Of all the dubious honors the Cleveland Browns own since 1999 – they’ve had 30 quarterbacks, 44 head coaches, 106 general managers – perhaps the strangest is the most unlikely. The Browns have won only one Week 1 contest in twenty seasons; they are 1-18-1 in the first week of regular season play. This is a statistical anomaly. It’s especially strange when you consider these are different players, different stadiums, usually healthy rosters, and generally favorable weather. Of course, not every Week 1 loss is the same; some are far more crippling than others. Here’s a quick look back at the Week 1’s from best to worst.
2004: Browns def. Ravens 20-3 in Cleveland. No surprise here. The Browns’ only Week One victory tops our list. The defense harassed Kyle Boller into throwing two interceptions and contained Jamal Lewis to only 57 yards. Meanwhile, new franchise savior Jeff Garcia threw for a score and ran for another as the Browns managed a solid and fairly run of the mill victory. They would proceed to lose three of their next four games.
2018: Browns tie Steelers 21-21 in Cleveland. An absurdly weird game. In no particular order: Josh Gordon’s last touchdown as a Brown; Myles Garrett collects two sacks, six tackles, and two forced fumbles; new franchise savior Tyrod Taylor throws a late interception to force overtime; each team misses a potential game-winning field goal in overtime; the first tie in a generation. But at least it wasn’t a loss.
2007: Steelers def. Browns 34-7 in Cleveland. The Browns were never in this game. The Orange and Brown suffered the ignobility of six sacks and five turnovers in a Week 1 drubbing. Charlie Frye played so poorly that he was benched for new franchise savior Derek Anderson in the second half. Frye was traded to Seattle later that week to really hammer home the message of disappointment. However, the silver lining here is that Frye’s dismissal opened the door for Anderson who went 10-5 the rest of the season.
2009: Vikings def. Browns 34-20 in Cleveland. Adrian Peterson ran wild all afternoon picking up 180 yards and three touchdowns. New franchise savior Brady Quinn had a rough day as he collected five sacks and a pick. Worst of all, Peterson’s day lives in infamy as he was the cover athlete on the following week’s Sports Illustrated.
2000: Jaguars def. Browns 27-7 in Cleveland. The Browns’ second-year continued the new tradition of losing the opening game. Jacksonville scored early and outpaced their hosts 17-0 in the second half. Mark Brunell threw for 301 yards and a score as the Jags racked up 28 first downs to the Browns’ nine. The only real bright side is that there was neither a blown lead nor crippling last-second defeat.
2005: Bengals def. Browns 27-13 in Cleveland. Carson Palmer threw for two touchdowns, Rudi Johnson ran for 126 yards and a TD, and new franchise savior Trent Dilfer underwhelmed in a middling loss. This L began a streak of Week 1 losses that continues to this day.
2006: Saints def. Browns 19-14 in Cleveland. The Browns trailed 9-0 at the half but gained to a 19-14 deficit with under two minutes to go. Alas, new franchise savior Charlie Frye threw four straight incompletions to end the Browns’ comeback hopes.
2011: Bengals def. Browns 27-17 in Cleveland. Cards on the table, folks: I didn’t watch this game. I was battling a violent hangover in New York City and mostly forgot about the game until the fourth quarter. I was busy eating applesauce out of the jar on the subway. I’m guessing new franchise savior Colt McCoy wasn’t what we expected? Sounds about right.
2013: Dolphins def. Browns 23-10 in Cleveland. These are starting to blur together. Browns commit three turnovers and outgain the Dolphins but still manage to lose at home. Repetitive, but most traditions are.
2015: Jets def. Browns 31-10 in New York. So much happened in this game. New franchise savior Josh McCown tried to dive for a touchdown but was helicoptered into unconsciousness. New new franchise savior Johnny “Football” Manziel had to play and was wildly not ready. Manziel threw a pick, lost two fumbles, and was sacked three times. “Manziel Game” should be in the football lexicon a la “Gordie Howe Hat Trick.” Except a “Manziel Game” is a pick, lost fumble, and sack in the same game. Anyway, the Browns lost.
2017: Steelers def. Browns 21-18 in Cleveland. These Browns did not look like they would lose every game. They played the Steelers tough drawing to within a field goal with less than four minutes left. Even the TV commentators were discussing how these Browns would no longer be a gimme win and how new franchise savior Deshone Kizer had some real potential. The Browns lost every game that year.
