Harlequins director of rugby Conor O'Shea was frustrated by his side's display as they lost to Exeter for the second time this season.
Quins could only muster one try, from Ugo Monye, as they went down 27-16 at The Stoop, meaning Saracens can go top with victory over London Welsh on Sunday.
"That's the second time we've been outmuscled by Exeter," said O'Shea.
"There was never any massive intensity or energy in our play as they held on to the ball and won all the collisions.
"I'm frustrated as every time we edged in front we conceded a penalty, but all credit to Exeter as they kept coming and coming and ramped it up at the end.
"We were tired out with all the tackling we had to do as a result of coughing up possession."
"When we lost at Exeter in October we went on a winning run of 10 games so we learn our lessons well."
Exeter coach Rob Baxter added: "We showed great intensity and a great work ethic especially in our defence as they are the top try scorers in the league.
"Today our performance was spurred by ambition not fear as we are safe from relegation."