Twelve penalties. Five turnovers. One injured starting quarterback. Zero sacks.
As Cleveland Browns radio analyst Doug Dieken said during today’s radio broadcast, could it get any worse for the Browns in the season debut?
Probably not. The New York Jets thumped the Browns at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon, 31-10, scoring 21 consecutive points in a gruesome game for the Browns.
If you missed the game, you saved yourself a lot of aggravation. If you suffered through all 60 minutes, then you are to be congratulated. Either way, here are the key takeaways from today’s loss to the Jets:
1. New season, same script: The first quarter of the 2015 season began well for the Browns, but the team’s fortunes quickly went south. The Browns’ defense forced a punt on the game’s opening drive, and quarterback Josh McCown led the offense down the field on the Browns’ first offensive possession.
As usual, the team’s energy evaporated in the red zone. A false start and two incompletions led to a lengthy third and goal for the offense. McCown tried to place the team on his back, charging towards the end zone on a quarterback scramble. It did not end well.
McCown absorbed two big hits as he lept for the end zone, leading to a fumble that the Jets recovered. McCown left the game, and would not return due to the league’s concussion protocol. Updates on his injury will be forthcoming.
McCown’s injury set the stage for a disappointing day for the Browns. The club has now lost 11 consecutive season openers.
2. Johnny delivers early, but falters late: Called into action following McCown’s injury, Manziel started fast but faded quickly. Facing significant pressure as the team’s only active quarterback, Johnny Manziel responded with a 54-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin. Facing a 3rd and 19 after a chop block penalty on Isaiah Crowell, Manziel found an open Travis Benjamin streaking down the Jets’ sideline past Antonio Cromartie for a 54-yard touchdown.
The first touchdown pass of Manziel’s pro career granted the Browns a 7-0 lead, and momentarily quelled any doubts about his sore elbow.
Later in the quarter, Manziel led the Browns deep into Browns territory, leading to a Travis Coons field goal. During the drive, Manziel hit Brian Hartline for a beautiful 11-yard pickup on 3rd and 10. Hartline secured the catch from his knees to keep the drive alive in impressive fashion.
As the game progressed, Manziel began to lose his touch. Throwing to Hartline on an out route, Manziel sent the pass to Hartline’s inside shoulder instead of the outside, resulting in an interception.
Manziel’s frustration led to several turnovers, as the second-year quarterback fumbled twice while scrambling and tossed an interception, too. Manziel continued to struggle with his accuracy in the fourth quarter, missing his spots on several throws.
A stiff Jets blitz did not help matters, as the home team dialed up big blitzes all day.
All things considered, Manziel did alright, especially considering this postgame quote by Joe Thomas: "Johnny hadn’t had a single rep with the first team offense in I don’t know how long." You can only expect so much out of a second stringer with limited practice time.
Moving forward, the onus falls squarely on Manziel and the coaching staff. Manziel needs to prepare the right way for the Titans, and the coaching staff has to provide him with the tools to succeed.
3. Turnovers will kill you: The Browns turned the ball over five times today, leading to 21 points for the Jets. Turnovers proved to be the difference today. Josh McCown fumbled on the opening drive. Tashaun Gipson allowed an interception to slip out of his hands and into Brandon Marshall’s big paws. Manziel threw an interception and fumbled twice.
The Jets used these mistakes to cruise to an easy win. The Browns handed the Jets this game.
Every time the Browns began to see daylight, a turnover closed the window. The Browns enjoyed some highlights, such as Manziel’s 54-yard strike to Benjamin. But a number of promising drives were wiped out by ill-advised runs and off-target throws.
The Browns have some talent, but not enough to overcome five turnovers.
4. Yellow flags galore: Untimely penalties cost the Browns dearly, as the team accumulated 12 penalties, eight in the first half alone. The Browns played two teams on Sunday – the Jets and the referees.
Third down penalties in particular hindered the Browns offense in the first half.
Duke Johnson Jr. was called for a chop block early in the second quarter, Joel Bitonio was hit for a holding penalty on the next drive, and Manziel received a delay of game penalty on third and goal late in the first half.
The trend continued in the second half, as Craig Robertson was called for holding on the opening kickoff.
Later in the game, a holding call on Alex Mack wiped out a 20-yard Manziel run. On the next play, Manziel fumbled on a 3rd and long scramble to give the Jets the ball deep inside Browns territory.
