In the short term, Cleveland’s loss to Kansas City on Sunday will sting. The Browns were up 10 points on the best team in the AFC (on the planet?), their offense clicking and their defense holding its own. But then the Chiefs turned into, well, the Chiefs. Nick Chubb fumbled, Tyreek Hill got loose, Jamie Gillan misplayed a snap and suddenly Travis Kelce was celebrating a Kansas City lead in the end zone. So yeah, the loss is going to sting for a little. But in the long term, the lessons learned in Sunday’s loss could help the Browns down the line this season. With the ink beginning to dry on one of the most exciting season-openers in recent memory, we break down our takeaways from the loss.
The Browns aren’t at the Chiefs’ level… yet. This was true last postseason, and it’s still true today. While the Browns looked (mostly) better than they did last year, they once again fell late to Kansas City. Instead of clawing back from an early deficit like they did in January, this time Cleveland took an early double-digit lead and then ran into Patrick Mahomes, who, in case you haven’t heard, is good at football. While the result wasn’t what the Browns wanted, this was the closest a team can come to a moral victory. While there were plenty of lessons to take away, there were also plenty of positives. Ronnie Harrison's ejection obviously played a factor as did Jedrick Wills Jr.'s injury (more on that in a second), but that's football. While the game ended in a loss, Cleveland showed it can compete with the league's best, even through adversity.
Turnovers proved to be costly. Expert analysis, I know. But it doesn’t take John Madden to realize that Kansas City’s comeback coincided with the Browns giving the ball away. After Chubb’s fumble led to a field goal, Gillan’s muffed snap on a punt attempt in the fourth quarter led to Kansas City’s go-ahead touchdown while the game all but ended on Mayfield’s interception with 90 seconds left. While Browns have the talent to overcome turnovers, every possession matters when you’re playing a team like the Chiefs. Things should (hopefully) tighten up as the season goes on.
Anthony Schwartz looks to be a big part of the offensive plans. Coming into the season, rookie Demetric Felton looked to be the rookie that make an immediate impact. While Felton has 15 games left to make an impact, Schwartz spent week one making an impact, recording 69 yards on three catches. After not playing during the preseason due to a hamstring injury, the rookie from Auburn showed off his speed in Odell Beckham Jr.’s absence. With Donovan Peoples-Jones MIA (one catch for four yards) for most of the game, Schwartz stepped up alongside Jarvis Landry (five catches for 71 yards). If Schwartz can stay on the field, he and Beckham should be able to take the top off any defense.
Wills' injury was a factor. Cleveland’s offense line is one of the best in the league, thanks in large part to the Wills and Joel Bitonio holding down Mayfield’s blind side (along with helping provide some of the league’s best run blocking). After Willis was carted off with an ankle injury during Landry’s touchdown run, the flow of the Browns offense seemed to change. Coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t seem comfortable calling runs on the left side (the Browns ran for 152 yards) and the game plan seemed to get a little more simplified, which could also be due to the Browns getting out of the scripted part of their game plan. As a whole, The Browns rushed for 53 yards in the second half compared to 100 in the first. After the game, Stefanski said they’ll know more about the injury after they do some tests on Wills’ ankle. Chris Hubbard stepped in after the injury.
The running game had an up and down performance. Like most of the team, Chubb’s production dipped in the second half. Chubb finished with 83 yards and two touchdowns on the day, but also had the back-breaking fumble on Cleveland’s first possession of the second half that led to a Kansas City field goal. Despite the fumble and dip in production, Chubb is still the Browns’ bell cow. Kareem Hunt continued to be the perfect changeup back (33 yards rushing with a touchdown and two-point conversion) but Chubb is still the focal point of the ground game. It shouldn’t be long until that fumble is in the rearview mirror.
Baker Mayfield quietly had a good game. While his last throw of the day was his worst, Mayfield quietly put together a solid game behind center with an efficient 21-for-28 for 321 yards and an interception. His two best throws of the day both went to David Njoku, as he showed off pinpoint accuracy by putting the ball in a place where only Njoku could get it. You'd like to see him finish with at least one touchdown pass, but the Browns never truly found themselves in a position where it was necessary until they were scrambling to score with a minute left. If Mayfield continues to show maturity in the pocket, the Browns offense should hum along for most of the season.
Extra point: Week one was a good litmus test for Cleveland. There was good, there was bad and there was a little bit of ugly. While the Browns would have liked to leave Missouri with a win, Stefanski and co. got a good idea of their team. And, for the most part, those ideas are positive. With a cushier matchup coming next week against the Houston Texans (1 p.m., Cleveland), the Browns should get back to their winning ways.