CLEVELAND -- As the digital clock above the Browns' locker room doors turned to midnight, players and team officials filed out of those same doors wearing sullen looks of concern and disappointment.
The reason for the melancholy that filled the bowels of FirstEnergy Stadium was, of course, the way Thursday night's contest ended, with Browns defensive end Myles Garrett swinging Mason Rudolph's own helmet at him in the middle of a fracas in the west end zone of the stadium. The events leading up to, during and following the widely televised swing of the helmet will be recounted endlessly in the days to come. But as the effects of it -- and to a much lesser degree, the 21-7 win over the AFC North rival Steelers -- were still fresh, the Browns were left only to face the cameras and microphones and attempt to answer questions about what exactly happened.
Cleveland earned a victory, which is what the record books will show from now until football results are no longer recorded. But how they process this win, which was ugly in its own right even without the altercation, and proceed forward will be remembered more than the space in time in which the Browns intercepted Rudolph four times.
First things first: The Browns will almost assuredly be without Garrett for an undetermined amount of time. Beckham, perhaps not fully grasping the general outrage at Garrett's actions, mentioned his teammate might "lose a game, maybe two, you never know." It will likely be much more than that.
The Browns will have to proceed without Garrett, who has been near or atop the league's sack leaderboard for the entire season, because the NFL season does not stop. Miami comes to Cleveland a week from Sunday.
Perhaps Cleveland's lone saving grace is a long week to prepare and process exactly what happened at the end of what should have been a triumphant night along Lake Erie.
"As much as you want to put a smile on and walk out of here, there was so much in that game that there is to look at," Beckham said. "It's just back to the drawing board, be 1-0 next week. All we can focus on is Miami right now and whatever consequences for our actions, we'll take it on the chin like a man."
As Garrett dressed and a horde of reporters waited for him to turn and face the cameras, fellow defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi stood to Garrett's right and defended his teammate: "That is not us, but once again, when you cross that line, you crossed it. No disrepecting anyone, but at the same time, I am going to protect my teammate." Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson reached over from Garrett's left and put his hand on the defensive end's shoulder, patting it firmly in a display of support.
It's quite possible it was the last time they'd line up together anywhere in 2019.
The Browns improved to 4-6 Thursday night and will appear on the network broadcasts' "In The Hunt" graphics for the next week. Technically, they are still in the hunt, having won two straight to start to lift themselves out of the massive hole they dug themselves in their first eight contests.
They're 2-0 in the AFC North, with wins over the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. They'll host one of the NFL's worst teams next week in the Dolphins before playing their final five games. The Browns essentially need to win all of them for a legitimate shot at the postseason, and they'll have to attempt to do so without Garrett.
Oh, and those same players with whom they got into a fight Thursday night? They'll meet again in two weeks in Pittsburgh.
"Most definitely," running back Kareem Hunt said when asked if Thursday's emotional outcome would carry over to their next meeting. "It's going to be another fight -- probably not like that -- but actual football. Football."
Thursday night ended with the feel of a team trying to weather the latest storm instead of one that had climbed a bit closer toward the sunlight. After everything that happened in a 12-hour period, Antonio Callaway's sudden release before the game wasn't even a footnote.
But Week 11 is around the corner, and first-year coach Freddie Kitchens' team will have to soldier on.
"We have to stay together," Kitchens said. "When you hit times of adversity, you have to run toward each other and not away. Just come to work and know that you have support here -- everybody. I know I have support here with my staff, with Dee (Haslam) and Jimmy (Haslam), with (GM) John Dorsey, with our players. Our players know that they have support from our coaches and other players so you just run toward each other instead of running away."