CLEVELAND — In Freddie Kitchens first game as head coach, the Browns won the coin toss and elected to get Baker Mayfield’s night over as quickly and as safely as possible.
Kitchens did that by taking the ball — a Browns tradition since…now? — and running the hurry-up offense. Mayfield and a Washington defense unprepared for it did the rest.
His 2 minutes, 13 seconds of fury was a MMA mismatch, with Washington expecting the usual preseason sparring, and it produced the first of many touchdown celebrations to come in 2019.
“It was a good drive,'' Kitchens said. "We didn’t have a third down. We were working our two-minute offense. They’re supposed to get completions and big chunk plays.”
In other words, it's not always going to be like this. But the approach served Kitchens purposes even if Mayfield cautioned that in the AFC North things might look much different at times.
"I think there is a time for it,” said Mayfield. “In our division, we have to be able to run the ball and slow the clock down when we need to. There are situations when we can press the tempo a little bit (but) we have to be good at it all.”
Last seen kneeling in the end zone mimicking the paparazzi snapping pictures of Hollywood Higgins walking the red carpet after a 24-yard touchdown reception, Mayfield was returned to his upright position on the sidelines no worse for wear.
A night that was already a success got better. You could look it up on the scoreboard — Cleveland 30, Washington 10 — but this era of good feeling was wrapped up more so in that first drive, co-directed by the second-year quarterback and the rookie head coach.
Mayfield would be seen and heard one more time when he cheered Kitchens first instant replay challenge, a failed attempt to reward Antonio Callaway for a near catch in the end zone. But his important work was done and done well by then.
“We weren’t perfect at all…a lot of things to work on,” said Mayfield. “But a lot of good things happened, too.”
As was the case after the re-set button was hit last year and the starting head coach was replaced by a backup — elevating a scraggly unheralded running backs coach to offensive coordinator — Mayfield’s work reflected well on Kitchens and vice versa.
The Browns under Kitchens have conducted a purposeful and up-tempo camp. Thursday’s first drive was more of the same.
Kitchens' players spent the previous nine practices in pads before Thursday’s exhibition opener and still looked fresh from opening touchdown to closing sack. They will practice again Friday afternoon and again Saturday.
Kitchens smartly has decided to put the emphasis on practices he can control and not overexpose his offensive stars to the dangerous muscle flexing defenses tend to do in exhibition season when jobs are on the line.
The no-huddle seemed designed to keep Washington’s defense on its heels and away from Mayfield.
(How this approach will hold up to two scrimmages in Indianapolis next week, I’m not sure.)
Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. did not play a snap against Washington. Nick Chubb saw one series.
Myles Garrett once again showed in a brief appearance why the only lineman in the stadium capable of blocking him on most game days will be Joe Thomas, and that was a year and a Keto diet ago.
So far — and for sure it’s not only still the honeymoon with Kitchens but the honeymoon night — the Browns rookie head coach has said and done mostly all the right things.
OK, maybe not where questions about trading Duke Johnson were involved. He vowed in April and again in July that Johnson was going nowhere and acted as if any question to the contrary was foolishness.
“He is going to be here, he is going to have a role in our offense and he is going to have a significant role in our offense.,” Kitchens said on the eve of training camp. “We are not giving away good players. Do not worry about the ball. We will find enough balls for them.”
Technically, the Browns didn’t give Johnson away to the Houston Texans Thursday. They got a fourth-round pick that could easily become a third-round pick if Johnson is active for at least 10 games in 2019.
But it shows why head coaches who aren’t buying the groceries and cooking the meal — as Kitchens mentor Bill Parcels once said — learn not to speak in absolutes.
But the far more important pledge Kitchens made is finding enough balls to go around when Beckham,Landry, Chubb, Higgins, David Njoku (and eventually Kareem Hunt) join Mayfield for what should be an entirely entertaining season.
That’s one of many challenges Kitchens faces as a rookie head coach with a loaded roster. So far, so good.