Well, that was a dose of reality. You can’t just expect to win a game even before the first play. The Cleveland Browns had all the hype. There was Super Bowl talk, AFC North talk, playoff talk. Everything. Yet, with a first-year head coach, they hadn’t really proved anything yet. Against the Tennessee Titans in the season opener, that became very clear. The Browns were the Browns (which isn’t a good thing), and it turned into them getting blown out in their home opener to start the season, 43-13. They haven’t won a season opener since 2004, a streak that continued in Cleveland on Sunday.
The Browns were firing on all cylinders the first drive of the game. After Baker Mayfield nearly threw an interception on the first play, Cleveland went down and scored a touchdown to finish off a six-play, 73-yard drive. Then Austin Seibert happened (he missed the extra point), and things were never really the same.
After that drive, Cleveland seemed to play much different. Yet, with two minutes left in the third quarter, Mayfield was able to find David Njoku for an easy three-yard touchdown, giving the Browns offense new life and cutting the score to 15-13. Then on the first play after that touchdown, Marcus Mariota connected with Derrick Henry on a screen that turned into a 75-yard touchdown. It was essentially the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Mayfield finished with one touchdown and three interceptions while completing 25-of-38 passes, Nick Chubb had just 16 carries for 74 yards, and after Odell Beckham Jr. had six catches in the first half he finished with seven receptions for 71 yards. Jarvis Landry also added four catches for 67 yards.
The quarterback threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter when it became obvious that he was forcing things downfield and it turned into the Titans outscoring the Browns in the final quarter, 21-0.
Cleveland was outcoached, outplayed, and out disciplined the majority of the game, especially after that first drive. It turned into a rout, one that no one expected. Vrabel’s team made it look easy. Freddie Kitchens, on the other hand, has plenty of things to improve on. The first-year head coach looked like a rookie coach, which is never ideal.
Led by Mike Vrabel, the Titans are a very well-coached team. For some easy evidence of that, they had the fewest penalties (82) in the league last season, 10 fewer than the Vikings, who had the second-fewest penalties in the NFL. Vrabel proved that again against the Browns.
All of it was quite a wake-up call for Freddie Kitchens and company. They not only must be better prepared, but they must be more disciplined going forward. Eighteen penalties for 182 yards is not only completely unacceptable and inexcusable, but it will be tough to win a game when your team commits that many penalties, no matter who the opponent is.
Just one week into the season, the Browns have some adversity. The next week will prove which players will step up, and which ones won’t. Hopefully, for Cleveland’s sake, this loss will bring the team together, make them even stronger, and let it be known that they have to play better going forward. You don’t win a game in the NFL before the game even starts.
Just a reminder: It’s a 16-game regular season. I told myself that whether the Cleveland Browns win or lose the season opener, I cannot overreact. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. With that said, it’s very, very clear that things must improve if the Browns want to be the type of team that expected to be prior to the season.
How the team and coaches react this upcoming week and against the New York Jets on Monday Night Football in Week 2 is vitally important. This week is huge. They need to bounce back. The Browns might have been embarrassed in Cleveland on Sunday, but there’s a reason a season isn’t just one game. I’d say that the Browns should just throw away the tape from this one and move on, but there are so many things they must learn from and improve on, many of which are self-inflicted.
Onto Week 2 we go.