EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — The Browns earned a win in a game that felt much more important than your average Week 2 contest, and they're flying back to Cleveland feeling better than they did a week ago.
There isn't much time to celebrate, though, because the 2-0 Los Angeles Rams await them Sunday night at FirstEnergy Stadium. But before we move forward, we must reflect on what we learned from Cleveland's 23-3 win over the New York Jets on Monday night at MetLife Stadium.
1. It's great to have Odell Beckham Jr.
The storyline was set long before this game took place. Media members descended upon MetLife Stadium on Monday specifically to cover everything Beckham did. And boy, did he do it.
Beckham set the tone of the night early by making an incredible one-handed grab along the same sideline — at almost the exact same spot — as where he made The Catch back in 2014 as a rookie with the Giants. The parallel and the play were enough to leave mouths agape just minutes into the action and gave the Browns a shot of confidence in the arm.
The big-time play, though, is the one that essentially iced it for the Browns and served as a notice to those watching at home: These Browns, while still a work in progress, are not the team you saw in Week 1.
After a decent but not awe-inspiring first game with the Browns, Beckham quickly realized the dreams of Cleveland fans everywhere in Week 2 when he streaked across the field toward the front pylon for his first score in brown and orange.
"I knew it was going to be a big play," Beckham said following the victory. "I saw the safety (Marcus) Maye. As I caught it, he knew I was taking the angle to the right. I saw him duck his head down. I just made a cut and I knew I was going to be out of there if my hamstrings could hold up. For some reason tonight, they were tight. I didn't know if I was going to make it all the way to the end zone but God willing I did."
The 89-yard score and the resulting win made much more of an impact than one might think. No one wants to start 0-2, while everyone who backs the Browns wanted to see Beckham in the end zone often in 2019.
They got their first taste of it Monday night.
Check out photos of the Browns against the Jets on Monday Night Football
2. Offense still figuring things out
The Browns came away with a 20-point win that didn't really feel like it, largely because the offense is still struggling to reach cruising speed.
While it's not a drastic deviation from last year's scheme, there are some differences in both personnel and play-calling. It's taking some time for Baker Mayfield and Co. to get entirely in sync, a point that was evident for most of Weeks 1 and 2.
The Browns scored on each of their first two possessions to build a small lead but finished just 4-of-13 on third down (31 percent) and gained a total of 16 first downs. By comparison, the Jets — whose offense struggled all night — finished with 13 total first downs.
"I think I need to be better checking the ball down and getting completions," Mayfield said afterward. "I said it last week after watching that tape. Getting the ball in our guys' hands and just putting us in a good position. Keeping the chains moving (and) keeping the positivity rolling."
It wasn't pretty as a result, which we can all acknowledge. But it still found glimpses and flashes of what could be.
The Chubb touchdown run came after the Jets spent the entire first quarter clogging running lanes and stringing out stretch plays. The Beckham touchdown came after similar plays didn't succeed and came with the Browns backed into the shadow of their own goal post. And in between, Mayfield made the plays necessary to help the Browns build a lead, even if it was more often by 3 than by 6.
That's OK for now, because that was enough for a win on Monday night. Beckham's long touchdown was enough. The three made field goals and Chubb's touchdown run were enough. It's much better to be 1-1 than it is to be 0-2.
3. Defense — including Myles Garrett — remains relentless
The reason the final sentence of the last takeaway is true is because of this Browns defense, which is a challenge for any opponent in the NFL. They play with endless energy and boast a rare talent in Garrett, offsides and roughing the passer penalties aside. He racked up three sacks Monday night, bringing his 2019 total to 5 after just two games, putting him on an unbelievable (and unrealistic) pace for 40 sacks by the time Week 17 is finished.
Fans might focus on the negative – the penalties – when it comes to Garrett, and while they can fairly be interpreted as selfish, they don't need to be a reason for panic in the long term. Freddie Kitchens stressed afterward that despite the penalties, Garrett is going to continue to get after the quarterback. That's why the Browns drafted him with the No. 1 overall pick in 2017. That's something he knows, too.
"I'm glad about the sacks," Garrett said when asked how he felt about the outcome. "I'm glad about how we did overall on defense keeping the New York Jets to just three points. Keeping Le'Veon Bell mostly under wraps, knowing he is a threat at all times. The best part is getting the win. Getting that weight off of us. Gaining the momentum to stack some wins.
"Also, disappointed in those penalties and those negative plays against my team. I'm supposed to be a leader on this defense and this team so, I can't be saying that and doing that and also having those negative plays affecting my team like that."
If you think Garrett and the rest of the defensive line are enough to make them a menacing group, allow us to introduce you to the secondary. The Browns have allowed just 14 receptions to receivers in two weeks. Thanks in part to their ferocious pass rush, Cleveland's defensive backs have played lockdown coverage for the majority of their defensive snaps, and they've even been in good position to force turnovers. T.J. Carrie was in the right place at the perfect time to catch a Le'Veon Bell fumble forced by linebacker Joe Schobert, who was all over the field Monday and had a terrific game. The Browns' defense is clearly the stronger unit through two weeks, keeping them in the game in Week 1 and keeping them comfortably ahead in Week 2 by stifling a depleted Jets offense from start to finish.
Bell was clearly New York's best offensive option, yet he wasn't much of a factor, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry and catching 10 passes but for just 6.1 yards per reception. Robby Anderson was New York's best receiving option, catching four passes for 81 yards, but his contributions were so spread out, they didn't make a difference.
This is thanks to Cleveland's consistent pressure, New York being forced to play third-string quarterback Luke Falk, and the Browns' run-stuffing efforts. The Jets never got off the runway offensively Monday, and the entire Browns defense deserves a game ball.