His quarterback was intercepted on the season’s opening drive. His punter was crunched on a fake punt and fumbled. His kicker missed twice. His No. 1 receiver caught three passes for 22 yards. His team committed eight penalties, including three 15-yard face masks. His offense managed six points.
Kevin Stefanski knew there would be bumps in the road as a first-time head coach, especially with no in-person offseason and without preseason games.
He couldn’t have imagined the mountain of mistakes and overwhelming nature of the 38-6 loss Sunday to the Ravens at an empty M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
“They outcoached us and outplayed us,” Stefanski said on a Zoom call from Baltimore. “We did a lot of things that losing teams do. That is my responsibility. That is on me.”
Stefanski’s new to the opening horrors, but the organization and fans are all too familiar. The Browns are 1-20-1 in Week 1 since returning to the league, with the lone win against Baltimore in 2004. They lost 43-13 and were penalized 18 times last year under first-time coach Freddie Kitchens, who was fired after going 6-10.
“Sometimes a wakeup call is pretty good for everybody — a nice punch in the mouth, and that is how we should take it,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said.
Mayfield was responsible for the play that started the onslaught. After two first downs, he didn’t see 6-foot-8 defensive end Calais Campbell drop in coverage as he threw for No. 3 receiver KhaDarel Hodge over the middle. Campbell tipped the pass, and cornerback Marlon Humphrey scooped it before it hit the ground.
The defending AFC North champion Ravens went 49 yards in eight plays, with MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson finding tight end Mark Andrews wide open for a 5-yard touchdown.
Mayfield never looked completely comfortable in the pocket despite being sacked only twice, connected with Odell Beckham Jr. on three of 10 targets, converted three of 12 third downs and zero of three fourth downs and finished 21-for-39 for 189 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a 65.0 passer rating. The touchdown was a 1-yarder to wide-open tight end David Njoku, who had three catches for 50 yards but left with a knee injury.
The Browns scored their touchdown and gained 101 yards in the second quarter and were held to 205 yards in the other three. One promising second-quarter drive went from first-and-10 at the Baltimore 29-yard line to third-and-41 and nowhere close to field goal range.
“Not good enough staying on the field,” said Stefanski, who’s the 10th straight Browns coach to lose his debut. “You are going to get beat doing those things, and we found out the hard way.”
The Browns didn’t use the craziness of the offseason as an excuse for struggling to execute Stefanski’s scheme.
“No, it did not affect anything,” he said.
That left all the blame to fall on the guys in the new yet traditional orange and brown uniforms. The offense, defense and special teams have legitimate arguments for which phase performed the worst.
The special teams were solid last year and Mike Priefer was the only coordinator retained by Stefanski. Priefer’s got a ton to fix before the Bengals visit Thursday night.
A fake punt in the first quarter turned into a disaster when Ravens linebacker L.J. Fort went through the attempted block of Andrew Sendejo and clobbered punter Jamie Gillan, causing a fumble. Austin Seibert missed an extra point off the left upright and was wide right on a field goal from 41 yards. Tavierre Thomas and Sheldrick Redwine were called for face masks while covering kicks.
The defense added to Stefanski’s welcome-to-the-Browns nightmare by having no answers for Jackson, Andrews or receiver Marquise Brown and allowing a 99-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. Jackson went 20-for-25 for 275 yards, three touchdowns and a nearly perfect 152.1 passer rating — he rushed seven times for 45 yards — Andrews caught five passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns and Brown had five catches for 101 yards.
“They were just the more prepared team. Whether that was because we have more new guys, new coaches, schemes and all that, that is irrelevant,” said defensive end Myles Garrett, who had a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery. “At the end of the day, nobody is going to feel sorry for you. You just have to go out there and play ball. We did not do it at a high level. We gave the ball up way too many times.”
The Ravens had no trouble making them pay.
“I would say just the momentum, the good teams, they don’t let one mistake turn into a bunch,” Mayfield said. “They don’t let it kind of go throughout the whole team. They can nip it in the bud, move forward and fix their mistakes.
“We can do that. We know that. We practice on doing those things. We just have to be better next time. There is no way around it and no excuses. We just have to be better.”
The Browns will host the Bengals, who lost a close one to the Chargers, in prime time in front of 6,000 fans. They won’t have time to dwell on the Sunday disaster, but also don’t have many hours to correct everything that went wrong.
“Now is not a time for us to start thinking about last season or thinking about anything else,” said receiver Jarvis Landry, who led the team with five catches for 61 yards. “We came and we played our hardest. We didn’t win this one. We get an opportunity to play in a couple of days for another one. It is a long season. We can’t define everything by this first one.”
Mayfield promised they’d be ready to rebound Thursday night.
“I just think the makeup of this team, there is a different attitude about it,” he said. “We are going to watch the film and get it out of our system. We will watch it, realize where we went wrong, correct those mistakes and move onto Cincinnati.”