1. The Browns were already down two of their Week 1 starters in the secondary before they took the field against one of the NFL’s best passing attacks.
By the end of the first quarter, they were down two more key pieces, and the Chiefs were well on their way toward posting another ugly number. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 375 yards, and the Browns surrendered five touchdowns on Kansas City’s first six possessions.
“They’ve done it for so many of the past games, and I felt like we had a great game plan before everything happened,” cornerback T.J. Carrie said. “That’s this league, things happen. You have to be able to adapt and players have to be able to come in and make plays. We didn’t have that at all.
“Your depth can only go so far.”
Cornerback E.J. Gaines, who is starting in place of Terrance Mitchell -- who was lost for a significant period of time with a broken wrist suffered in Week 4 -- went down with a concussion on the last play of Kansas City’s game-opening scoring drive. Gaines had just returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games with a concussion.
Shortly thereafter, rookie Denzel Ward, one of the stars of Cleveland’s defense, was lost with a hip injury. In this particular matchup, he was supposed to be the Browns’ answer for speedy Kansas City receiver Tyreek Hill.
The Browns kept Hill and Sammy Watkins out of the end zone and to relatively normal statistics, but Mahomes made the Browns pay by getting the ball in space to running backs Kareem Hunt and Spencer Ware and tight end Travis Kelce, who combined for 218 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
“Next man up,” interim head coach Gregg Williams said. “Can never make an excuse of that, but I did have to change conceptually to what our guys that went in there could do and could understand. (Chiefs coach Andy Reid) knew that, too. We still have to make plays. We have to tackle better, have to keep the ball in front of us better and have to keep on playing.”
Williams said he opted to hold out free safety Damarious Randall (groin) from the game. Randall, who has played well in his first season with the Browns, has battled through a number of nagging injuries and been held out of a number of practices over the past few weeks.
The Browns will have a better idea about the status of Ward and Gaines on Monday. It doesn’t get much easier next week against the Falcons, who entered Week 9 ranked third in the NFL in passing offense. As of Sunday afternoon, the league’s top four passing offenses comprised Cleveland’s past three opponents (Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Kansas City) and its next one (Atlanta).
“That’s a tough one, especially when you look at the talent of the guys who went down. It’s very hard to replace those guys,” Carrie said. “Now it’s going to be time for all of us to step our game up, myself included, and we’ve got to coach everyone up so that we’re all on the same page and we can gel together to finish up the season.”
The Cleveland Browns play the Kansas City Chiefs at FirstEnergy Stadium in Week 9.
2. Williams’ aggressive calls go over well with players
The Browns officially went for it on fourth down three times -- unofficially four -- and attempted three two-point conversions Sunday. Some of the decisions were grounded in time and place while others were the result of a mindset Williams carried into a game where the Browns were going to need every last point to hang with the Chiefs.
Browns offensive lineman Joel Bitonio said Williams mentioned the approach in a meeting with the team’s captains earlier this week. Because it was known by key members on the Browns’ sideline, it affected the play-calling and helped set up the fourth-and-manageable situations.
The Browns converted their first two fourth-down conversions and picked up another as a result of a pre-snap penalty by the Chiefs. They failed on one late and came up short on all three of their two-point conversions.
“It is something we like as an offense,” Bitonio said. “We get more plays out there and it shows that he has trust in us. (Williams) knows that we have the chance to make something happen, and it is cool he has faith in us.”
3. Duke Johnson delivers a performance Browns have been waiting for
The bulk of Cleveland’s offensive production came from its running backs, and Johnson was the biggest reason why. After catching just 20 passes for 203 yards during the first half of the season, Johnson had a season-best nine receptions for 78 yards in a performance that looked a whole lot like what he delivered throughout the 2017 season.
Rookie Nick Chubb wasn’t bad, either, with 88 yards and a touchdown, his fourth of the season.
Johnson had both of Cleveland’s receiving touchdowns, breaking out of a tackle to score from 19 yards in the second quarter and catching a 5-yarder on third-and-goal on the first play of the fourth quarter. They were his first two touchdowns of 2018.
“I loved it,” wide receiver Jarvis Landry said. “We need to get him the ball even more. I know (Offensive Coordinator) Freddie (Kitchens) did a good job of obviously trying to get him the ball as much as we can, and that is what this offense has to be.”
Both quarterback Baker Mayfield and Bitonio said there wasn’t a concerted effort to make Johnson more a part of the game plan. It simply materialized as a result of Cleveland trying to get the ball in the hands of its top playmakers.
Johnson, of course, is one of them, and the Browns are hoping Sunday’s performance will match what they see from him for the rest of the season.
“Those are the types of plays we expect him to have,” Mayfield said. “That is what he is capable of. That is what he has shown time in and time out when you get him involved that much. We have to continue to build on that.”