CLEVELAND — After the promising finish to last year and the blockbuster acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr. in the offseason, these Cleveland Browns were finally supposed to be different. Instead, the underdog Tennessee Titans routed them 43-13 Sunday, turning Cleveland’s most anticipated opener in decades into a debacle, as Browns fans began filing out of FirstEnergy Stadium early in the fourth quarter.
Playing behind a makeshift offensive line, quarterback Baker Mayfield was under duress all afternoon. The Titans sacked him five times, and forced him into three interceptions, including a pick-six exclamation point via Tennessee’s Malcolm Butler late in the game.
“Everyone is going to throw us in the trash,” Mayfield said after the game. “And I think that’s good. … I know how we’re going to react.”
With no rhythm in the passing attack, Beckham Jr., whom the Browns traded for from the New York Giants, was largely held in check. He caught only three passes after the first quarter and finished without a touchdown reception.
The Browns also committed 18 penalties for 182 yards, their most penalties in a game since 1951– and only five penalties off the NFL record set by the Oakland Raiders in 2016 — to extend the league’s longest winless streak in season openers to 15 games.
After driving right down the field for a touchdown to open the game, the Browns gradually lost control, thanks in large part due to the barrage of penalties.
During the second quarter, Browns left tackle Greg Robinson was ejected for kicking Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro in the head near the end of a play. The penalty not only derailed another Cleveland drive, it kept the Browns scrambling along the offensive line the rest of the game.
“Everyone knows what the problem is. Dumb penalties and hurting ourselves. And then turnovers on my part,” Mayfield said.
Kendall Lamm, Robinson’s replacement at left tackle, suffered a game-ending knee injury on the ensuing offensive drive, a play that ended with Mayfield being sacked for a safety. That left the Browns with only five healthy, eligible and active offensive linemen and forced right tackle Chris Hubbard and reserve guard Justin McCray out of their normal positions, as makeshift bookends.
Mayfield found tight end David Njoku with a three-yard touchdown to cut Tennessee’s lead to 15-13 late in the third quarter. But Cleveland’s next five offensive possessions ended in three interceptions and two failed fourth down conversion attempts, and the Titans reeled off four unanswered touchdowns to seal the blowout.
“We lost our discipline, we lost our composure,” coach Freddie Kitchens said. “But, it’s one game.”
Cleveland returns to action Sept. 16 at the New York Jets for Monday Night Football.