With no margin for error against one of the NFL’s best teams, the Browns made way too many against the Super Bowl-craving Ravens, and Stefanski’s first game with Cleveland went the same way as it did for most of his predecessors.
The Browns fell to 1-20-1 in season openers since the franchise’s rebirth in 1999, and Cleveland is now winless in 16 straight openers — an NFL record it already owned.
For the second year in a row, the opener was a colossal letdown for a Browns team seeking a fresh start. Last season, it was a brutal 30-point loss to Tennessee, and this one was just as bad — maybe even worse since it came against a division opponent.
“Sometimes a wake-up call is good for everybody,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “A punch in the mouth and that’s how we should take it.”
Mayfield threw an interception on Cleveland’s first possession, kicker Austin Seibert missed an extra point and field goal — and may soon get the boot himself — and Stefanski’s first gamble backfired badly when he faked the first punt this season.
“That’s on me,” Stefanksi said. “It didn’t work out.”
Little went right for the Browns, and yet despite numerous early issues, they were still within 17-6 and possibly driving for a late score in the second quarter when Beckham, known for his one-handed catches, tried to run before securing Mayfield’s short pass at the Baltimore 20 with 50 seconds left.
A completion would have given the Browns a first down and the chance to carve into the Ravens' lead. Instead, they had to settle for a field-goal attempt, but Seibert pushed his 41-yard try to the right. Earlier, he clanked his first PAT of 2020 off the left upright.
“I expect him to make those kicks,” said Stefanski.
The Ravens took over and went 69 yards for a touchdown as quarterback Lamar Jackson, who had his way against a Cleveland secondary thinned by injuries, dropped a 9-yarder between Browns linebacker B.J. Goodson and safety Karl Joseph to make it 24-6.
It was halftime. It was over.
The Browns don’t have any time to dwell. They’ll host No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night.
Stefanski also has some injuries to worry about, the most notable to starting rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills, who went out with a knee injury.
Mayfield spent the offseason trying to put a rough 2019 season — 21 interceptions — behind him. But on Cleveland’s opening drive, defensive end Calais Campbell dropped into coverage, tipped a pass intended for receiver KhaDarel Hodge and cornerback Marlon Humphrey picked off the deflection.
Mayfield finished 21 of 39 for 189 yards, and had a few nice moments. But just as last year, the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 struggled to find chemistry with Beckham, who was targeted 10 times and finished with three catches.
“I have to be better and give him a chance on some of those things,” Mayfield said. “Like the free-play late in the game, just give him a chance. He is a great player so I just need to give him a chance.”
Stefanski and the Browns refused to use the pandemic as an excuse. They didn’t have a normal offseason or any preseason to work out the kinks, but no team did. However, unlike the Ravens, the Browns have a new coach, a new system — and a bunch of old problems.
“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.”