Penalties happen, and some rustiness is to be expected in the first game of the season. But 12 penalties is far too many for a team like the Browns.
5. Stellar secondary? Maybe not: Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick carved up the Browns defense in a tough day for Joe Haden and others. Fitzpatrick found open receivers on both deep and short passes throughout the day. The combination of a lackluster pass rush and poor coverage led to an easy day for Fitzpatrick.
The first big pass play occurred early in the second quarter, as Fitzpatrick hit Chris Owusu for a 43-yard pickup on 3rd and 10. One play later, Tashaun Gipson made a smart read, intercepting Fitzpatrick on a pass intended for Brandon Marshall. Gipson couldn’t finish off the play, however, as Marshall stripped the ball away inside the red zone. Two plays later, Chris Ivory dashed 10 yards through the heart of the Browns’ defense for a touchdown.
Later in the half, Fitzpatrick completed six straight passes to march the Jets deep into Browns territory. The veteran quarterback then finished off the drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker, who beat Donte Whitner in the back of the end zone.
Perennial All-Pro Joe Haden got beat today, too. Marshall repeatedly used his size to catch passes over Haden. The most notable example came midway through the third quarter when Marshall hauled in a high pass from Fitzpatrick on a fade route for a touchdown. On the next drive, Haden allowed Marshall to gain 18 yards with a sideline grab on 3rd and 7.
Criticizing Haden is difficult, since the veteran cornerback plays his heart out for this city. But Marshall was a difficult matchup for Haden today.
Amidst the secondary’s failures, Barkevious Mingo made a few good plays in pass coverage in the absence of Scott Solomon. Mingo saved a potential touchdown by deflecting a pass intended for Bilal Powell with 33 seconds left in the third quarter.
6. Grounded and pounded: Isaiah Crowell and the offense could not run the ball, while the defense failed to stop the Jets’ ground game. While Chris Ivory finished with 20 carries for 91 yards, Crowell ended the day with 10 attempts for 21 yards.
Crowell did not earn bell cow status today. The second-year back notched two runs of eight yards each, but the other eight carries gained only five yards. Crowell stutterstepped and paused in the backfield too frequently, failing to find any openings in the defense or pound his way through tacklers.
While Crowell disappointed, a big portion of the blame for the stagnant ground game falls on the offensive line. The Jets owned the line of scrimmage for much of the first half.
In the second half, Duke Johnson received most of the carries. Johnson ran fairly well, but did not have a chance to make a difference in the second half. The Jets’ lead forced the Browns to rely on the pass for much of the third quarter and all of the fourth. But moving forward, Johnson will receive an increasing share of the workload.
On the other side of the ball, the Browns’ run defense showed improvement, but not enough. The front seven contained Chris Ivory early, holding the Jets to just 41 rushing yards in the first half. On one key play, the Browns stuffed Ivory on 4th and 1 at the start of the second quarter.
The Jets wore down the Browns defense as the game continued, however, finishing the day with 154 yards on the ground.
Ivory outmaneuvered the Browns defense on touchdown runs of 10 and three yards. The first touchdown came in the first half, as Ivory charged through the middle and spun off a tackle for six. The second score sealed the Browns fate early in the fourth quarter, as Ivory raced around the edge to give the Jets a 30-10 lead before an extra point.
Even when Ivory exited the game in favor of Powell late in the fourth quarter, the Browns did not show any signs of life. Powell ran for 39 yards on the final drive.
7. Don’t panic: The Browns are not going to finish 0-16. Pessimism is a typical and natural reaction for Browns fans. The team did not look good today, particularly in the second half. At the same time, it’s only one game.
As bad as it seems now, this is just the beginning of the season. This is game 1 of 16. The Browns will win some, and lose some. It’s perfectly clear that this is not a playoff team. But this could still be a 7-9 team.
Next week’s game will determine a great deal. How will this team react to such a debilitating loss? How will the Browns play with their starting quarterback out for an indefinite period of time?
The Titans are a beatable team. If the Browns don’t defeat Tennessee, troubling times are ahead. The Browns have a difficult schedule later in the year.
It’s not yet time to panic. The first game does not determine a season’s outcome. The team's reaction to this adversity will.