Myles Garrett hasn't let go of the feeling of defeat that struck the Browns following their playoff loss to the Chiefs last season.
"I feel like every great competitor kind of holds onto it," he said Friday after the Browns' final practice before heading to Kansas City for Sunday's Week 1 contest. "You turn the page and there's always another game or practice, but you hold onto those for putting it in that fire."
The fire for Garrett has been burning ever since that 22-17 loss on Jan. 17 at Arrowhead Stadium. The Browns were six points away from a trip to the AFC Championship Game, and Garrett, who said he suffered an oblique injury in the game and was still dealing with after-effects from his mid-season bout with COVID-19, wishes he could've done more beyond his two tackles and one sack.
Now, Garrett feels as though his endurance and health is restored — and he wouldn't want to start the season against anyone else.
"I sure don't mind it," he said. "I like to be able to go against the best, and I'm sure that the rest of the guys are eager for the challenge as well.
"We have to go in there and attack them."
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Kansas City Chiefs
Garrett, a five-year veteran who is already 20 sacks away from breaking the franchise record, is leading a Browns defense that looks much different than the unit from their last meeting in Kansas City. The group is likely to start just four players who were on the field from the playoff game — Garrett, CB Denzel Ward, S Ronnie Harrison Jr. and LB Mack Wilson — and is relying on new leaders in S John Johnson III, LB Anthony Walker Jr. and DE Jadeveon Clowney.
Their opposition will look much different, too.
The Chiefs offensive line will feature new starters at every position, three of which belong to players who will take their first NFL snaps Sunday. C Creed Humphrey (2021 second-round pick), RG Trey Smith (2021 sixth-round pick) and RT Lucas Niang (2020 third-round pick) are expected to start. Niang isn't a rookie, but he missed his first NFL season after opting out of last year due to the pandemic.
LT Orlando Brown Jr., a two-time Pro Bowler acquired via trade from the Ravens over the offseason, and LG Joe Thuney, who signed with Kansas City after five years in New England, balance the group with experience.
For the Chiefs, the matchup is a chance to show their new-look O-Line is capable of protecting All-Pro quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The Browns, meanwhile, are looking to take advantage of perhaps the most unproven group of the Chiefs roster.
"We're not selling them short, and we're not taking it for granted," Garrett said. "They've put in the same kind of work we have. We have to go out there and test them."
Getting past a new-look offensive line is one challenge. Stopping Mahomes from extending plays and completing tricky passes is another.
Garrett saw first-hand how difficult it is to do both in the playoff game. Mahomes completed 21-of-30 passes for 255 yards and one touchdown before he left the game in the third quarter due to a concussion. The Browns didn't sack Mahomes once, but the addition of Clowney, the 2014 first overall pick, is one reason why the Browns believe they're better equipped to handle shifty quarterbacks such as Mahomes.
"I wouldn't say he's quite the Houdini as Lamar (Jackson) is, but he's got his own way of being slippery in that pocket," Garrett said. "He has more speed than you expect him to have. You have to go out there and plant one on him. You can't be trying to knock him down with your shoulder. He's smart and experienced and plays him like he's one of the best — because he is."
Garrett is confident, though, that the Browns and their new batch of defensive leaders can set the tone.
Doing so against the Chiefs, losers of just six games in the last two seasons, would send a message to the rest of the NFL: The Browns' defense is legit, and it's going to thrust them even higher among the conversation of Super Bowl candidates.
Garrett helped the Browns reach that level last season before that painful loss in Kansas City.
That's when his fire started, and it's not going out anytime soon.
"You can't let it go out," he said. "You've got to start the campaign with a 'W.' That's what matters most."