Receiver Antonio Callaway was a mess in his season debut Monday night as the Browns lost 31-3 to the 49ers.
Coach Freddie Kitchens plans to stick with him Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.
“I definitely will,” he said Tuesday on a conference call.
Callaway, a fourth-round pick in 2018, was suspended for the first four games for violating the league’s drug policy and returned to practice Thursday. He had also missed the final three weeks of the preseason with a high ankle sprain.
Yet Kitchens rushed him back as the No. 3 receiver against the 49ers, playing him 21 snaps in the first half. Callaway was penalized for a false start and had zero catches in three targets, with two turning into Baker Mayfield interceptions. The critical one came on the goal line when Callaway turned a touchdown into a turnover by bobbling the pass into the air, where 49ers nickelback K’Waun Williams grabbed it.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Mayfield said after the game. “We had total faith in him. There’s a reason he was out there tonight even after not playing the first four games. We trust him.
“The biggest thing is putting our arms around him and letting him know that every once in awhile that happens, but to be able to be a great team, we have to eliminate that and take advantage of our opportunities.”
Callaway, who was benched for the second half and replaced by Damion Ratley, had trouble lining up correctly and blamed it on switching from his normal X spot to the Z last week during practice.
“I had to learn a whole new position,” he said. “It was a little tough. I’m still a professional, so I’ve got to know.”
Kitchens downplayed the change.
“We move our receivers around a good bit,” he said. “I would say the same thing I said last night, I felt like Antonio was ready to play so we played him. He is one of our better players so when our players are healthy and they are eligible to play, they are going to play.
“In doing that, we move our receivers around. We have always moved our receivers around. Antonio will be better moving forward.”
Kitchens blamed himself for not putting Callaway in the best spot to succeed.
“I probably put him in a bad situation,” he said after the game. “I thought he was ready to go, but I put him in a bad situation.”
Letting No. 1 receiver Odell Beckham Jr. return a punt with the Browns trailing 28-3 midway through the fourth quarter was a head-scratching decision by Kitchens. He said he didn’t regret it, even after Beckham fumbled as he kept trying to reverse field.
“I would like to have better ball security, but no regrets on having him back there,” Kitchens said. “Contrary to popular belief, I think Odell kept fighting. He wanted to be out there fielding that punt because he thought he could make something happen to give us a spark.
“If he returned it for a touchdown, it would be the best move since I don’t know when, but it would have been a great move at that point. That was hindsight.”
Beckham hadn’t returned a punt this season.
“In a game that seemed like it was already over, just trying to make a play,” he said after the game. “Anytime I can get the ball in my hand I felt like I just needed it, maybe I could give us some energy, some life, and I don’t think I’ve fumbled much in the NFL but it is what it is.”
The offensive line couldn’t protect Mayfield against a 49ers defensive line led by rookie end Nick Bosa, who had two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. The line has been widely criticized throughout the year, with many fans hoping general manager John Dorsey can trade for Washington left tackle Trent Williams, who’s holding out.
Washington insists it won’t trade him, but Kitchens was asked if the Browns would benefit from adding a lineman.
“I do not make those decisions. John makes those decisions, and that is something that you should probably ask him,” he said. “My job is to get the guys that we have to play good. I think everybody can do a better job of doing their job and then let everything lay where it lays. We just need to take the guys that we have, play better, coach better and get different results than we got last night.”
Kitchens said he and Dorsey do an excellent job communicating about potential transactions.
IN OVER HIS HEAD?
Kitchens is 2-3, with two blowout losses, in his first time as a head coach and was asked if he’s experienced a steep learning curve facing coaches with more experience.
“No, I would not say that at all,” he said. “I think you get into the situation, it is about the result and the narrative changes from the different results that you have.
“That is the easy thing to say. Just look at the tape.”
Mayfield had his leg and shoulder wrapped following the game, according to reports, but Kitchens doesn’t expect the injuries to linger.
“I am sure he was bumped and bruised,” Kitchens said of Mayfield, who was sacked four times. “He got hit more than I would like him to get hit, but he will be fine.”
Kitchens said he didn’t think anyone else suffered a “significant” injury.