CLEVELAND -- After dropping to 4-7-1 on the season with a 29-13 loss to the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston last Sunday, the Cleveland Browns find themselves in need of a strong finish to remain in playoff contention.

And a “win-or-go-home” playoff mindset is exactly what the Browns plan on bringing into Sunday’s game at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland against the Carolina Panthers (6-6), a team very much alive in the race for a wildcard spot in the NFC Playoffs.

“We have been ever since it was brought up in here,” Browns interim coach Gregg Williams said of the team’s mindset. “We did it again this week, too. We have been treating each and every week like a playoff game.

“Say it like a playoff game, it is about winning. It is about a competition and how you go about preparing to win each and every week and each and every day. That is just a part of it, another incentive part of it. It is something that we do not look the other way on, but now, we have to go execute on Sunday.”

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Cleveland Browns head coach Gregg Williams yells at his players to huddle up before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio.
Scott Galvin

Part of the playoff mindset is learning to move on from bad plays, and perhaps no one in the Browns’ locker room has embodied that more this week than rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Mayfield threw three interceptions in the first half, and all of those turnovers led to Texans scores, including a pick-six that was returned by linebacker Zach Cunningham.

During the first half, Mayfield completed just five of his 13 attempts for 46 yards with the three interceptions, but he had a strong finish to the game.

Mayfield shook off the turnover-plagued first half during the halftime break and finished the game 29 of 43 for 397 yards and one touchdown, a 17-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins late in the fourth quarter.

In the second half, Mayfield completed 24 of his 30 throws for 351 yards and the one touchdown without a turnover.

“Very eager,” Mayfield said when asked following Wednesday’s practice about his mindset heading into Week 14.

“Obviously, we have to take it one day at a time to get better throughout the week. I think we watched the film and we learned exactly how we need to start the game and how we need to attack. I think everybody is eager, not just myself.”

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Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) attempts a pass during the first quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Troy Taormina

In addition to buttoning up the offense, the Browns are looking to prevent the big plays that have plagued the defense in recent weeks.

“We are always after trying to eliminate the explosive plays,” Williams said. “We did a really good job last year in the pass game. We have done it again here in the pass game. We have had a few runs pop. From a defensive point of view, you are always trying to make sure that you are eliminating those types of explosive plays.”

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Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) reacts to a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Aaron Doster

With the Browns facing an uphill climb to get back into the playoff race, they want to make the most of every competition period in practice, even if that means Mayfield does some trash talking with the defense, specifically safety Jabrill Peppers.

“We are just both the ultimate competitors,” Peppers said. “This late in the season, you rarely get chances to compete ones versus ones. When we get those opportunities, we take full advantage of them. This is as close to game speed as you are going to get.

“You definitely need those reps throughout the week in practice to be ready to go for the game. It is just fun. A lot of jawing. A lot of smack talking. He feeds off of it and plays better. I feed off of it and play better.”

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