The Cleveland Browns played well, but they're beyond feeling good about a loss. This one should hurt.
The Kansas City Chiefs were in trouble in the season opener. The Browns led from shortly after kickoff until the fourth quarter. For the Browns, looking to be respected as a Super Bowl contender, it was the exact type of performance that would legitimize them.
But the Chiefs still have Patrick Mahomes. Fueled by a great long touchdown from Mahomes to Tyreek Hill —and a fumbled snap the Browns punter — the Chiefs came back and won 33-29. Baker Mayfield had a couple chances to put together a game-winning drive, but went three-and-out on one and then was intercepted with a little more than a minute to go to end all suspense.
It's not fair to paint the loss as it being the same old Browns, but it's a disappointing way to start a season that has a lot of expectation. The difference is that the Chiefs still have the best quarterback in the game.
Browns played well early
The Browns got off to a fast start. They led 8-0 shortly after kickoff and 15-3 early in the second quarter. The running lanes were wide open for Nick Chubb. Mayfield was making some great throws.
You can't hold the Chiefs down for too long though.
The Hill touchdown cut Cleveland's lead to 29-27 with a little more than 10 minutes left. It was vintage Mahomes and Hill. Mahomes rolled right and threw a long one when he saw Hill was one-on-one with a defender. The throw gave Hill a chance to outmaneuver the defender. When Hill caught it, he was in the clear and that usually means a touchdown.
— NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2021
Even though the Chiefs are great, especially at home, the Browns still should have finished the win.
But then Browns punter Jamie Gillan had a snap bounce off his hands. Gillan dropped a snap, then picked it up and tried to run for the first down. You can guess what happened next. After the Chiefs took over on downs, Mahomes and Kelce hooked up for their second touchdown of the day and the Chiefs had the lead.
Browns couldn't rally late
The Browns still had plenty of time. The offense had played well. There was no reason to believe the game was over after the punt fiasco and subsequent touchdown. But Cleveland went three-and-out right after the Chiefs took the lead.
The Browns defense had a chance to get off the field on the Chiefs' next possession, but Mahomes hit Hill for a first down on third-and-2. That cost the Browns some valuable time. They did get the ball back before the two-minute warning, again with a chance to drive downfield and win the game.
Then Mayfield, being sacked from behind, throw up a reckless pass that was intercepted with 1:09 left. Mike Hughes got the interception and Mayfield was face down on the turf, pounding his hands in frustration.
The Chiefs are still a fantastic team. There's no shame in losing a close, hard-fought game at Arrowhead Stadium. But the Browns are going to have to take the next step and win games like that if they're going to be taken seriously. Maybe they'll learn those lessons by January. The first lesson might be to not let Mahomes think he has a chance to lead a comeback. Because more often than not, he will.