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Another season-opening dud for the Browns

By MARY KAY CABOT • Sep 8, 2019 at 5:25 PM

CLEVELAND — The Browns’ season of hype and hope began with a huge yellow caution flag Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Actually 18 of them. Baker Mayfield threw three interceptions and the Browns committed 18 penalties for 182 yards en route to a 43-13 loss to the Titans in the opener at FirstEnergy Stadium.

Titans tight end Delanie Walker said heading into the game that he was glad the Browns were getting all the hype and that everything was “Cleveland this, Cleveland that.”

Titans coach Mike Vrabel also noted that the Titans never get hype so he didn’t know what that would feel like.

Then they went out and played like the team that deserved the offseason buzz.

The Browns scored on their opening possession — but rookie kicker Austin Seibert missed the extra point — and then the Titans took it to the Browns the rest of the game.

Mayfield threw three fourth-quarter interceptions that all resulted in Titans touchdowns to blow open the game. The first two ended in touchdown passes from Marcus Mariota to Walker, who had heard enough about the Browns all offseason. The third was a 38-yard pick-six by cornerback Malcolm Butler.

The Browns, who had been warned by coach Freddie Kitchens about penalties in the first game, committed 10 for 107 yards in the first half alone, and the yellow flags were far too much to overcome. They also had two that were declined. On the Titans’ first touchdown drive, the Browns committed four defensive penalties. The 18 were the most by the Browns since 1951.

Six of the penalties were 15-yarders for things like roughing, personal fouls and unnecessary roughness — the sign of an undisciplined team.

Starting left tackle Greg Robinson was ejected from the game for kicking defensive lineman Austin Johnson in the head.

The loss kept the Browns winless for 15 straight openers, dating back to 2004.

It spoiled the head coaching debut of Kitchens, who didn’t have his team ready to play. Kitchens was outcoached in his debut by Vrabel, the Akron native and former Ohio State star.

Mayfield (25-of-38, 285 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs, 64.0 rating) was sacked five times, including once in the end zone for a Titans safety. He got up limping and aching after a couple of those sacks.

Odell Beckham Jr. caught seven passes for 71 yards in his Browns debut and Myles Garrett had two sacks.

The remaining few fans booed the Browns off the field after it was over.

“We’ve got a locker room full of disappointment right now, which we should have,” Kitchens said after the game. "This is not the way we want to be represented. We lost our discipline, we lost our composure.. . . .But it’s one game. We’re going to be tested. Adversity, you take it and you either run together and run toward each other, or run away. And we’re going to run toward each other.

“It’s one game. Each game counts one time, and that’s the way we’re going to approach it.”

The Browns got off to a horrible start on a third-quarter drive with a false start and a holding penalty. But Mayfield hit Jarvis Landry with a 23-yard pass on the left side to convert a third and 16 and then a 34-yarder to the Titans’ 3. He found David Njoku for a 3-yard TD pass over the middle to pull the Browns to within 15-13 with 2:10 left in the third quarter and revive the frustrated crowd.

But the Titans stormed right back with a 75-yard screen pass for a touchdown from Mariota to Derrick Henry, who took the short pass and then outraced Myles Garrett and Morgan Burnett to the end zone to extend the lead to 22-13 with 1:57 left in the third.

 

Beckham Jr.'s day

Beckham’s first catch in a Browns uniform was a 16-yard sideline route on the opening drive to the Titans’ 26. By the end of the half, he had caught 6-of-7 targets for 59 yards, including a long gain of 24 yards on the Browns’ final possession of the half.

Overall, he caught seven passes for 71 yards.

On the same drive, Beckham was flagged 10 yards for offensive pass interference for pushing off cornerback Malcolm Butler. Fans booed lustily over the scoreboard replay, which showed it was questionable, but Kitchens didn’t throw the challenge flag.

 

Myles Garrett’s afternoon

Garrett, working against backup left tackle Dennis Kelly, had one sack in the first half and committed one 15-yard unnecessary roughness call when he clocked tight end Delanie Walker across the facemask.

Things got a little chippy between the Browns and Walker, who said heading in that he was glad Cleveland was getting all the hype and that everything was “Cleveland this, Cleveland that.’’

 

More about those penalties

By halftime, the Browns had 10 penalties for 107 yards — exactly what they hoped to avoid. By the end of the third quarter, they were up to 14 penalties for 142 yards. After the Browns committed 13 penalties in the second preseason game against the Colts, Kitchens vowed to get it cleaned up. He was adamant about a clean game in the opener.

“We did a study, and however long we did the study, over the past 10 years, the first game of the regular season is the game that is most penalized on a year-in and year-out basis across the league,’’ he said Friday. “That tells me that guys are either not playing with technique or do not really have a feel on what they call and what they do not call. I think our officials do a great job and we have to make sure we do our part by playing with good technique. You are more susceptible the first game of the year. It is proven. We recognize that, we have addressed it and hopefully, that helps.”

It didn’t.

“That’s not how we practice, that’s not how we prepare,” Kitchens said after the loss. “. . . Everybody takes the blame for that.

“You can’t fall behind the sticks every time you get the ball. You can’t be second and 20. We know that and we’ll get it corrected. Hopefully in one game we got it all behind us.”

 

Greg Robinson ejected

Robinson had a rough first half all the way around and was ultimately ejected late in the half for kicking defensive lineman Austin Johnson. Robinson had been knocked over at the end of a play, and when Johnson fell toward him, Robinson kicked him in the helmet. With the Browns trailing 12-6 and reeling from all the penalties, Robinson was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, and after Kitchens called the officials over for an explanation, Robinson was ejected.

“We don’t tolerate that. It’s unacceptable,” Kitchens said when asked about the play after the game.

Robinson had also been flagged 15 yards for a blindside block on the Browns’ first drive.

Robinson was replaced by Kendall Lamm, who suffered a knee injury on the next drive when Mayfield was sacked in the end zone for a safety by Cameron Wake.

With Lamm sidelined for the rest of the game and the Browns down to five offensive linemen, they brought newly acquired guard Justin McCray in at right tackle and moved Chris Hubbard over to the left side.

 

Browns opened scoring

The Browns’ opening drive went just about as planned, with Mayfield marching downfield and Dontrell Hilliard punching it in from the 1. Unfortunately for the Browns, rookie kicker Austin Seibert missed the extra point — his first kick in a real NFL game.

The field goal was set up by 35-yard pass from Mayfield to Higgins.

 

Up next

The Browns visit the Jets on Monday Night Football, Sept. 16.

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