Takeaways

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3 Big Takeaways: Cade York proves he's the real deal with game-winner in NFL debut

York helped the Browns seal a win that was far from perfect, but crucial for starting the season on a strong note

091122_Takeaways

CHARLOTTE – We're breaking down three takeaways from the Browns' incredible 26-24 Week 1 win against the Panthers on Sunday — which was their first Week 1 win since 2004.

1. Cade York is the real deal

There's no doubt about it anymore.

It doesn't get any bigger of a moment for York — the Browns down 24-23, in need of a deep 58-yard field-goal for their first Week 1 win since 2004. No Browns kicker had even made a 58-yard kick since 1984. It was the second kick of York's 59-minute and 47-second long life in the NFL, and it would certainly stand as one of the biggest of his rookie season, if not career.

The kick looked routine for him. He boomed it down the middle with plenty of room left, and it looked the same as the other deep kicks the Browns have become accustomed to seeing from him in practice and warmups.

Right down the center for the win, and he was promptly swarmed by his teammates as he attempted a fist pump.

"I remember hitting it, realizing it was going in, stopped watching it," he said. "I usually don't celebrate kicks, but that one was a bit different.

York had a perfect first NFL game. He hit all four of his field-goal attempts and both of his extra-point tries.

He did not have a perfect warm-up.

York, a fourth-round rookie from LSU, missed a few kicks from 50 yards or longer in his pregame session. He called it "one of the worst warmups I've probably ever had," and head coach Kevin Stefanski knew about the pregame struggles. It didn't factor into his decision to not give York long kicks early in the game when the Browns advanced the ball into that range.

He said he wanted to ease York into his first taste of NFL action and prevent him from losing any possible confidence by missing a long kick early in his first game.

"I didn't want to try a 50-yarder early in this game," he said. "I wanted to get him some extra-points, some field goals and have him see the ball go through the middle of the uprights. But we knew if we needed him, we were going to call him."

Stefanski wanted to make that call in the final minute when the offense moved the ball to the Panthers' 40-yard line — precisely where the ball was when York trotted onto the field.

Once he stepped up for the kick, York didn't doubt himself — even though it would be the longest field goal he's ever kicked in a game.

And once it went through, he had delivered a loud statement about just how clutch, how confident and how reliable he can be.

"I never thought I'd have a career-long in my first game for a career winner," he said. "That's not something that comes along very often. Over and over, I've been able to experience things that I didn't think would ever happen. Not because I wasn't capable, but just because it was never in my thoughts, like going to play at LSU, leaving in three years and getting drafted in the fourth round.

"And then in the first game, being put in that situation and putting it through, that's a blessing and I thank God for it."

Check out photos of the Browns against the Panthers in Week 1

2. Plenty of room to grow on both sides of the ball

The Browns would've preferred for York to not be in that situation at all, though.

Not when they held a 20-7 lead at the end of the third quarter. Not when the defense had minimized damage for most of the game. Not when the game plan, albeit not being executed to perfection, had led the Browns to a position to possibly close out a win in the final minutes rather than final seconds.

"It wasn't clean," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "It never is in a Game 1. There's plenty to clean up."

The Browns initially dominated the Panthers' offense, holding Panthers QB Baker Mayfield to just 101 passing yards, one interception and a 46.2 pass rating in the first half. The Browns batted seven total passes from Mayfield in the game, five of which at the line of scrimmage, and sacked him four times.

But he still managed to give the Panthers a chance to win with a 7-yard scramble for a score and 75-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.

"I think it was a good start (for the defense) in the first half," DE Myles Garrett said. "We let a couple things slip as far as our men on the field. We got schemed up on a couple plays. It was consistent throughout, but we had a few leaky plays."

Offensively, the Browns started slow, too, and struggled to contain a rhythm for most of the game. Outside of two consecutive drives that led to Kareem Hunt touchdowns, the Browns couldn't find much success in the pass game, and QB Jacoby Brissett finished 18-of-34 for 147 yards and one touchdown. His passer rating was 74.0.

The Browns want things to be more crisper in the future, but as Stefanski mentioned, it was Week 1, and Week 1 is never perfect.

"You never really look up at the scoreboard until the end," Brissett said. "We knew it was a 6-minute game and they would make plays, so it was just about sticking to our plan and finding ways to keep making plays at critical moments."

3. A win meant everything for Brissett

Brissett struggled to keep his emotions in order as he reviewed the game in his postgame interview.

"The build-up to this moment goes further than, for me, from being here," he said. "It's been a long time coming to get to this point, and I have to do a better job of calming those emotions down, and especially in these critical situations. We made the right plays at the right time."

Brissett made the right plays on the final drive, connecting four of five pass attempts to move the Browns in position for the kick all in the span of 60 seconds.

It's a drive Brissett hadn't really created before in his seven-year career. But he executed it well, and the moment appeared to hit him as he answered a question about whether it was the highlight of his career.

"Ummm," he said with a smile before looking down. "Sure, yeah. Playing in the NFL is a highlight every time, and that's why I think I'm so emotional. It's because … "

Another pause, and a few more tears.

"They just don't come that often. And it's definitely special in the huddle, and being the guy. "

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