2016: Eagles def. Browns 29-10 in Philadelphia. Without reading ahead, do you remember who started at quarterback in this game? Don’t look it up; really think about it. Do you give up? The answer is new franchise savior Robert Griffin III. I do not recall anything from this game. Almost-Brown Carson Wentz threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns. C’est la vie.
2001: Seahawks def. Browns 9-6 in Cleveland. The Butch Davis Era begins with a whimper. Tim Couch sort of outduels Matt Hasselbeck and Phil Dawson drew the team even at six with just over two minutes to go. A strong kickoff return from Seattle’s Charlie Rogers started the Seahawks at their own 47. Two first downs later, Seattle kicker Rian Lindell booted a 52-yard field goal to win the game for the ‘Hawks.
2003: Colts def. Browns 9-6 in Cleveland. The Browns had one goal in this game: Don’t let Peyton Manning beat you. The good news – he didn’t. Manning was picked twice and sacked once while failing to find the end zone. The bad news – Browns QB Kelly Holcomb was also picked twice and the game came down to boots once again. This time it was Mike Vanderjagt who nailed the game winning 45-yard field goal with one second left. For the second time in three season the Browns’ campaign began in a 9-6 home loss.
2008: Cowboys def. Browns 28-10 in Cleveland. This one hurt. The Browns entered 2008 as preseason darlings with multiple chances to strut their stuff with a national audience tuning in. In Week 1 they fell flat as a pancake to the visiting Cowboys. Dallas simply outplayed them, gaining 487 yards to Cleveland’s 205. It was a fittingly poor omen that portended a season of pain and disappointment.
2010: Buccaneers def. Browns 17-14 in Tampa Bay. For the first time since their return the Browns opened on the road. Cleveland led 14-10 at the half. They led 14-10 after three quarters. With 6:45 to go in the fourth Josh Freeman found Micheal Spurlock for the game winning touchdown. The Brownies had three possessions after that, but new franchise savior Jake Delhomme went a combined 5-for-13 with 41 yards and an interception. The comeback fell short.
2014: Steelers def. Browns 30-27 in Pittsburgh. The Steelers led 27-3 at the half and Cleveland looked dead and buried. Isaiah Crowell and new franchise savior Brian Hoyer refused to yield and brought the game even at 27-all. The comeback effort went up in flames when Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham knocked in a 41-yard field goal as time expired to extend the Browns’ season-opening streak of losses to ten. Also Antonio Brown stepped on Spencer Lanning’s face.
2012: Eagles def. Browns 17-16 in Cleveland. A Sisyphean Effort. The Browns forced five turnovers, including a pick six, in what should have been the glorious start of The Pat Shurmur Era. Unfortunately, new franchise savior Brandon Weeden threw four picks of his own and suffered two sacks. The last interception cut off a would-be game-winning drive before it got off the ground. Weeden did give us a meme for the ages though.
1999: Steelers def. Browns 43-0 in Cleveland. These Browns never had a chance. An expansion team thrown together with aging veterans, unproven rookies, and the league’s dregs should never have opened at home in prime time against their most bitter rival. Cleveland managed only two first downs and turned the ball over four times. The region’s excitement over getting their favorite team back was immediately crushed in the cold vise of reality.
2002: Chiefs def. Browns 40-39 in Cleveland. AKA – The Dwayne Rudd Game. The worst of the worst. Make no mistake: The Browns should have won this game. New franchise savior Kelly Holcomb carved up the Chiefs for 326 yards and three touchdowns. Phil Dawson booted a 41-yard field goal to give Cleveland a 39-37 lead with under a minute left. All Cleveland had to do was kick off and hold them. With two seconds left Kansas City’s John Tait was pushed out of bounds after a few laterals. During the relay the game was not fully over, but Dwayne Rudd did not know that; he removed and threw his helmet in jubilation. His unsportsmanlike conduct penalty cost fifteen yards and allowed one final untimed down from the Cleveland 12. Morten Andersen connected on a 30-yarder to give Kansas City an improbable victory. Ah, memories.
Statistically a Week 1 loss or win does not mean any more or less than an outcome in any other week. Psychologically, however, it can demoralize or galvanize a football club. With September 8 looming, I can’t help but worry that a Week 1 loss in 2019 would undo all the good will and hype surrounding this suddenly trendy Browns club. A win would not guarantee a playoff berth of course, but it would certainly be a nice change of pace. All we can do is hope that new franchise savior Baker Mayfield has what it takes to start the team 1-0.