False start: Browns commit 18 penalties, blasted in opener

Offsides with Marc Ryan
September 08, 2019 - 7:17 pm

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield sits on the sidelines during the second half in an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Cleveland. The Titans won 43-13. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns' highly anticipated opener turned into one giant, yellow flag.

Talk about a false start.

The Browns were called for 18 penalties — their most since 1951 — and quarterback Baker Mayfield injured his right hand while being sacked for a safety and throwing three interceptions in a 43-13 thrashing on Sunday by the Tennessee Titans, who ruined a party Cleveland had been planning for months.

It was all supposed to be different for these Browns, revitalized by the addition of star receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Instead, it was more of the same.

"That is not the way we want to be represented," said first-year coach Freddie Kitchens, who put on a brave face following his team's demoralizing 2019 debut. "We lost our discipline and we lost our composure. ... I did not see it coming."

No one did. Except maybe the Titans.

"I'm gonna be honest with you, man, they were who we thought they were," said Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker, who had two touchdown catches. "If you want to crown them, crown 'em."

The Browns were favored to win their first season opener in 15 years, and after taking the opening kickoff, Mayfield drove the offense 73 yards for a TD in the opening five minutes. Things looked promising, and Cleveland's crowd was roaring at unsafe decibels.

But rookie Austin Seibert missed the extra point, and the penalties began piling up like laundry in front of a washing machine.

Cleveland was called for 10 infractions in the first half, with starting left tackle Greg Robinson's ejection for kicking Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro in the head the most egregious act.

"We do not tolerate that," Kitchens said. "That is unacceptable."

Vaccaro isn't sure what prompted Robinson's reaction.

"I knocked him over and he kicked me in my head," Vaccaro said. "I thought it was funny. It's going to be a hefty fine, I feel bad for him. I didn't want him to get ejected. We were taught on this team, no dumb penalties."

The Browns are still learning.

Kitchens couldn't explain why his team was so undisciplined by he vowed to make the necessary corrections before the Browns visit the New York Jets one week from Monday."

"We are not changing anything," he said. "I believe in what we are doing. Our players believe in what we are doing. We had a lot of situations we put ourselves in today that made it very difficult to get to the point where we could overcome some of the things that we were doing wrong.

"We are going to keep staying to course, keep our head down and keep working."

The Browns fell to 1-19-1 in season openers, with the lone win coming in 2004.

Mayfield, who was sacked five times, left FirstEnergy Stadium with his right hand wrapped. The team said X-rays taken after the game were negative and he should be ready for next week.

Playing behind a patchwork line following Robinson's disqualification and an injury to backup left tackle Kendall Lamm, Mayfield completed 25 of 38 passes for 285 yards and one touchdown.

But he couldn't get Cleveland's offense into any kind of rhythm because of the penalties.

Mayfield tried to find positives from an otherwise awful afternoon. He's confident his teammates will regroup and rally.

"Because everybody is going to throw us in the trash," he said. "I think that is good. I know what type of men we have in this locker room. Quite frankly, I do not give a damn what happens on the outside. I know how we are going to react. I know what we are going to do.

"We are going to bounce back. We have a Monday night game coming up, so we do not really care. We are ready to go."

Beckham, who had seven catches for 71 yards in his debut, said as long as the Browns clean up their mistakes, they'll be fine.

"We need to be more disciplined," he said. "It is the first game so whether we lost by one point or 40 points, it still says an 'L' on the records. It is nothing to panic about. Adversity has to come at some point in the season, so why not right now?"

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