Browns president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur gave it their best collective shot.
At this point, though, it’s painfully obvious they have failed in their mission to build a winning football team in Cleveland.
The Browns equaled the third-longest losing streak in franchise history Sunday — dropping their ninth straight game — with a 24-14 home loss to the Buffalo Bills.
All three of Cleveland’s previous nine-game skids have resulted in coaching changes and front office overhauls, so it’s only a matter of time before incoming owner Jimmy Haslam III starts cleaning house.
“It sucks. It sucks to be 0-3,” Browns linebacker and defensive captain D’Qwell Jackson said. “It’s tough to lose because we put so much work into it. It’s frustrating.
“We’ve got a lot of games left, but it stings right now. I’m not going to lie to you and say it doesn’t.”
Though most of Cleveland’s young players tried to keep a stiff upper lip after the game, the gravity of the situation wasn’t lost on its veterans. NFL teams that start a season 0-3 only qualify for the playoffs 2.8 percent of the time.
The Browns’ odds are much smaller than that, given their lack of overall talent and the omnipresence of Haslam, who won’t actually own the franchise until mid-October, but spent part of the game sitting in with CBS announcers Spiro Dedes and Steve Beuerlein.
“Obviously, there’s going to be some changes with the new owner, but who knows what he’s going to do?” Cleveland safety T.J. Ward said. “He can clear everyone out if he wants to. I try not to think about it too much because you can’t guess or speculate what exactly is going to happen.”
Making the situation even bleaker, a significant number of Browns players have never even won a game with the team.
Nineteen members of the 53-man roster weren’t around for Cleveland’s last victory — 14-10 over visiting Jacksonville on Nov. 20, 2011 — so all they know about the North Coast is losing.
And only four players (kicker Phil Dawson, tackle Joe Thomas, wide receiver Joshua Cribbs and Jackson) were around when the Browns had their last winning season in 2007.
“I feel like it is so embarrassing for us,” Cribbs said. “It’s embarrassing for our fans that we don’t win games, and they show up and spend their hard-earned money to see us play, and it’s just another loss.”
Yet, there were some new wrinkles in Cleveland’s latest defeat, which saw Buffalo gain more yards on interception returns than the Browns did rushing.
Cleveland also allowed Bills third-string running back Tashard Choice to gain 91 yards in three-plus quarters, but did end Buffalo’s sackless season.
Unfortunately, that “sack” was awarded to the Browns team when Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick fumbled without being touched behind the line of scrimmage.
Buffalo added a final indignity when it took three straight knees to run out the last 1:50, despite taking possession at Cleveland’s 1-yard line.
“I don’t want to feed into, ‘This is the same old Browns,’” Cleveland wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said. “We don’t go into games expecting to lose. We go into every game expecting to win, but we definitely have to play better. We’ve got to figure out a way to get a win and a way to turn it around.”
Shurmur spoke with the same positive tone for most of his postgame press conference, but finally showed some stress when asked if the Browns are facing a must-win scenario Thursday in Baltimore.
“They’re all must win, right? Wouldn’t you agree?” said Shurmur, whose career record is 4-15. “Who goes into a game thinking they’re going to lose? Let’s talk about it. You can frame it how you want. Every game is a must win, and then you add them up at the end and decide if you’re where you want to be.”
It’s likely that similar words were spoken by ex-Cleveland coaches Nick Skorich and Forrest Gregg, who lost a franchise-record 11 straight games from 1974-1975.
They definitely were uttered by Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini during their 10-game skid in 2008-2009, and by Butch Davis and Terry Robiskie throughout their nine-game freefall in 2004.
Frankly, the only question left is whether Shurmur will share his long losing streak with his successor. Or will he own the mark all by himself?
Haslam is scheduled to take control of the Browns in three weeks, after they play the Ravens, Giants and Bengals, so the clock is ticking either way.
“There’s no magic answer sometimes, other than we didn’t get it done today,” Shurmur said. “We just didn’t get it done.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.