“I don’t coach penalties,’’ Kitchens said. “I’m not answering questions about penalties. I’ve never once, in 20 years of coaching, coached somebody to take a penalty. Except in a situation, where it would help you clock-wise, clock management-wise. So, I don’t know, I don’t know.”
Kitchens actually did coach at least one penalty in this game, the fifth false start of the day on fourth and 1 at the end of the game so he didn’t have to use a timeout. The Browns trailed 27-10 with 2:37 left at the time, and ended up kicking a field goal to produce the final margin.
He said he also had the punt team take a false start with 6:17 left to save a timeout, turning a fourth and 11 into a fourth and 16. The next play resulted in a sack of quarterback Baker Mayfield.
“I didn’t want to use the timeout and I wanted to go for it,’’ Kitchens said. “We had half of our guys running off, half of our guys running on and I wasn’t giving up right then by punting the ball to them. The only chance that we had was to convert for a [first] down and then we didn’t. The defense’s job is to go out there and stop them and they did, so it gave us a chance. I was still trying to win the game."
Three of the other false starts were committed by tight ends or receivers, which should never happen unless a team’s communication system is faulty. Mayfield took it upon himself to get those cleaned up, and he better do so in a hurry, because the Browns are on the road again next week in Denver.
“I’m going to continue to practice different cadences throughout the week until we grind that out, and then come Sunday, we’ll be completely focused each and every snap to do that one job,’’ Mayfield said. “Nowhere else besides doing your job and knowing exactly what we have to do. That’s how you get it fixed.’’
The Browns lead the NFL with 70 accepted penalties, and they’re the first team to have 13 or more penalties in two games this season, including 18 in the opening-day 43-13 rout by the Titans. They’ve also been flagged a league-leading 88 times with 16 declined and two offsetting.
“It's just the consistency and a lack of discipline and accountability right now on Sunday seems to be the problem,’’ said Mayfield. “I've said we can be a great team when we do our job, but we just haven't translated it yet.’’
Kitchens pinned the loss entirely on the three turnovers — on three straight snaps in the first quarter — and the penalties. The turnovers came on two rare Nick Chubb fumbles and a Mayfield interception on a two-handed shovel pass to Jarvis Landry. They put them in a 17-0 hole that was too much overcome, although they came close, closing that gap to 17-10 in the third quarter.
“Tough night guys, everything we said we couldn’t do and win the game, we did,’’ Kitchens said. "So, and it all happened in the first quarter. I was proud of the way they kept fighting. Somewhat got back into the game there at the end, but just couldn’t get back fully into it. Can’t turn the ball over and can’t commit penalties. We ran the ball well, we did exactly what we wanted to do in the run game.
“That was the game plan, we did it. We held them, we stopped them. I thought our defense played well enough to win. Offensively, we just can’t turn the ball over. And that was the game.’’
Kitchens wouldn’t acknowledge that it was particularly disappointing that the sloppy game — played in a driving rain — came after the bye, when the Browns had resolved to clean up the mistakes.
“No, it’s disappointing anytime it happens,’’ he said. “Because you know going in that, we can’t continue to jump offsides, we can’t continue to do the things that get you beat. It’s very evident, that that’s what is getting us beat. It’s turnovers and penalties. That’s it, turnovers and penalties.’’
Kitchens has a hard time being frustrated with Chubb, who’s been the heart and soul of the team. After going 21 games at the start of his pro career without a fumble, he’s now coughed it up three times in the last two games, including once in the loss to the Seahawks. In New England, guard Joel Bitonio kicked the ball out of his hands once after being upended; and Jonathan Jones tomahawked it out at the 4 other when Chubb was going in to score and try to close the gap to 10-7.
“It’s very out of character,’’ said Kitchens. “It means more to him than anything. You know, Nick had a good night. He holds onto the ball, he knows that. I’m not killing Nick Chubb about it, because Nick Chubb is going to be there in the end.’’
Chubb responded with 131 yards on 20 carries, but the Patriots are almost perfect when they win the turnover battle, which they did 3-0.
“It’s not shocking, that’s how people usually win,’’ Kitchens said. “They don’t turn the ball over and they don’t (commit) penalties. You can’t have that big of a discrepancy in penalties and 92-2 now [when they win the turnover battle]. We expect more out of ourselves; we’re just not getting that right now and that needs to change. Everybody in the locker room understands what needs to change.’’
Despite the trifecta of turnovers against the No. 1 takeaway team in the NFL, the Browns closed the gap to 17-10 in the third quarter.
“We had enough resiliency to kind of weather the storm and get back into the game,’’ he said. “We just weren’t able to finish it.’’
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady responded to the scare by finding James White on short screen pass while backed up at his own 16 on third down. White rumbled 59 yards up the left side, with safety Juston Burris closing to make the TD-saving tackle. But Brady eluded Myles Garrett, escaped to his right and hit Julian Edelman with a 14-yard TD pass that made it 24-10 with 6:11 left in the third.
“That’s bad,’’ Kitchens said. “It’s not good. We’ve got to get off the field there. And I think everyone on defense would say that.’’
The margin of victory would’ve been a lot worse, but Denzel Ward blocked a field goal and the defense held New England to 2-of-6 in the red zone.
“We had a lot of confidence going into this game and we got a lot of confidence coming out of this game,’’ Kitchens said. “Because we understand why we lost the game. We lost the game because we turned the ball over and penalties. We need to stop committing penalties. Alright? We need to focus and concentrate on enough on staying on sides, so we don’t end up in first-and-20. Alright? That’s how you win games. And then, take care of the football.’’
The Browns fell to three games behind the 5-2 Ravens and a half-game behind the 2-4 Steelers, who play the Dolphins on Monday Night Football. It seems dire right now, but the Browns’ schedule gets easier down the stretch while the Ravens play a bunch of winning teams.
“Everything’s in front of us,’’ Kitchens said. “So win the games that we’re supposed to win and we’ll be fine. It starts in Denver, that’s who we play next, so let’s have a good practice Wednesday and see where we’re at, at the end of the week. It’s as simple as that. Just do that, win one game and see what happens. There’s nine games left.’’