Well, we did it again. Another opening Sunday began with excitement and ended in frustration. Sixty-seven thousand Browns fans at FirstEnergy Stadium and millions outside witnessed a horrifying display of football, leaving the stadium with a sense of dread as they had many times before. The NFL is a league of traditions passed down from one generation of fan to the next. Minutemen firing muskets to celebrate a touchdown, the Terrible Towel, the Lambeau Leap. The expansion era Cleveland Browns have their own fair share, but none was more prominent on Sunday than the brutal truth: losing on opening weekend.
Cleveland is now 1-19-1 in season openers since their return in 1999, the worst record during this stretch in the NFL. Is it worth harping on? Probably not. There have been countless statistics that point to a troubling twenty years in Cleveland’s football history, but it is worth noting that this one stung. There is no argument that the Browns roster isn’t talented, so much so that it would be useless to examine prominent players. We all know them. For the first time, we as fans felt confident that the Browns would have every opportunity to win, and after years of knowing that Cleveland’s roster was challenged at best, we had a reason to feel cocky. Then we watched the game.
Beginning on Monday morning, I found myself partaking in another time-honored Browns tradition. Albert Einstein famously said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, and I find this quote to be a shockingly accurate description of Cleveland fans leading up to another season. Another good use of this comes in the form of what I like to call the Browns weekly spin cycle.
We walk out of FirstEnergy Stadium with our heads down, cursing penalty yards, off-tempo offenses, porous defenses, and by Monday night we realize that there are fifteen games left to be played. Those holding calls? That’s coachable. Besides, the Browns were down two linemen when things became ugly anyway. Player ejections? They know now that that won’t be acceptable. Freddie will have them in line by next week.
By Friday, we feel another surging wave of excitement. The Browns will get another chance to showcase their talent, this time on the elevated stage of Monday Night Football. Sunday was just them shaking off the kinks. What else would you expect out of one of the youngest teams in the league and a rookie head coach?
Any other year, this cyclical mindset would fit nicely in Einstein’s definition, but the Cleveland Browns are indeed a talented football team, and you can only fend off talent for so long.
The Browns will take on the 0-1 New York Jets Monday night at 8:15 EST, in what will be a slightly delayed celebration of the broadcast’s fiftieth season, one that includes the same two teams that took the field on September 1970.
On Sunday, the Jets lost via a late comeback by Buffalo, reinforcing the lack of closing ability that plagued them last season. Quarterback Sam Darnold went 28/41 for a 68.3% completion rating, ringing in one touchdown and an 87 QBR. The game also served as the Jets debut of Le’Veon Bell who sat out last season during a contract dispute. An improved New York defense showed sparks, particularly in their turnover efforts, recovering two fumbles and two interceptions. But all in all, the Jets failed to look impressive, particularly when it counted in the second half, ultimately losing 17-16.
New York has improved since their last meeting with Cleveland a year ago and needless to say, Cleveland has as well. The question is, have they improved since their last game. Discipline aside, Cleveland failed to establish the run and made head-scratching play calls throughout their matchup with Tennessee. As Coach Freddie Kitchens mentioned in his Monday press conference, he and his staff need to put his players in better positions. If the offense can continue to find efficiency after working through their opening script, they will have an opportunity to build success.
Tennessee did a near-perfect job neutralizing Myles Garret and flustering the remainder of the Browns defensive line. It will be crucial that they build off of their mistakes and properly utilize Olivier Vernon on Garret’s opposite edge. If they can take positive steps in these directions, Cleveland will succeed on Monday night.
Now, back to being a fan. Monday night feels as important as an early season game can. Leaving New York without a win would net them an 0-2 record heading into their week three matchup with the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams. In addition, the Browns will face Baltimore, Seattle, and New England over the following month and a half.
It will prove to be a challenging hole to dig themselves out of if they do fall to New York. Kitchen’s legitimacy as a head coach will be called into question along with various members of his staff, and we will descend into another week of despair. Luckily, we are used to it. For the first time on Sunday, I was glad that we as Browns fans had endured so much disappointment. The collapse against the Titans was nothing for us, and we are already looking forward to next week. What else is a Browns fan supposed to do?