This offseason, the Cleveland Browns overhauled the front office, hired a new coaching staff, revamped the offensive line and even changed their uniforms.
Baker Mayfield threw a pick on the opening drive. Wideout Odell Beckham Jr. was a non-factor. The special-teams units committed several blunders. And Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson completely carved up the Cleveland defense.
There’s no shame in falling to the defending AFC North champs on the road, especially after so much turnover following an unprecedented offseason. But a disappointing 2019 season also began with a deflating 30-point loss.
To have any hope of snapping the NFL’s longest playoff drought — now up to 18 years — the Browns better right the ship quickly, with two winnable games on deck, against Cincinnati and Washington at home.
Pivotal play: Trailing just 17-6, the Browns had a prime opportunity to make it a one-score game at halftime. Instead, Beckham dropped an easy catch on third-and-2, forcing Austin Seibert’s 41-yard field goal try, which wasn’t even close. Baltimore capitalized on Cleveland’s consecutive miscues, as Jackson propelled the Ravens down the field for a touchdown in the closing seconds of the second quarter. Baltimore never relinquished command again.
Troubling trend: After playing through a sports hernia injury all last year, Beckham underwent surgery in the offseason and showed up to training camp 100% healthy. Yet just like in 2019, Mayfield and Beckham struggled to find the same page Sunday, as Mayfield’s multiple efforts to force the ball to OBJ proved futile. Beckham committed an offensive face mask penalty on his first touch, wiping out a promising drive. He had another reception that was negated for stepping on the sideline and failing to re-establish position in bounds. Then he had the third-down drop, after which he repeatedly needed a locker room IV. Beckham has been predicting a big 2020 season for himself. This was an inauspicious start.
QB breakdown: Mayfield too had a rough 2020 debut, completing just 21 of 39 passes for 189 yards. He did find David Njoku for a play-action TD in the first quarter, but was essentially shut down by the Ravens after that. Mayfield became the first quarterback in NFL history to start the first 30 games of his career on the same team with a fourth different head coach. So it’s not surprising, given the virtual offseason and condensed training camp, that he wouldn’t be sharp operating out of yet another new offensive scheme. But for the Browns to have any shot of contending for a playoff spot, Mayfield will have to be a whole lot sharper than he was in Baltimore.