Typically, the third preseason game in the NFL is the one referred to as the "dress rehearsal" for the regular season, but the Cleveland Browns are hoping Saturday's 33-14 loss to the St. Louis Rams at FirstEnergy Stadium was a bump in the road more than it is a precursor to what lies ahead this fall.
The Browns converted only 13 first downs, went just four of 11 on third-down plays, and netted 32 yards rushing, as opposed to the 142 gained by the Rams.
"There's no sugar-coating it, we didn't play well," Browns coach Mike Pettine said in a conference call Sunday. "There were some individual performances that stood out. I thought some guys in certain areas played well, but just overall, we were very inconsistent.
"The thing that was a disappointment is we were inconsistent especially on third down, both sides of the ball. We refer to third down as 'money down.' We need to be better both sides of the ball, and we just had some very uncharacteristic mental mistakes, some technique errors. They took advantage of it and it added up to the results that we had.
"There's no substitute for playing, and there's no substitute for being together and going through it. We're confident as we get going that we'll improve by leaps and bounds, but there's a process. We have to go through it, and certainly, as I mentioned before, there's a strong sense of urgency to get it done."
Pettine said Saturday's effort does not shake his confidence for the regular season, which opens up at the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Sept. 7, but is disappointed the first showing in front of the home fans was not a positive one for the Browns, who dropped to 0-3 in the preseason with the setback.
"I think we had circled this date, and to me, when you play at home, you only get one chance to make a first impression for your fans, even though it is the preseason," Pettine said. "That, to me, is disappointing that our fans deserved a better performance. They showed up ready to go, revved up, and we didn't give much to cheer about.
"I believe in the coaching staff. I believe in the players in that locker room, that we have a system that we're trying to implement. You don't get in mid-season form implementing something new overnight, but it's certainly no time for us to panic.
"I think when we get into true game plan situations that we're going to take advantage of what our guys do well and avoid some situations where it might not be advantageous for us to be doing things like that. I'm confident that by the time we get to Pittsburgh, we'll have a good game plan, and we're going to put our players on offense in the best position to be successful."
Although confident in his fellow coaches and the players, Pettine wants to see consistency from the first-team offense, who managed one touchdown, but had "self-inflicted" mistakes with two turnovers with starting quarterback Brian Hoyer under center.
"You have to have the ability to sustain drives in the NFL, and if teams are consistently making you drive the length of the field, you have to be one of those teams that can be very methodical and stay consistent over a drive and not put yourself behind the sticks," Pettine said.
"Any offense that finds itself second-and-long, third-and-long, you're not going to be very successful. I think that has to be one of our trademarks that we can stay ahead of the sticks. It makes your play-calling a lot easier, a lot less predictable, and it gives you the ability to keep drives alive."
GORDON HELD OUT
In the lead up to Saturday's game, there was much speculation as to when third-year wide receiver Josh Gordon would find out his fate for a failed drug test during the offseason. Although it has been more than three weeks since his appeal hearing of what could be an indefinite suspension, Gordon has yet to find out if, or for how long, he will be sidelined this season.
As such, Pettine sat the Pro Bowler, and last year's NFL leader in receiving yards, against the Rams.
"I wasn't sending a message," Pettine said. "Knowing that the decision is looming -- that we're fairly certain that we're not going to have him for a minimum of some part of the year -- we wanted to make sure that we were getting repetitions with the guys that are going to be out there early.
"As the game went on, and there was the opportunity for him to get in there, with just the minor injury that he had, he wasn't loose. I consulted with (wide receivers) coach (Mike) McDaniel and at that point, we just didn't feel comfortable putting him in. It wasn't anything from a punishment standpoint or anything like that. It was just common sense."
In addition to Gordon, Pettine elected to hold Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden out of Saturday's game because of an injury that was suffered prior to the contest, but the expectation is the fifth-year shut-down defensive back will be ready for Pittsburgh.
"It's something that gave him a little bit of trouble, so we did some further work and the recommendation was just go ahead and let him rest it the rest of the preseason," Pettine said. "We're going to go ahead and do that.
"If this was the regular season, he would have been able to play, but we're just going to go ahead and be very conservative here with it and hold him out because we are on a short week and hold him out against Chicago as well. When we start practicing for Pittsburgh, he should be 100 percent ready to go."
Midway through the first quarter of Saturday's game, Browns defensive end Armonty Bryant beat a blind-side block and got to Rams quarterback Sam Bradford. What appeared to be minimal contact proved costly for the Rams, as they found out Sunday that their starting quarterback would miss the entire 2014 season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Last season, Bradford missed better than half the year because of a torn ACL in the same knee.
"It is a tremendous loss for them," Pettine said. "We knew that it didn't look like much when it happened, but I just think it was a good amount of weight that got put on it. It's such an unfortunate thing.
"I know there certainly wasn't any intent on Armonty's part. It was a very freak thing. Our thoughts and prayers go out to that young man. I think he's a good player. I know some guys on that staff that coach him. He's a heck of a player and even better person. It's a sad day."