For a week, it looked like the Cleveland Browns were back, and maybe still living up to the preseason hype as one of the better teams in the NFL.
One week. Only one week. In some other years, the Browns would have gladly taken one positive week.
Not this season.
The weight of expectations can be heavy. A good finish to last season, a strong rookie year by Baker Mayfield, an offseason trade for Odell Beckham Jr. and a roster that looked great on paper made the Browns darlings heading into this season. There probably aren’t any more grand expectations after a 31-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night.
The Browns looked mostly flat for the first three weeks. But a 40-point, 530-yard explosion at the Ravens in Week 4 made it look like the Browns might have been worthy of all those positive preseason predictions after all.
Then on Monday night, the Browns were absolutely embarrassed. They’re 2-3 and one of the NFL’s bigger disappointments to this point.
49ers overwhelm Browns
The 49ers are 4-0 and look pretty good. Kyle Shanahan has turned a corner in his third 49ers season. His team looks like it should be in playoff contention all year. They might even be the best team in the NFC. The 49ers and the Patriots are the last two undefeated teams in the NFL.
Still, it was a disheartening performance by Cleveland. It didn’t take long for it to turn sour. On the 49ers’ first offensive play of the game, running back Matt Breida sprinted past the defense for an 83-yard touchdown. It never got better after that.
In every Browns game except the Ravens win — even a Week 2 win over the Jets, who are terrible, wasn’t sharp — the same issues have shown up. The offensive line is not good. Left tackle Greg Robinson was a turnstile as defensive end Nick Bosa blew past him play after play. Cleveland didn’t do enough to address the line in the offseason, and should regret trading away top guard Kevin Zeitler to the Giants. Pressure has affected Mayfield, who has not replicated a record-setting rookie season. He might have had the worst game of his life on Monday. The former No. 1 overall pick was 8-of-22 for 100 yards, with two interceptions. That’s a 13.4 passer rating. The Browns didn’t score a touchdown. Cleveland sat down Mayfield with about five minutes left, letting Garrett Gilbert play out the rest of the game. It was shockingly bad for a player who set an NFL record for touchdown passes by a rookie last season.
The defense got worked over too. Breida’s early touchdown run was a sign. The 49ers were more physical up front and ran the ball at will. Jimmy Garoppolo was fine, but he didn’t need to do much. When a defense can’t stop the run at all there’s not much reason to pass it too often, and that’s what happened to the Browns on Monday night.
For some reason, coach Freddie Kitchens had Beckham back to field a punt with about seven minutes left and the Browns trailing 28-3. Beckham ran around with nowhere to go, then lost a fumble. That summed up the night.
Freddie Kitchens not having a good debut
Hue Jackson was fired on Oct. 29 last year. So at this time a year ago, Kitchens was still a mostly anonymous running backs coach.
Kitchens got the interim offensive coordinator job after Jackson and Todd Haley were fired, had a good half-season calling plays, and parlayed that into the permanent head-coaching job. It was a meteoric rise. It was also a gamble by the Browns on a good two-month stretch running the offense. The season is still young, the Browns are only a game out of first place in a soft AFC North, but it’s hard to say the gamble to hire Kitchens is paying off. It looks like he’s struggling with the double-duty of calling plays and being head coach.
Kitchens is under the spotlight, but nothing is really working. He’s not the one failing to block for Mayfield. He’s not missing on the throws. It’s not Kitchens’ fault Antonio Callaway dropped an inaccurate but catchable pass near the goal line and it turned into a 49ers interception. Kitchens is not responsible for the Browns’ front seven getting pushed around all night by the 49ers’ offensive line. Everything was bad on Monday night.
The Browns are used to getting blown out. Their poor history is well known. That wasn’t supposed to continue this season. This was supposed to be the start of a new Browns era.
Cleveland still has 11 games to make that happen, but aside from one good game, it just looks like the same old Browns.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports: