The Browns finished the preseason Sunday night with a 19-10 win over the Falcons in Atlanta.
The focus officially turns to the opener Sept. 12 in Kansas City, but with two weeks before the highly anticipated matchup, there’s time to quickly look back on the win in Atlanta that enabled the Browns to go 3-0 in coach Kevin Stefanski’s first preseason.
Here are five takeaways that will have an impact on the season.
SOUND AND SAFE
Quarterback Baker Mayfield, the starting offensive line (minus center JC Tretter), running back Kareem Hunt and tight ends Austin Hooper and David Njoku played for the first time in the preseason. Mayfield led two good drives and went 6-for-10 for 113 yards, a 22-yard touchdown to KhaDarel Hodge and a 132.5 passer rating.
More importantly, he didn’t get hurt. Nor did any of the key players on both sides of the ball.
Stefanski’s calculated gamble didn’t backfire, and Mayfield and Co. have a taste of game speed before getting on the Autobahn with the 700-horsepower Chiefs.
“I know our guys are ready,” Mayfield told reporters after the game. “They’ve been itching to go. We can feel that, how close it is.”
A REAL PUSH
Defensive tackle Malik McDowell was the plow and 300-pound Falcons rookie center Drew Dalman the pile of fluffy snow. McDowell drove Dalman so far into the backfield so fast, the running back was able to slip past. It didn’t diminish the dominance.
McDowell followed by walking back guard Jalen Mayfield to set up end Cameron Malveaux’s sack. Later, McDowell teamed with Sheldon Day for a sack.
McDowell has come on strong lately after not playing since 2016 and dealing with an injury in the offseason and a rib injury in training camp. His size (6-foot-6, 295 pounds), strength and potential have earned him a spot on the 53-man roster.
“He’s done a nice job really since the day he showed up on campus,” Stefanski said. “He’s been diligent about his work, he’s taken to the coaching that Coach Kiff (defensive line coach Chris Kiffin) and Coach Garrett (Jeremy, assistant line coach) are giving him from a technique standpoint and he’s making plays in these games. I’m pleased with what he’s doing.”
THE DOOR IS OPEN
Kicker Chase McLaughlin had the chance to cement his spot on the roster.
Stefanski set up a long field goal at the end of the first half, and while the crossbar rejected McLaughlin’s 57-yarder, some might’ve counted the near-miss as a make. Not the badly missed 33-yard extra point wide right following Davion Davis’ touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
McLaughlin had been good in practice and 5-for-5 in the first two games, but if general manager Andrew Berry doesn’t trust him to win a close game against the Chiefs, he must get a replacement.
“He’s competing for a spot. I know he had that miss, but he’s done a nice job in camp,” Stefanski said. “We value those practice reps, the joint practice reps, the game reps. It’s all of it.”
Hodge, running back D’Ernest Johnson and rookie running back/receiver Demetric Felton have a lot in common. They are key special teamers and have shown they can contribute off the bench on offense.
They also likely solidified spots on the roster with a strong finish to the preseason.
Hodge made a nice touchdown catch for the second straight week, Johnson totaled 55 yards on eight touches and can handle third-down blitz pickup and Felton broke tackles to return a kickoff 37 yards and a punt 11.
“It was definitely huge,” he said of the kickoff return. “I feel like I showed that I could handle that.”
Felton’s return ability makes JoJo Natson expendable, and Hodge and Johnson have too much value to be cut loose.
“He’s a constant guy, not matter what’s going on,” Mayfield said of Hodge. “He provides so much to our special teams, part of this unit as well. He’s making plays consistently.
“He doesn’t get a lot of recognition but he does a lot of the dirty work. We’re very appreciative of that within the building, and I hope he knows that.”
Mayfield also had praise for Johnson.
“D’Ernest is a guy that he just makes plays happen when he gets the ball in his hands,” he said. “He runs angry. He’s not a big guy but he runs physical. We’re happy to have him on our team.”
A LATE WAKEUP CALL
Defensive tackle Jordan Elliott played like someone whose job was in jeopardy.
It might have been.
Elliott, a third-round pick in 2020, seemed like a lock to make the team when camp started but had been quiet. The coaches also weren’t pleased with his offseason weight loss and told him to put back on some of the pounds.
If Elliott’s on the bubble, he made a case for more time to prove himself. He had a tackle for loss, a stop at the line and ripped a loose ball away from quarterback Josh Rosen for a fumble recovery.
Elliott’s fighting with McDowell, Day and rookie fourth-round pick Tommy Togiai for two or three spots.
On the edge, Malveaux ended on a high note with two sacks and another quarterback hit. He, Joe Jackson and Porter Gustin may be fighting for one spot.