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BEREA, Ohio – It did not take long Sunday before the Cleveland Browns showed they were not looking for a moral victory in Kansas City.
On the opening drive, coach Kevin Stefanski kept his offensive on the field at fourth down. Then quarterback Baker Mayfield delivered a first-down strike, setting up a touchdown and 2-point conversion after a Chiefs penalty – a game later.
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Cleveland kept aggressively taking it to the defending AFC champion much of the day. Then it withered all the way down the stretch.
The resulting 33-29 loss underscored what the Browns are capable of achieving this season – and also what they still need to address to have a chance at reaching that potential.
“Very frustrating, but that’s what’s going on in this league,” Mayfield said of Cleveland, who wasted a 22-10 lead to a team that won the Super Bowl two seasons ago. “This one sticks, and it should for our guys because we were close. Just need to finish the game. We started fast, but have to finish. “
The start of Sunday’s season opener could not have gone better for Mayfield and the Browns. For just the second time on the road in the last 40 years, Cleveland scored touchdowns on its first three possessions, driving 75, 75 and 81 yards, respectively.
Mayfield came out on fire. In the first half, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, he went 5-of-5 passes for 101 yards against blitz, 5-of-5 for 94 yards on play-action, 4-of-4 for 61 yards and three first downs on third or fourth down, and 3-of-5 for 103 yards on throws of more than 15 yards.
When Mayfield clicked and the running game behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt hummed, the Browns brought a 22-10 lead at the break.
But as Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes began to warm up, Cleveland began its collapse.
Chubb groped and made a Chiefs field goal. Security John Johnson III lost track of wide receiver Tyreek Hill so he could go in for a 75-yard touchdown on the first game of Kansas City’s subsequent drive. Then, to top it all off, punter Jamie Gillan inexplicably dropped the snap, and then even more inexplicably started running with the ball.
Three games later, the Chiefs were again in the final zone to take their first lead. The Browns would not get it back.
“We did not play our best when it mattered,” Stefanski said. “We did not train our best as it was important.”
Despite that disappointment, the Browns had to get away from Kansas City and feel safe. They proved that they could hang – and sometimes even play out – the primary team that stood in the way of a first Super Bowl appearance.
Defensive ends Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney regularly put pressure on Mahomes, predicting how devastating they could be as a penetrating duo. Brown’s running game and offensive line looked impressive once again. And Mayfield was incredibly sharp, despite the finish that ended the game when he was stumbled from behind while trying to throw the ball away.
Still, to topple a team like Chiefs, the margin of error is incredibly slim. Revenue, broken down coverage and special team miscues will be almost impossible to overcome. The same is likely to be the case against AFC North rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh, as well as the Buffalo Bills.
In a regular season of 17 games, the Browns have plenty of time to clean up what was them on Sunday. Knowing that if they do, they can play with the best.