Defense Wins Championships, Just Not Week 1: Cleveland Browns Week 1 Winners and Losers (and ties)

Browns Steelers Myles Garrett
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Had the Cleveland Browns’ Week 1 game ended with a defensive stand, fans would be ecstatic. Imagine: The Browns-Steelers Week 1 tilt ends with the Browns forcing a missed field goal from the foot of Chris Boswell to seal the tie. Pandemonium.

Had the Cleveland Browns’ Week 1 game ended with Genard Avery sacking Ben Roethlisberger, a staunch pass rush leading to Joe Schobert recovering a fumble and rumbling down the sideline as the clock expired, it would have been incredible—the kind of plays that tend to happen to the Browns instead of for them.

But as it stood, there were a few more seconds of game play to be had and the lasting memory will be the Browns’ special teams unit refusing to change the snap count for the game’s final field goal, Zane Gonzalez kicking it too low, directly into the hand of a ready-and-waiting T.J. Watt. The lasting memory isn’t of a hard-fought, come-from-behind game that saw the Browns pour on 14 points in the game’s final eight minutes to send the game to overtime. No, it’s of a game that was there for the winning, a wheel barrow full of turnovers not turned into points, and a kicker who has yet to live up to expectations since being drafted a summer ago.

Give them credit. They fought. They went cleat to cleat with a Hall of Fame quarterback on a team widely picked to win the AFC North. Hell, for a team that went 4-12 against the spread a season ago (which is really, really hard to do), they covered Week 1. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to erase the stench of a stretch of play that had seen them go 1-31. The question is: Did it at least instill hope of a brighter future?

LOSER: Tyrod Taylor

Kudos to Tyrod for owning much of the issues on the offense following the game, but the veteran certainly didn’t do much to quiet those clamoring for Baker Mayfield. Not only did Taylor average just 4.9 yards per attempt, he completed just 37.5 percent of his passes, perpetually missed the sideline 9 route, and took seven (seven!) sacks. I’m not ready to throw the towel in on a guy whose job was clearly to manage the game and put his team in a place that would give them the chance to win (check and check), but if you’re only completing 1-of-8 targets to your running back, it would have been nice to see more than three targets to Josh Gordon. The magnifying glass will be out in New Orleans.

WINNER: Baker Mayfield

If I had the stomach and patience for local sports talk radio1, I presume I’d hear plenty about Baker Mayfield. After the kid averaged over eight yards per attempt in the preseason (better than Darnold and Allen and Rosen), Browns fans were forced to watch Taylor be allergic to anything beyond the Steelers linebackers.

LOSER: Hue Jackson

While we can no longer criticize Hue Jackson for play calling, we can scream from the mountain tops when it comes to the cavalcade of false start penalties and simple, mental mistakes. His clock management wasn’t exactly elite either. And truthfully, if the Browns don’t win, he’s catching an L.

WINNER: Myles Garrett

An absolute stud. Playing most of last season with a wonky ankle, Garrett was a cybord with Ben Roethlisberger’s number programmed into his crosshairs. Five solo tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, and a defensed pass is one hell of a debut.

“I am being the person they got from the draft,” Garrett said following the game. “I am finally healthy, and am just trying to be the guy to make the plays when we need them.”

LOSER: Todd Haley

I want to be clear that I, much like you, do not know what called plays were. Was Taylor instructed to be as passive as he was, or was Haley’s game plan one that didn’t allow for much in the way of risk taking? What I do know is the Browns had a +5 turnover margin and failed to capitalize on their fortunes. I also know they ran a running back draw on third-and-long when a screen pass would have at least given the Browns a chance to produce a first down. Much like Taylor, next week will show a lot.

WINNER: Denzel Ward

The kid is the real deal. And any intimation that he could have played better defense (without committing a penalty) on that Roethlisberger-to-Brown touchdown needs to be catapulted to the moon. While Gregg Williams could have helped with a safety over the top, there’s a reason they already trust him to play on an island. Also: I may or may not have purchased one of his jerseys yesterday post tailgate.

More on the rookie coming later today.

WINNERS: Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon

It’s remarkable what can happen when you employ talented skill players. While Landry had that one drop late in the fourth, he made Tyrod Taylor look much better than his already woeful numbers would suggest. Targeted a team-high 15 times, Landry was used inside, outside, deep and across the middle. He hauled in seven for 106 and would have been the game’s leading receiver if not for JuJu Smith-Schuster busting off 67 yards on a slant route. It’s remarkable to think about how bad things would have been without him.

While Gordon only had the ball thrown his way three times, he made the most of his one reception with a beautifully high-pointed attack and the awareness to bring both feet down in the end zone. It was great to have him back on the field, and while it’s important to take each game in stride when it comes to being a fan, it will be fun to see what he can do on the turf next week.

LOSER: David Njoku

Targeted seven times, Njoku managed to only pull in three passes for a pedestrian 13 yards. While the other misses were not exactly his fault, he had a brutal drop late in the game. A kid with game-changing abilities, but one who really, really needs to work on securing the football.

WINNER: Joe Thomas

A rough day for all those folks who tried to pretend Joe Thomas wasn’t elite for his entire run with the Browns. Bonus points for Thomas providing Twitter updates throughout the game, including his itching to open his very own, personal Bud Light mini-fridge.

LOSER: Desmond Harrison

It’s tough to replace a Hall of Fame-bound left tackle, but between the false start penalties and some of the pressures allowed, Desmond left a bit to be desired. In his defense, he’s being asked to do a job that the front office should have addressed months ago.


LOSER: This “weight on the quarterback” rule

Any rule that can subjectively decide 1) the outcome of a game, and 2) the final point total or spread which, in turn, could lead to millions of dollars changing hands, needs to go. Immediately.

LOSER: Zane Gonzalez

You have one job, and Dan Bailey is a free agent.

And now, the fans:

And now, your turn.

  1. For the record, I’m in as soon as they ditch the “lets go to the phones!” format. []