Penalties, costly mistakes and more penalties turned the Browns’ much-anticipated 2019 season opener into a downer.
The Browns came out hot with an early touchdown but turned into their own worst enemies the rest of the way, committing 18 penalties and surrendering a handful of big plays en route to a 43-13 loss. Cleveland was within a score late in the third quarter before Tennessee ran away with the game, scoring 28 unanswered points.
The Browns, who finished with 182 yards in penalties -- 128 more than the Titans, who committed just five -- haven’t won their season opener since 2004.
Baker Mayfield, who played behind a patchwork offensive line for the majority of the game because of an ejection and an injury, finished 25-of-38 for 285 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions, all of which came as the Browns tried to rally back from a nine-point deficit entering the fourth quarter.
Marcus Mariota threw for 248 yards and three touchdowns while executing a Tennessee offense that thrived on big plays and didn’t commit any turnovers. Derrick Henry racked up 159 yards of offense and two touchdowns while rookie A.J. Brown caught two of Mariota’s longest throws to finish with three catches and 100 yards.
The Browns cut into a nine-point Titans lead in the third quarter when the offense came to life with three big Mayfield throws.
Facing a third-and-long, Mayfield avoided pressure, bought time and found Jarvis Landry for a 23-yard gain. He followed with a 34-yarder to Landry down the right sideline and fired a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end David Njoku with 2:10 to play in the third quarter.
The momentum surge was short-lived.
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On the first play of the ensuing drive following the Njoku touchdown, Mariota found Derrick Henry on a short screen that turned into the longest play of the game, a 75-yard touchdown that stretched the advantage back to nine. The Titans rattled off touchdowns -- both on Mariota touchdown passes to tight end Delanie Walker -- on the next two drives that were set up on a short field after Mayfield’s interceptions.
Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler capped the frustrating afternoon with a pick-six with 3:02 to play.
The first half couldn’t have started any better for the Browns, but it was a mess after a sizzling opening drive. All in all, Cleveland was fortunate to trail just 12-6 at the break.
Mayfield and the Browns offense marched 73 yards down the field and overcame a 15-yard personal foul along the way. Rashard Higgins’ 35-yard catch down the seam set up Dontrell Hilliard’s first-ever rushing touchdown, a 4-yarder less than 5 minutes into the game. Per NFL Research, it marked the first time Cleveland opened the season with a touchdown since 1995.
Sloppy play on both sides of the ball put a quick end to the feel-good vibes.
The Browns were penalized 10 times for 107 yards in the first half. A good chunk of those transgressions came on a Titans touchdown drive, punctuated by a short Henry run, that put Cleveland in its first hole of the season with 9:39 to play in the second quarter.
The undisciplined play hit the offense hard when left tackle Greg Robinson was ejected for kicking a player late in the second half. An injury to Robinson’s replacement, Kendall Lamm, forced Cleveland to move right tackle Chris Hubbard to the left and insert guard Justin McCray, who was acquired from the Packers last week, at right tackle.
The Titans took advantage of the Browns’ precarious situation with five sacks -- the same number Cleveland surrendered during the entire second half of last season.
The Browns are back in action Monday night when they hit the road to face the New York Jets.