For all of their Super Bowl bluster, Browns yet again face-plant in opener

Dan WetzelColumnist

CLEVELAND — Odell Beckham Jr. wore a watch on his left wrist in his first game as a Cleveland Brown. Not just any watch — a Richard Mille that will run you a few hundred grand retail. He stated he has no fear of it breaking amidst the on-field violence of the NFL.

"It's indestructible," Beckham Jr. said.

The watch looked really nice. So there's that. It is certainly more than anyone can say about the Browns, who got humiliated 43-13 by the Tennessee Titans in their ballyhooed season opener as a supposed Super Bowl contender.

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In terms of the actual game, the watch wasn't worth much. It certainly didn't help OBJ keep track of the, well, actual game time. With seven seconds left in the first half he caught a short pass near midfield, just a few steps from the sideline. Rather than race out of bounds so Cleveland could stop the clock and attempt a Hail Mary, he raced around in circles dodging Titan defenders but gaining no yards until time had expired.

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The lost opportunity was a little thing, but also a big thing, because all sorts of little things piled up on Sunday to ruin the big thing the Browns have been telling everyone they are capable of — winning games, let alone games in January or, gulp, February.

It turns out that social media posts, magazine covers and offseason signings are one thing.

An astounding 18 penalties for 182 yards is another.

"We lost out discipline," coach Freddie Kitchens said. "We lost our composure."

They lost the game in every way imaginable.

It was a rough opener for Baker Mayfield, who tossed three interceptions in Sunday's blowout loss to the Titans. (Getty Images)
It was a rough opener for Baker Mayfield, who tossed three interceptions in Sunday's blowout loss to the Titans. (Getty Images)

The Browns are the NFL's darlings this season with four prime-time games and a bunch of other national television slots. They've got star power all over the roster. Just ask them.

What they don't have, or at least didn't show in the opener, was any sign they knew what they were doing.

The Browns didn't convert a third down until late in the third quarter.

Mayfield took a safety in the first half and threw a pick-six in the second (plus two other interceptions along the way).

The defense gave up a 75-yard touchdown … on a screen pass to a running back.

"No one was in position," Kitchens said.

Offensive tackle Greg Robinson got ejected for kicking a Titan in the head.

"Unacceptable," Kitchens said.

Mayfield threw picks on consecutive series — the last one, with 11:17 remaining — caused a lot of the once-hyped and hopeful sellout crowd to head to the exits early. You could hardly blame them. If anyone knows what a losing team looks like, it's these people.

"We don't want to see them leaving," OBJ said.

The Browns won five games late last season to spark Super Bowl dreams. Yet all five came against teams with losing records (two against Cincinnati). The roster signings and trades were flashy enough (including Beckham, of course). But there are holes everywhere. Mayfield was sacked five times, and some of those were on his penchant to hold onto the ball too long.

The entire thing was a disgrace.

The morning broke warm and sunny over a city basking in aspiration. On 92.3 The Fan a discussion broke out about how 9-7 would be a big disappointment — this from a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2007.

Fans packed parking lots and loading docks to tailgate. Some began lining up at the coveted Municipal Lot at 2 p.m. … on Saturday, a full 17 hours before it would open. One guy kayaked down Lake Erie to the game. Numerous discussions over brats and cornhole centered on whether New England getting Antonio Brown would hurt Cleveland come January.

This was supposed to be a rebirth, a new era, the start of something very, very big.

Instead it was undisciplined, disorganized and impatient.

"That's not how we practiced," Kitchens said. "That's not how we prepared."

Offsides. Unnecessary roughness. Holding. Pass interference.

"We're going to be fine," Kitchens tried to reassure. "It's one game … the world is not ending today, contrary to popular belief."

Perhaps not. It's also best to avoid overreacting to a single game. But the expectations of this entire team was built on overreacting to some late-season wins and some skill position additions.

Maybe this can get turned around, but how did it get this far off kilter in the first place? Did Cleveland do anything at training camp other than tell everyone how good it was?

"I don't think the penalties had anything to do with buying into the hype," Kitchens said. "I will do a better job moving forward."

He better. Everyone better. If not, if Cleveland keeps playing like this, then the season has the potential for a special level of embarrassment at a franchise that often defines the term.

OBJ's watch may be indestructible. Everything else around here looked broken on Sunday.

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