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Browns 'didn't play our best when it mattered,' regret poor 2nd-half performance vs. Chiefs

The Browns surrendered 23 points in the second half and failed to put together a full 60-minute quality effort vs. Kansas City

As Kevin Stefanski stood at the podium and discussed the array of errors that led to a crushing season-opening loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, he continuously pointed to one factor that summed up what went wrong in Kansas City.

"Against a team like this, you've got to play a 60-minute football game," Stefanski said. "We didn't do that."

After starting with perhaps one of the best first-half performances they could've asked for in a hostile away territory, the Browns failed to overcome costly second-half mistakes and surrendered 23 points in the final two quarters in a 33-29 Week 1 loss. Two fumbles, two Travis Kelce red-zone touchdowns and another 75-yard touchdown spoiled a productive, commanding first half of work from both sides of the ball and likely gave Cleveland one of the toughest losses it'll face in 2021.

"We didn't play our best when it mattered. We didn't coach our best when it mattered" Stefanski said. "Versus a team like this, you've got to play a 60-minute football game.

"You don't get anything for playing a 30-minute game."

The Browns were dominant in those first 30 minutes.

The offense set the tone. Baker Mayfield was in mid-season form and zipped passes throughout the entirety of the first two quarters, connecting on 13 of his 17 attempts for 231 yards and pushing the Browns into the red zone. Nick Chubb finished things from there with 4- and 18-yard touchdowns, while WR Jarvis Landry dipped into the early scoring with a 4-yard score — one of many creative and successful play calls Stefanski used to kickstart the offense early.

Cleveland was humming on offense, while its defense stymied Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. The unit, one full of All-Pro talent in Kelce, WR Tyreek Hill and Mahomes, was held to just one touchdown in the half. Mahomes passed for 169 yards in the half but had zero touchdowns through the air to show for it. 

The Browns had the Chiefs right where they wanted them as they went into halftime with a 22-10 lead.

"In critical situations, you have to be able to execute," Mayfield said. "We did early on in the game."

The second half was a different story.

A 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive from Mahomes re-energized the crowd of 76,000 in Arrowhead and ended with Kelce bulldozing his way through Browns defenders into the end zone. Kelce, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound tight end behemoth, has built his career on such plays, but the Browns still had the lead if their offense could pace ahead.

Their chance to do so was a quick one. It ended as soon as Chubb fumbled on first-and-10 from the Browns' 48 on the ensuing drive. The Chiefs recovered and were held to just a field goal to 22-20, and the cushion the Browns built in the first half was reduced to rubble.

"There's no excuse for that," Chubb said. "I take complete blame. The momentum shift and all, that was on me."

The final 20 minutes were full of similar costly errors. The Browns managed to score a touchdown and reclaim a 29-20 lead in that span, but it only lasted for three minutes. 

Mahomes hit Hill, left in single-man coverage, for a 75-yard strike to breathe even more air into the Kansas City comeback. They got the ball back on their own 15 for the next sequence after punter Jamie Gillan mishandled a snap. Three plays later, the Chiefs were back into the end zone on yet another short pass to Kelce and had amassed a four-point lead.

"We probably burnt ourselves on a lot of things," safety John Johnson III said. "It's stuff to learn from."

The result was settled with one final mistake: Mayfield tossed an interception on first-and-10 from Cleveland's own 48 with just over a minute left. The throw was the only errant pass Mayfield had all game and clouded an otherwise outstanding performance of 321 passing yards and 21-of-28 completions.

"Bad ball," Mayfield said. "I've gotta put that one on the sideline. That's on me, and I expect to be a whole lot better."

The Browns as a whole are expecting to be a whole lot better. They know they can be — they proved it with their first 30 minutes of football.

But one mostly mistake-free half of football never guarantees a win. It's something Stefanski knows he doesn't need to remind his team about, but it was the only way he could truly sum up what went wrong Sunday in Arrowhead.

"It's a 60-minute game," he said. "You have to play a 60-minute game."

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