INDIANAPOLIS -- Freddie Kitchens' football team is 2-0 in the preseason and earned its first road win Saturday evening, but if you'd have seen him after the game, you wouldn't know it.
Kitchens walked off the field after a 21-18 victory over the Indianapolis Colts and didn't hold back when relaying his displeasure with his team's penchant for attracting yellow flags.
"I think we made too many mistakes," Kitchens said flatly during his postgame press conference. "You're not going to win football games with the amount of mistakes that we made, the penalties that we made, the missed tackles that we had, missed opportunities because of the penalties. You're not going to win very many games like that."
Check out photos of the Cleveland Browns vs the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium by team photographer Matt Starkey
Kitchens wasn't wrong. Saturday was littered with flags, especially in the second half as pace of play ground to a crawl due to the numerous penalties. The Browns and Colts combined to commit a total if 29 penalties for 283 yards -- and that was just the penalties accepted.
Of that total, the Browns committed 13 of those penalties for 119 yards. Kitchens' team wasn't even the worst offender, but 13 is still simply too many flags for a team that is aiming to consistently win.
"It was not disappointing from a competitive standpoint," Kitchens elaborated. ... "I think we've got to play smarter. We want a smart, tough football team. That's what I said from the beginning. We were not smart tonight."
A healthy amount of those penalties were committed by players who are still green in this league. Rookie guard Drew Forbes was flagged for holding, as was second-year center/guard Austin Corbett. Rookie safety Sheldrick Redwine was flagged for illegal use of his helmet, when a replay showed he led with his shoulder, not his headgear.
J.T. Hassell incurred two penalties on one play: one for running out of bounds and returning to the field of play, and another for a hit that was deemed unnecessarily rough due to his use of his helmet. But an observer might disagree with the latter, which was a hard hit on Colts returner Nyheim Hines, who took a risk in fielding a punt with Hassell bearing down on him without calling for a fair catch.
None of those explanations matter to Kitchens, though, because arguments don't lead to significant change in a close game (though if they get loud enough, they can result in offseason rule changes well after the fact). They're just wasted breath in a league that doesn't have time for excuses -- or losses.
"I'm really, really upset about the penalties because that's not who we are," Kitchens explained. "That's not who we want to be and that's not our expectation. But I'll say this: There is a transition that goes on as a rookie in understanding what gets called, what doesn't get called. Without knowing specifics, I would say a lot of those penalties we had were rookies. I think it's the fact that it is the preseason. They need to learn what gets called and what doesn't. But again, it's not acceptable."
Last week, the Browns began with a penalty on the opening kickoff, an error they erased with a lightning-fast scoring drive. From there, they tightened up and largely eliminated the mistakes, save for a holding call that backed them out of field goal range at the end of the first half.
They had a similar mistake turn an attempt that was looking to be well within the range of any professional kicker into a long-range try. Greg Joseph missed wide right from 53 yards as a result, making it two weeks in which flags took possible points off the board for the Browns.
Both times, Garrett Gilbert was the quarterback on the field but was not the offending party. He was the one who was sacked on a final play in Week 1, though, and would like to see points on the field instead of turf in his face.
"Even in wins, there's plenty to work on and we made our fair share of mistakes as far as penalties are concerned, putting ourselves behind the chain," Gilbert said Saturday. "Our group there at the end of the first half cost ourselves three points getting knocked out of field goal range. We turned a 30-yard chip shot into a 55-yarder or whatever it was. We've got to play better situational football. And that goes across the board, offense, defense and special teams. There's going to be plenty to see on tape that we're going to have to fix."
The positive: The Browns won both games, handily taking care of Washington and hanging on to win over Indianapolis. The focus moving forward, though, is making less mistakes, both mentally and physically. That means less missed tackles, less penalties and more success. When Kitchens' team reaches that point, he knows they'll be a tough opponent for any of the other 31 teams in the NFL.
"We just have to do better," Kitchens said. "We gotta do a better job of making the plays that are just there to be made. I think our expectations for ourselves are a lot higher than what we demonstrated today."