Five thoughts on the Cleveland Browns 20-13 loss to the Rams:
GOTTA TAKE ADVANTAGE: If there’s one problem the 2019 Browns seem to have — especially on offense — it’s being able to sustain success.
It was on display in Week 1, when the Browns took the opening kickoff right down the field against the Titans, scored a touchdown and then did nothing for the next two quarters.
It was on display against the Jets, where the Browns outplayed New York, beat New York, but looked choppy in doing so.
And it was on display Sunday night against the Rams.
While many have focused on the fourth-and-9 draw to Nick Chubb, or the four passes from the 4 in the final minute of regulation, the biggest moment of the game for me came in the third quarter.
The Browns had just answered a Rams touchdown drive with one of their own, and led 13-10 with less than five minutes to go in the period.
On a first down from his own 40, LA quarterback Jared Goff attempted a pass to the near line. Browns defensive back T.J. Carrie was able to get in front of the low throw and pick it, right at about midfield.
That set up the Browns at midfield, with the lead and momentum.
Score a touchdown there, and Cleveland takes control of the game. Gain 20 yards and kick a field goal and you put more pressure on the Rams.
Instead, the Browns had one of their ugliest possessions of the game. Mayfield took a snap from shotgun on first down, and their appeared to be a miscommunication between the tailback — Chubb — and him.
Mayfield kept the ball, fumbled, but the Browns recovered.
A handoff went nowhere, and on third down, Mayfield and receiver Jarvis Landry appeared to be on different pages.
“Miscommunication” has been a word used quite a bit in the first three weeks.
Then punter Jamie Gillan shanked a punt, the Rams scored a touchdown and the Browns never led again.
To me, the fumble on first down — right after it appeared the Browns were about to take control — has been a microcosm of the season: There’s the opportunity, here comes a self-inflicted wound to thwart it.
BAKER ON THE RUN: Baker Mayfield seems to be at his best when he takes the snap and fires.
But when he stands there in the pocket, or rolls this season, things almost never go right.
This is a contrast to last season. A few of the best plays Baker made came when he was on the run. There were the TD throws outside the pocket to Landry against the Panthers, and to Higgins against the Falcons.
But Sunday, every time Baker left the pocket, problems ensued. “Baker rolls right” was a recipe for — at best — an incompletion.
Yes, the offensive line hasn’t been good. But there were times against the Rams where Baker rolled out of the pocket when it appeared he didn’t need to.
Next week will be the Browns fourth game — representing the quarter pole of the season. If Mayfield and the offense can’t find some kind of rhythm, I think it’s time to be concerned.
About Baker, and about the prospects for this year.
TAKING THE BLAME: Freddie Kitchens took the blame for the Browns loss.
Usually, that candor can be refreshing. But with Kitchens, it’s taking on a different feeling.
In the 1990s, there was a Saturday Night Live parody commercial where a shipping company would take your late package — which you irresponsibly forgot to send. Then they would claim to the recipient that they — the company — were at fault:
“We’ll take the package, and the blame.”
That’s how I feel about Kitchens.
He’s so intent on taking all the heat for his mistakes — he did the same thing after the Week 1 debacle against the Titans — that it almost comes off as insincere.
“Go write your article and say that I messed the game up. Go write your article and say that it is my fault that things are not looking like it did last year,” he said.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he was channeling me in seventh grade after a bad report card. In those days, I’d go so over-the-top in self criticism that I thought my parents would take pity on me.
It didn’t work. My parents knew my game too well by then.
I’m not saying that’s what Kitchens is doing, only that comments like that are what it reminds me of. After all, he did make lots of mistakes.
DRAW: There are a number of coaches who have succeeded calling their plays while being the head coach.
Sean McVay of the Rams is an example.
But I tend to think that a head coach — especially a first time head coach — is usually taking on too much by calling plays while leading the team.
Maybe that explains a draw on fourth-and-9? Or not using Nick Chubb once at the Rams’ 4 in the final minute?
It’s tough being a first time NFL head coach. It’s tough being a playcaller when you have never done it for a full season.
Kitchens has taken on both jobs. I wonder if maybe it’s too much.
THEN AGAIN: Maybe we’re expecting too much from this team.
Not only do the Browns feature numerous new pieces on the offense, but they also played last night without two of their top receivers from a year ago — Rashard Higgins and David Njoku.
Meanwhile, the defense has been ravaged with injuries. Linebacker Christian Kirksey — and the entire starting secondary — missed the game last night.
I thought the defense played well, all things considered. But the offense hasn’t had many plays where all of their weapons have been on the field at the same time.
Maybe it’s just gonna take longer to click than we had hoped.
RING OF HONOR: The Browns put former linebacker Clay Matthews in their Ring of Honor Sunday Night.
Matthews is a candidate for the Hall of Fame, and I think this honor may have been a tool by the team to boost his candidacy.
Not that Matthews should need much help. In a 19-year career that included 16 years with the Browns, Matthews led the league in combined tackles four times and forced fumbles once. In 1992, he had nine sacks. The year before, he had three interceptions.
Sometimes he was a pass rusher. Sometimes he played in coverage.
But he always played well.
He was overlooked to a degree. In his era, there were linebackers like Lawrence Taylor and Mike Singletary, and later Junior Seau.
Matthews’ greatness wasn’t a leap-off-the-page thing. It was about consistency. He always did his job.
When I think of Matthews, I think of a pair of plays he made in the 1989 season, two weeks apart.
The first was in Houston, two days before Christmas. The Browns went into the game 8-6-1. A win over the Oilers would mean their fourth AFC Central title in five years, and five straight playoff appearances.
A loss essentially would end the season.
In the fourth quarter, with the Browns nursing a slim lead, Oilers quarterback Warren Moon tried to receive a shotgun snap that went over his head and behind him. Matthews retrieved the ball.
A nine-year-old child in North Olmsted, Ohio, jumped for joy.
But then, Matthews turned and tried to lateral the ball to the gigantic Chris Pike. The ball went over Pike’s head and the Oilers recovered.
What should have been a game-securing turnover had suddenly breathed new life into the Astrodome. And Moon threw a touchdown pass on the next play to give Houston the lead.
But the Browns, behind quarterback Bernie Kosar and fullback Kevin Mack, answered with a touchdown drive in the final seconds. The Browns won the game and the division.
They have yet to win another.
Two weeks later in the AFC divisional playoffs, the Browns were leading Buffalo 34-30, but quarterback Jim Kelly and tailback Thurman Thomas were leading what looked like a game-winning drive.
With 9 seconds left the Bills on the Browns’ 14, Kelly threw to the goal line, where Thomas was.
But Matthews stepped in front and intercepted the pass.
The Browns won and advanced to the AFC title game.
That same nine-year-old boy went crazy. It was a great memory, and just about the last good one the team would give us for half a decade.
I don’t know if Matthews will make the Hall of Fame. I hope he does, but I’m biased.
But it was nice to see him get recognized by the franchise, and the fans Sunday night.
And it stirred hope that maybe, the Browns aren’t that far off from playing in big postseason games again.