The Browns still have not won a season opener since Jeff Garcia led the team to victory over the Baltimore Ravens in 2004.
After a competitive first twenty-seven minutes of the game, the Browns imploded in East Rutherford, New Jersey, allowing the Jets to score the final 24 points on their way to a 31-10 victory. Veteran quarterback Josh McCown lasted only one series, suffering a concussion while diving for the end zone in the first quarter. Backup Johnny Manziel began in promising fashion, throwing a 54 yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Travis Benjamin, and leading another scoring drive late in the first half. From that point forward, the Browns fortunes took a turn for the worse and the Jets capped a successful 72-yard two minute drill with a touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Eric Decker.
After halftime, Manziel turned the ball over on three of the Browns first four possessions, twice deep in Browns territory, giving the Jets short fields of 28 and 19 yards. The Jets converted these turnovers into easy points, quickly turning a 14-10 halftime advantage into an insurmountable 31-10 lead by the 10-minute mark of the 4th quarter. From that point forward, the home team simply had to run out the clock on another opening day loss for the Browns.
With 3:37 left in the 2nd quarter and the game tied 7-7, the Browns faced 2nd and goal on the Jets 5-yard line. Manziel attempted to hit Andrew Hawkins in the end zone, but did not complete the pass. A touchdown here would have given the Browns a 14-7 lead. On the ensuing play, the offensive line would commit one of their many penalties, pushing the Browns back to the ten yard line and eventually forcing them to settle for a field goal. After long stretches of looking like the dominant team, the Browns ended up with a slim 10-7 lead that the Jets quickly erased before halftime.
Other game changing moments:
At the end of the Browns first possession, McCown fumbled the ball out of the end zone to cap a time consuming, 90-yard drive that resulted in no points for the Browns.
On the first possession of the second half, Manziel’s threw an interception at the Cleveland 46 that Jets backup defensive back Marcus Williams returned to the Cleveland 19, giving the Jets a short field to extend their lead to 21-10. From that point forward, the game was no longer competitive.
Keys to the defeat:
Turnovers – The Browns committed five turnovers on the day. All but one either took points off the board for the Browns or immediately resulted in points for the Jets. McCown’s fumble resulted in at least -3 points for the Browns, since they would have been left with a chip shot field goal attempt for Travis Coons. It is possible head coach Mike Pettine might have gone for the touchdown, but Pettine is generally a conservative coach, so I think its likely he would have taken the points in that situation. The Jets converted Tashaun Gipson’s fumble, Manziel’s interception, and the first of his two subsequent fumbles into touchdowns into a total of +21 points for the Jets. The Browns did not convert any Jets turnovers into points of their own, so the net result of the turnover battle on the day ended at +24 points for the Jets.
Penalties – This was one of the more undisciplined performances by a Browns team in recent memory. The team committed 12 penalties for a whopping 109 yards, many of them by the offensive line, which served to hamper or stall almost every offensive possession. Manziel rushed 5 times for 35 yards, but lost at least 43 more rushing yards when two of his scrambles were erased by offensive line penalties.
Manziel – After starting 4/5 for 93 yards and a touchdown pass, the 2nd year backup would go only 9/19 for 89 yards and three turnovers the rest of the way. He gained 34 of those 89 yards in garbage time. It was another sub-par performance for the 2nd year player after he squandered most of his rookie season with a series of off-field incidents that culminated with a stint in rehab during the off-season. If he expects to become the Browns starter of the future, his performance on the field will have to improve dramatically in coming weeks if McCown is sidelined for any length of time.
The defense – The much ballyhooed unit allowed lengthy, time consuming touchdown drives in the first half and did little to slow down the Jets after the turnovers in the second. Overall, it was a poor performance by every unit, but the defense’s performance was particularly demoralizing since this was supposed to be the strength of the team.
The Browns face rookie Marcus Mariota, who threw 4 touchdown passes for a perfect 158.3 passer rating, and the Tennessee Titans in their home opener. I had tagged this game as one of the ones the Browns were most likely to win prior to the season, but if Mariota continues to perform like a franchise quarterback, this game could be an uphill climb.