The energy and optimism neared all-time highs on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, but a multitude of mental errors resulted in a 43-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Here are our three big takeaways from the defeat.
Clean it up
Fans leaving FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday might remember Baker Mayfield’s long pass to Jarvis Landry, or his strike to Rashard Higgins, but it’s more likely they’ll predominantly recall the color yellow. Lots and lots of yellow.
The Browns were flagged for 14 penalties for 142 yards in the first three quarters of action Sunday, essentially gifting Tennessee a touchdown on a first-half drive and helping to bury their own offense plenty with a variety of false starts, holds and personal fouls. In fact, when Mayfield led a quick scoring drive late in the third, it was refreshing to not see play interrupted by a flag.
Freddie Kitchens was hot after the Browns’ Preseason Week 2 win over Indianapolis because of penalties, but that wasn’t even close to Sunday’s flag fest. Cleveland was forced to shuffle its line because Greg Robinson was ejected. Denzel Ward was twice flagged for holding inside the Browns’ red zone setting up the Titans for eventual touchdowns. Two would-be third-down stops were overruled by penalties. And a hold early in the fourth forced the Browns to go to the air on second-and-long, resulting in a Kevin Byard interception.
Simply, the positive momentum gained from an opening drive touchdown was quickly lost due to penalties, which marred the entire afternoon for the Browns. The final tally: 18 penalties (a franchise record) for 182 yards.
Check out photos of the Tennessee Titans at Cleveland Browns
Availability, accountability, dependability
Kitchens often emphasizes these three keys when it comes to what he expects from his players. All three became glaring issues in different parts of the game Sunday.
We covered the penalties, which fill out the accountability category. But penalties also affected the availability department in regards to Greg Robinson, who became unavailable when he was ejected. Availability issues continued down the line after Robinson’s departure when Kendall Lamm left with a knee injury and did not return, forcing recent addition Justin McCray to right tackle and usual right tackle Chris Hubbard to the left side. The result was a constantly harassed Mayfield, who was forced to throw as the deficit grew, and ended up tossing three interceptions as a result.
Dependability crosses the entire team, as it was unable to get a stop after Mayfield brought the Browns within two late in the third quarter. The team was also unable to avoid constantly putting itself behind the sticks and behind schedule with, again, penalties.
There are 15 games left to play
Sunday was deflating, no doubt. An excited energy filled the stadium and only grew after the opening touchdown drive, but the penalties and the mistakes and Titans scores ended up sucking it all out of the air.
But fret not, for there are 15 more contests to play.
With the new additions, this wasn’t just going to be a sprint to 16-0. That’s unrealistic to expect, no matter what team takes the field. It is the NFL.
There’s no overreaction quite like Monday of Week 1, and the takes will be hot, the criticism fierce. Endure it, for another opportunity to secure a victory awaits in one week when the Browns face the New York Jets on Monday Night Football.
This week will be about correcting mistakes and learning from the Week 1 experience, the energy and to not let it affect play negatively. There were multiple moments in which such emotions took over and hurt the Browns. They’ll learn from that and take that lesson with them as they move onto New York.