The margin for errors is always thin against the AFC North defending champion Baltimore Ravens, and the Browns made too many of them to overcome in Sunday's season opener at M&T Bank Stadium.
Cleveland fell in an early hole that grew deeper with a momentum-swinging end to the first half. The second half wasn't much better, as Cleveland fell, 38-6, in Kevin Stefanski's debut as head coach.
"First of all, credit goes to the Baltimore Ravens They did a nice job. They beat us. They deserved to win. They did a great job. They outcoached us and outplayed us," Stefanski said. "We did a lot of things that losing teams do. We turned it over three times. Eight penalties, three of which were personal foul facemasks, which were killer. Did not play complementary football. Put our defense in a tough spot a bunch. That is my responsibility. That is on me."
The Browns will get another opportunity for their first win of the season in a hurry when they host Cincinnati for Thursday Night Football at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"I just think the makeup of this team, there is a different attitude about it," QB Baker Mayfield said. "We are going to watch the film and get it out of our system. That is the good thing about having a short week. We don't have to dwell on it. We will watch it, realize where we went wrong, correct those mistakes and move onto Cincinnati. We don't have a lot of time to dwell on the negative things."
The Ravens, winners of 15 of their last 17 regular season games thanks largely to a dominant ground attack, hurt Cleveland most through the air on this day. Reigning MVP Lamar Jackson completed 20-of-25 for 275 yards and three touchdowns while rushing seven times for 45 yards. Cleveland limited the Ravens to 107 on the ground but just couldn't get enough stops.
"Obviously, gave up too many points, but we put the defense in some awful spots," Stefanski said. "I know there are plays that we want back. Again, credit to them. They did a nice job, but we have a lot to clean up and we have to clean it up quickly."
Baker Mayfield completed 21-of-39 passes for 189 yards, a touchdown and an interception on a day when the Browns offense couldn't finish a handful of promising drives when the game was still in balance. The Browns committed three turnovers — an interception and two fumbles — and were also hampered by a missed field goal and missed extra point.
Check out photos of the Browns against the Ravens
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 23 carries and 132 yards. Jarvis Landry led all Browns receivers with five catches for 61 yards.
The Browns were dealt some tough blows from an injury standpoint throughout the game, as rookie T Jedrick Wills (leg) and rookie LB Jacob Phillips (knee) were forced out during the second half.
The start wasn't ideal, as a Mayfield interception on the first series led to a quick seven points for the Ravens. Mayfield's intended pass for KhaDarel Hodge was tipped by Calais Campbell and snagged near the grass by a crouching Marlon Humphrey. The Ravens turned the turnover into a quick touchdown when Jackson fired a short pass to Mark Andrews for the score.
Andrews was on the receiving end of two of Jackson's three touchdowns. Marquise Brown led all receivers with five catches for 101 yards while Willie Snead IV hauled in a touchdown in the third quarter.
Cleveland overcame a stuffed fake punt attempt to close the gap near the end of the first quarter, mounting its best drive of the game after limiting the Ravens to a field goal. A 29-yard run by Chubb and a 22-yarder by Hunt spurred a scoring drive that ended with Mayfield finding a wide-open David Njoku for a 1-yard touchdown.
Baltimore extended its lead late in the second quarter with an impressive, 99-yard drive that took nearly 6 minutes off the clock. J.K. Dobbins, a rookie out of Ohio State, capped the possession with his first of two touchdowns to put the Ravens ahead, 17-6, with 2:53 left in the first half.
"We have them pinned back, we get a three-and-out and we get the ball midfield," Stefanski said. "Listen, it is a three-pronged attack – offense, defense and special teams – and I do not think any of our phases won today so credit to the Baltimore Ravens."
With a chance to close the gap late in the half, the Browns failed to convert a third-and-short and then came away with no points when Austin Seibert missed a 41-yard field goal attempt.
"I expect him to make those kicks," Stefanski said. "I hold him to the same standard that we hold every other player on this team. He has to make those kicks."
Baltimore took full advantage, moving 69 yards in 35 seconds and finding the end zone again with another Andrews touchdown. That gave the Ravens a sizeable lead it would not relinquish the rest of the way.