BALTIMORE — Three series. That’s exactly how long it took to realize the Cleveland Browns would start the 2020 season exactly how they started last season.
And 2018. And 2017. And every season dating all the way back to 2005, with a soul-sucking, punch-to-the-gut loss.
In fact, after yesterday’s lackluster 38-6 egg in Baltimore, the Browns are now 1-20-1 in season openers since the re-birth. Let that sink in: 22 times they’ve raced onto a plush green field, filled with optimism, winning just once. Twenty of 22 season openers they were turned back, sent on their way to one disappointing season after another.
At least this time we didn’t allow ourselves to fall into the usual pre-season trap of believing maybe, just maybe this would be the season that stretches into January. We learned that hard lesson again last year.
With no pre-season it felt like everyone was going into this bizarre 2020 campaign with bags over our heads. What will the Kevin Stefanski offense with all these weapons look like? Will the injuries and holes on defense really be as bad as they seem? This year’s bucket of cold water came just two and a half minutes and six plays into the season.
Baker’s first pick of 2020. Series No. 1. Baltimore would promptly slice through that Swiss cheese defense moving it half a field on eight plays.
7-0, series No. 2. Then came the real showstopper. After gaining six yards on three plays, the Browns called a fake punt on 4th and four from their own 31-yard line. Jamie Gillan fumbled, one of the most explosive offenses in football took over with a short field, and even though the Browns were able to force a field goal, they had dug and jumped into a 10-0 hole.
The season was barely 10 minutes and three series old and you could almost hear Browns Nation collectively scream: “Here we go again!”
First impressions are very difficult to overcome. Kevin Stefanski’s was not a good one.
A fake punt? On your own 31 yard line on the second offensive series of the season? Trick plays are aces in the hole. You hold them close to the vest and throw one when you really need it. They’re the element of surprise to turn a game in a critical spot. Stefanski’s first major in-game decision was to try a fake punt in the first quarter against a team that prides itself on being one of the best special teams in the game. Of course, it failed. Two Browns turnovers leading to two Ravens scores and the tone for the day was set.
Even when something good happened, something tragic would follow. After the Browns only point-producing drive of the day, a six-play 75-yard TD drive that teased us with what this offense could be, Austin Seibert shanked the PAT try.
The Ravens next drive ended in a fumble deep in Browns territory and Baker swiftly moved the Browns down the field. A nice mix of Kareem Hunt and Jarvis Landry had the Browns knocking on the door with a chance to take the lead. Things were clicking, 1st and 10 at the Ravens 29 yard line. Then a procedure penalty was followed by a facemask call against Odell Beckham Jr., then an incomplete pass, a sack of Mayfield, the obligatory delay of game penalty then another incompletion, and just like that 1st and 10 from the Ravens 29 turned into a 4th and 41 from their own 40. That’s a 13-play, 28-yard drive. That’s almost impossible to do.
But wait, Jamie Gillan quickly answers with a 59-yard punt that pinned the Ravens on their own one-yard line. That’s when the reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson showed what he was busy doing during the off-season. Getting better. 10 plays and 99 yards later the Browns trailed 17-6.
This one was officially put to bed in the final minute of the first half. At least we were out of our misery with plenty of daylight left. Again, the Browns would move the ball downfield before setting up a critical 3rd and two from the Ravens 23. That’s when Beckham dropped any chance the Browns had of keeping it interesting into the second half. It was a simple two-yard pass. Hit him square in the hands. And he dropped it. Must have been too easy.
Seibert badly missed a 42-yard field goal try and Jackson and the Ravens marched 69 yards on seven plays in 35 seconds. That span of fewer than 60 seconds of football drove home the ocean of difference between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns.
The final damage was 38-6. Not that the digits even matter. At the end, it’s just another season-opening loss. 0-1 for the 20th time in 22 years.
Sure, the Ravens are a tough yardstick. Sure, it’s early for the Stefanski regime. No pre-season to work out the many kinks, and there are injuries everywhere you look. But considering last year’s disappointing 6-10 team roughed up the Ravens 40-25 in Baltimore less than one calendar year ago, it’s hard to imagine this season ends with more than six wins.
Here we go again.