The Browns extended their franchise record (and I believe NFL record) for losing their thirteenth consecutive opening day game. They lost their fourth opening day game since 1999 to the Steelers. Once again, they faced a week’s worth of adversity after a perfect pre-season. And once more, they put their young players in a precarious position against one of the best teams in the NFL.
The last sentence is where it gets interesting. The Browns may have lost yet another Week One contest, their eighteenth in the last nineteen seasons, but there’s never been such a sense of optimism in the Browns locker room after a loss. They played the Steelers for all four quarters, and when disaster struck after the first drive (again), they didn’t fold. For once, they held their ground.
Cleveland’s first drive couldn’t have started off any worse. They lost five yards on their way to a three and out. To top it all off, the ensuing punt was blocked and recovered in the end zone for a Pittsburgh touchdown. “Here we go again,” I thought, wondering if it were wise to continue watching the game. For all I’ve known, the Browns were going to give the ball right back to the Steelers, and the score would be 21-0 by halftime. The final score would’ve been something like 31-9. Maybe 31-15, if the Steelers were in a good mood and went into prevent.
Instead, the Browns scored. Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer drove them all the way down the field to tie the game at seven. Then the defense held the high-powered Steelers offense without a first down in the entire first quarter. The game was tied at seven until linebacker Joe Schobert tipped the ball into the hands of Antonio Brown, setting the Steelers offense ablaze. The Steelers capped the drive off with a touchdown at the end of the half. Want more? The Steelers were getting the ball in the second half.
“Here we go again,” I thought once more. “The Steelers are going to drive it down our throats, and it’ll be 21-7 midway through the third quarter. The Browns running game, supposedly a strength, wasn’t holding up their end of the deal. Kizer was making the rookie mistake of holding onto the ball for an eternity every time he dropped back, subsequently pulling off his best impression of Tim Couch, and the Steelers offense found its rhythm. But the Browns stopped them again. Keep in mind, the defense stepped up their game in the absence of first overall pick, Myles Garrett, who was out with a high ankle sprain.
Kizer drove the Browns down for a field goal, and the score remained at 14-10 until the Steelers drove back down the field, and extended their lead to 21-10. Then Kizer came out and drove the Browns back down the field for yet another touchdown, eating up much of the clock in the process. Nevertheless, the score was 21-18, Pittsburgh.
You know how it ended: Ben and his offense chewed up the clock, and Pittsburgh won the game, 21-18. But the Browns put the NFL on notice. They took a 2016 AFC Finalist to the wire. A team that went 1-15 one season ago nearly took down a top five team, with arguably the greatest offense in the NFL.
What did I learn?
- With or without Myles Garrett, the defense is legit. They held the Steelers offense to just fourteen points (one touchdown came on a special teams play)
- DeShone Kizer is the greatest rookie quarterback in Cleveland since Tim Couch. Sure, many label Couch as a bust, but look at what he had around him. Kizer has a few things Couch didn’t have. For one, he has one of the better lines in football. Despite the line giving up seven sacks, five of them were on Kizer. Kizer has a defense which will keep him in a lot of games after he makes a few rookie mistakes. He’s going to make a lot of them, but that’s okay.
- Don’t label Corey Coleman a bust. Coleman had five receptions for fifty-three yards and a touchdown. Last season, Coleman hauled in thirty-three receptions, five-hundred and thirty yards, and three touchdowns.
- If the defense looked this good without Myles Garrett, what can they do with Myles Garrett? The pass rush was decent, the line stopped the run, and the defensive backs did their job. What will this defense look like when Garrett’s back in the line-up? I’m not saying it’ll be the second coming of the 1994 Browns (204 points allowed in sixteen games), that eventually won a Super Bowl in 2000 (as the Ravens), but it’s a start.
- Firing Ray Horton and bringing in Gregg Williams was the best off-season move. It’s never good when you continually change coordinators, especially for a young team, but this was the right move. This defense hits hard, they’re aggressive, and they don’t give up points.
Will they beat the Ravens this week? I’m giving the Ravens the edge here, but it doesn’t mean the Browns will go back to being the Browns. This is a new Browns team in the making. They’re going to fight hard all year long. Will it translate into wins? Of course! A lot of wins? If they keep the same foundation. A Super Bowl? We’ll see.