World Series, the glory days for the Browns seem farther away than ever.

Nobody wants to talk about 0-16. Yet the Browns head into November halfway there.

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