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It wasn't meant to go down like that. After years of being the whipping boys of the NFL, the proud yet beleaguered Cleveland Browns fans finally had something to be positive about on opening day. Forget the streak of 13 straight losses in Week 1 of the NFL. Forget the record of just 11 wins in four seasons, and average of less than three wins a year. That was the past, this is now. In 2019, the Browns were heading to the promised land.
An electric offense would be led by the supremely confident Baker Mayfield, with his new partner in crime Odell Beckham Jr., who is reunited with his old college buddy Jarvis Landry, with it all underpinned by running back sensation Nick Chubb.
The Browns were ready to bring the pain against an unfancied Tennessee Titans visiting as heavy road underdogs. Ready to live up the all the preseason hype that has anointed the Browns as the de facto winners of the AFC North, and a Super Bowl pick so hipster that it's been hanging out in bar east of Shoreditch sipping an Albanian craft beer whilst mixing a DJ set made up entirely of Sonic Youth covers.
But the Titans didn't just forget to read the script, they changed the whole damn movie. A 43-13 beat down in a devastating performance on both sides of the ball left the Browns humbled, Baker uncharacteristically subdued, and improbably engendering concern with some about the viability of a franchise that just a week ago had fans saying they heading to the playoffs.
Now Cleveland heads to New York (well, the stadium is actually in New Jersey) to take on the Jets on ESPN's Monday Night Football.
Was it just a blip? Is head coach Freddie Kitchens the man for the job? What if they fall to 0-2 with the prospect of the formidable reigning NFC champions the LA Rams coming into view next weekend? It wasn't meant to go down like that.
But where did it all go wrong?
The Offense fell flat
The Browns clearly underperformed in almost every area against Tennessee. The opening drive was fluent enough, scoring on the possession, and the 3rd quarter drive that ended in a David Njoku TD following a pair of strikes fired to Landry was a thing of beauty.
Aside from that, the offense fell apart. The line struggled all afternoon, allowing five sacks on Mayfield, including one for a safety.
Their frustration at being man handled by the Titans was exemplified when their left tackle Greg Robinson was ejected for kicking an opponent in the face -- which is usually not a great sign of discipline.
As a result, the pressure on Mayfield, and the deep hole that the Browns found themselves as the game progressed led to an erratic performance from the Cleveland QB.
His passes ranged from laser sharp bullets to wayward scattergun heaves, with the interception to safety Kevin Byard most notable. Although he is typically that type of risk-taking, Brett Favre-style gunslinger, this was a rattled player who was unable to pull his side back into things, in contrast with other Week 1 QB's including Kyler Murray, the rookie Arizona Cardinal, who masterminded an improbable comeback against the Lions.
Defensively, things weren't much better. The much-vaunted pass rush led by Myles Garrett flattered to deceive, and for much of the game were kept in check by the Titans, who protected Marcus Mariota effectively and set up the run comfortably.
Running back Derrick Henry cashed in on smart play calling by the new Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, hitting 20.93 MPH, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, on his 75-yard TD reception after Tennessee's O-line outmanoeuvred their Browns counterparts.
Encouragingly for the Browns, the Jets Offensive line fared little better than Cleveland's in Week 1, allowing Sam Darnold to be sacked 4 times. Plus, New York's mediocre offense -- Le'Veon Bell notwithstanding -- was further weakened this week with the news that receiver Quincy Enunwa is out for the season. (Demaryius Thomas was hurriedly picked up by the Jets from the Patriots, a fine receiver, but in the twilight of his career).
Defensively, though Gang Green are a different proposition, and Mayfield may find himself under similar pressure again on Monday night if Leonard Williams & co have their way. Under new coordinator Gregg Williams' direction, the Jets took DT Quinnen Williams in the first round of the draft, added pro-bowler CJ Mosley to their linebacking corp and in Jamal Adams have one of the Top 10 safeties in the NFL.
After their weak start to the season, it'll be a high-pressure environment at Met Life, and Cleveland have a number of young players, not to mention a young head coach, who will need to prevent that Week 1 defeat from phasing them and ignore the hype.
Kitchens polarises opinion in his first full season as a head coach in the NFL. Some acknowledge his amiable, down to earth demeanour, coupled with his impact on Mayfield (a former Alabama QB, Kitchens was promoted to the role after operating as offensive coordinator during the QBs rookie season) and argue that it is exactly what an ego charged Cleveland locker room needs.
While others are concerned at his inexperience and a perceived lack of control. Mayfield is outspoken to the press, Odell Beckham is wearing $190K watches during matches, not to mention that the team gave up 182 yards in penalties in the loss to the Titans.
Kitchens has wisely downplayed any overreaction to Week 1, but the rookie head coach knows that he's inherited a franchise with a deep-rooted losing mentality and will desperately want to readdress the balance of the season before it's too late.
They're not in must win territory by any stretch, but you get the feeling that another defeat may just set in that sinking feeling. With LA coming into view, things could fall apart quickly.
We all know what usually happens to 0-3 teams right? It's rarely the promised land.