At 4:15 Sunday afternoon in Cleveland, after Tennessee shocked the Browns with a 30-point pummeling, the diehards filed out of First Energy Stadium and a very light rain began to fall on the lakefront. Even the sky was crying at the Browns performance, which included three Baker Mayfield interceptions in the fourth quarter, 18 Browns penalties for 182 yards, one score in Cleveland’s last 13 drives, and a trusted tackle (Greg Robinson) ejected for kicking a Titan in the helmet.
Talk about a letdown.
Longtime season-ticket-holder Preston Hoge said from Cleveland on Sunday night: “It’s the loudest crowd I’ve ever heard in that stadium at the beginning of a game, and the quietest crowd I’ve heard at the end.”
“It reminded me of a college crowd,” cornerback Logan Ryan of Tennessee said. “The fans are there at 9 a.m., drinking, and there’s a lot of them. And they were really loud, especially at the beginning.”
Give credit to Tennessee, though. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees sent multiple looks at quarterback Baker Mayfield (sacked five times, intercepted three) all day. You wouldn’t have known Marcus Mariota has the hot breath of Ryan Tannehill on his neck; he was 14-of-24 for three touchdowns and no picks. The Titans were more than solid on both sides of the ball, and their picks of Mayfield came on three straight series that ruined the game for the Browns.
Ryan’s pick, in particular, was an example of how well one team played and how poorly the other one did. “We were in a zone,” Ryan told me from Cleveland, “and it was third-and-four, and I knew they liked to go to Jarvis [Landry] in those cases when they can. I was on Jarvis. I’ve played him so many times. We know each other so well. He’s their third-down guy.”
Ryan was not going to let Landry catch the ball at the sticks for the first down. “They like to run routes at the sticks,” Ryan said. “And Baker takes chances. That’s his M.O. He’s a gunslinger. He’s fearless. I was covering Jarvis tight, and I cut at the ball at the right time.” The pick reminded me of the physical interception Malcolm Butler made to win the Super Bowl for the Patriots five years ago. Interesting that after Ryan made his pick, Butler made a pick-six for the Titans off Mayfield.
All teams can say it’s only one game. That would seem particularly important to the Browns today. And to their fans.
“The hype was a little over the top,” Hoge said. “This game was a wakeup call. One loss is not going to rip the heart out of these fans.”