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Kitchens, Mayfield leading Browns down the same-old road

Updated October 31, 2019 - 8:06 pm

All that flash, dash and commercial appeal — we interrupt this column for another Baker Mayfield ad — produced a lot of clicks in the offseason for a media starving for another New England-less storyline, but hasn’t amounted to much this season for the Cleveland Browns.

On Sunday in the House That Brady Built, the NFL Offseason Champions, a team that features Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Baker Mayfield, Joel Bitonio, Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson, Olivier Vernon and Denzel Ward, all very good NFL players on both sides of the ball, lost 27-13 to fall to 2-5 on the season.

It’s certainly not a sin to lose to the defending champions and odds-on favorites to win another title. But the way the Browns did it was basically a microcosm of what has led them to this point. Namely, a head coach and a quarterback who got too much, too soon, and now the Browns are going to have to go through another costly reboot at some point unless things turn around quickly.

General manager John Dorsey, an NFL veteran with a great eye for talent (he was previously high up with the Packers and Chiefs), made a critical mistake in the offseason: He hired interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens to be the CEO of a football team when he previously ran the running backs’ room with all of five people in it.

Dorsey hired Kitchens because he liked his moxie — Dorsey loves players and coaches who, like himself, carry themselves in an old-school, cocksure way — and also because Mayfield loved Kitchens and his offensive system. To be sure, Kitchens does run a very nice scheme. But that doesn’t mean he’s head coach material.

What Dorsey should have done was get dysfunctional owner Jimmy Haslam to pay Kitchens enough to stay on as offensive coordinator and get a more experienced head coach. That would have given the Browns the best of both worlds and time to groom Kitchens.

Now, if Kitchens continues to look out of his depth as a head coach — for one example, the Browns lead the league in total penalties (88) despite playing one fewer game than the next 10 teams on the list (the Jets have 71 penalties in seven games) — then the Browns will have no choice but to go another direction.

Then, in all likelihood, they’ll lose Kitchens and his playbook as well, which means Mayfield will have his third head coach and offensive coordinator heading into his third season. Ask Marcus Mariota in Tennessee how five play-callers in five seasons worked out for him after being benched for Ryan Tannehill.

Then there’s Mayfield, who acted like a petulant child this week when asked legitimate questions by a hard-nosed reporter. This goes along with what Mayfield’s shown so far in the league — he thinks he’s arrived, thanks to endorsement deals and social media, before he’s done anything. He reads too many of his press clippings, both positive and negative.

“I am who I am and always have been,” Mayfield said on, you guessed it, Twitter. “Don’t call it emotional when it’s convenient and then passion when it fits. I care about winning, so yeah I’m frustrated.”

Mayfield was calm for the entire press conference but became agitated when the one reporter — who has been tough on Mayfield — started to ask questions. This tirade wasn’t about frustration or passion. It was about Mayfield being unprofessional because someone wrote unflattering things about him.

You’re not in Oklahoma anymore, Baker. Your Heisman carries zero currency in the NFL. Produce and win, then you can throw as many tantrums as you want and people will call you colorful. Until then, keep your rabbit eyes and ears on your playbook and your coaches.

The entirety of the Kitchens-Mayfield Browns experience was on display in the span of three fourth-quarter plays against the Patriots.

Trailing 27-10 with 6:42 to play, the Browns lined up for what amounted to their last shot on third-and-11 from their own 24-yard line.

Mayfield dropped back to pass from the shotgun and appeared to have found the weakness in the Patriots’ Death Star of a defense. The Patriots only had three players in coverage against the three receivers to the left of Mayfield, and this wasn’t an all-out blitz, which meant the Patriots had messed something up. The Browns further got a break when Patriots All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore turned the wrong way, leaving Beckham Jr. wide open for what could have been a 30-plus yard gain.

The one problem: Mayfield didn’t set his feet and drive the ball, and the pass sailed over the head of Beckham, who immediately snapped back at Mayfield in frustration.

On fourth-and-11, Kitchens sent the punt team out and took a deliberate false start instead of using his final timeout. The Browns’ offense then trotted back onto the field and tried to convert the fourth down from 5 yards farther back. (That was the Browns’ 12th penalty. The 13th would come later with a false start on fourth-and-1, which forced a field goal instead of a pass.)

Despite having Beckham open again, Mayfield was sacked for a 5-yard loss.

During the team’s bye week leading up to the Patriots game, Dorsey had touted the coaching staff’s ability to start a new, more disciplined course and Kitchens’ decision-making on fourth downs.

“What I did like is on fourth downs, I like the strategy and the courage that he used in terms of going for it at proper times,” Dorsey said of Kitchens. “That is good stuff right there.”

Good stuff? Not so much on Sunday against the Patriots.

That’s basically how you can sum up the Browns — offseason champs but in-season chumps — to this point.

Greg A. Bedard covers the NFL for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at gbedard@reviewjournal.com. Follow

@GregABedard on Twitter.

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