The pressure is on.
The Browns re-enter the spotlight of “Monday Night Football” for the first time since 2015 with a game against the Jets in MetLife Stadium.
They do so desperate for a victory. They suffered a humiliating 43-13 opening loss to the Titans, and since 2002 only 16 of 140 teams that started 0-2 made the playoffs, according to Elias.
The Browns need to figure out things in a hurry, as the schedule only gets harder with a string of night games and difficult opponents stretching through October.
“Why not let it be a prime-time game,” receiver Rashard Higgins said. “It’s a Monday night, everybody’s watching. Lights on, cameras on, we’re made for it.”
“It would not matter the stage, but that does make it a little bit more exciting for our guys knowing that we have a lot of people counting us out and we are going to take it one game at a time,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “On Monday night, no better way to do it.”
The Browns certainly didn’t look ready for prime time in Week 1. They committed 18 penalties for 182 yards, only crossed Tennessee’s 40-yard line on their two touchdown drives, the defense allowed six plays of at least 15 yards and Mayfield threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter as the game got out of hand.
They better be ready now.
The game against the Jets begins a stretch of three prime-time games in four weeks for a team not accustomed to having the NFL stage to itself. The nation will get a long look at the Browns, who will try to prove all the offseason hype was warranted.
The stunning opener may have created doubts among analysts and fans, but the players insist their confidence wasn’t shaken.
“One loss, look at the Patriots last year,” Higgins said. “They lost a couple of games and still won a Super Bowl, so we can’t let that deter us from the goal.”
The focus of practice was discipline and technique after the sloppiness against the Titans. With as much talent as the Browns have compiled, the feeling was unanimous that the problems were easily correctable.
“There’s no nervousness or angst about what’s going on here,” center JC Tretter said. “We played a game that wasn’t good enough schematically, then we didn’t do anything to help ourselves with penalties, so that’s something we need to clean up.”
“We are not going to feel better until we get a win,” running back Nick Chubb said.
“Monday Night Football,” which started in 1970 with the Jets visiting the Browns, doesn’t have the same significance in the sports landscape and American culture as it once did. But it remains special.
“The lights give a different energy,” said Mayfield, who led the Thursday night comeback against the Jets last year that broke a 19-game winless streak. “It will be my first Monday night game so it will be fun.”
Monday nights are full of memories for the coaches and players, who were fans first.
“As a kid I asked my mom if I could stay up late and watch ‘Monday Night Football’ and now here I am about to play in my first one,” Chubb said. “I’m excited about it and I look forward to it.”
Tretter grew up a Vikings fan, and his lasting memory of Monday night is the improbable catch while on the ground by Green Bay’s Antonio Freeman that beat Minnesota. Freddie Kitchens, who’s being questioned following his dud of a debut as a head coach, flashes back to Bo Jackson, Brian Bosworth and the Dolphins stopping the Bears’ try at an undefeated season in 1985.
“I would just sneak and stay up,” he said. “You would always watch it.
“I was supposed to be doing homework, which I am sure my grades showed that.”
Story lines are abundant, and Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams moved to the top of the list as the week progressed.
He’s looking for revenge after leading the Browns to a 5-3 record as interim coach last year and then not getting the permanent job. He’ll match wits with Kitchens, who got the job despite much less experience. He’s expected to bring blitz after blitz in an attempt to force Mayfield into turnovers.
And Williams was given extra motivation when Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. accused him of teaching dirty tactics and telling his players to injure him during the 2017 preseason.
ESPN will surely have cameras trained on both. Beckham caught seven passes for 71 yards in his Browns debut last week and returns to the stadium in which he played his home games for five years with the Giants.
“It’s just another game. It’s really is,” Beckham said. “‘Monday Night Football’ in the lights. Just trying to get wins.”
“Odell likes to put on a show every Sunday so if it’s Monday, if it’s in New York, if it’s in Dallas, it doesn’t matter,” Higgins said. “It’s gameday.”
The Browns have been 0-1 in 19 of their 21 years since returning, but the 0-2 stat never seemed so relevant. Playoffs are the expectation this year, and a two-game hole could spell doom.
“We have the talent, but it is not about the talent. It is about getting the job done,” Kitchens said. “Potential means just one thing: that you have not done anything yet.”