Pain, no gain: Browns stumbling in season sliding away
By TOM WITHERS
CLEVELAND (AP) Odell Beckham Jr. wore clown-themed cleats that didn't conform to the NFL's fussy dress code.
The footwear choice was fitting.
The Browns are a three-ringed circus, their coach walking a tightrope.
Cleveland dropped its fourth straight game Sunday, losing 24-19 to the Denver Browns, who started a quarterback that had never taken a snap in an NFL regular-season game.
However, more disturbing for the Browns were deeper signs of team-wide cultural dysfunction and that first-year coach Freddie Kitchens may be overmatched and in trouble.
Those expectations of a special season are gone, trampled by penalties, turnovers and red-zone ineptitude. Here's the reality: The Browns (2-6) are not any better.
"These first eight games do not matter," Kitchens said Monday, going on a tangent after being asked during his news conference why he's not playing wide receiver Rashard Higgins more. "It is not where we want to be, but it is where we are and that is who our record is so we have to own that."
Kitchens did his best to simplify the problems by blaming a lack of execution for the team's strange trip into Colorado's thin air. If it were only that.
Beckham, wearing white shoes with artwork inspired by the film "Joker," and Jarvis Landry were both told at halftime by an official that they had to change their cleats or they couldn't play. Quarterback Baker Mayfield shaved at least twice after getting to the stadium. Kitchens had star running back Nick Chubb next to him on the sideline during a crucial possession.
And safety Jermaine Whitehead went on a scary social media tirade following the game, unleashing a series of posts that included expletives and a derogatory racial word while threating a former player.
It was a shocking game, and not just because of the final score.
The Browns have talent. To this point it's been wasted.
Unless things change soon, Kitchens might be on his way out. There's a growing sense that the 44-year-old wasn't ready for the job as his play-calling and game management continue to be issues along with a sense that he's given his players too much freedom and Mayfield is regressing under his watch.
The decision to cut ties with Whitehead was a no-brainer, and Kitchens reiterated a previous statement by the team saying, "we do not condone that type of behavior, talk or anything like that."
But almost everything else the Browns are doing has been puzzling.
Start with the foot-fashion fiasco featuring Landry and Beckham. It may be a small matter, but what other team has star players being asked to change their cleats at halftime?
Kitchens said the fashion faux pas was not a distraction.
"It was brought to my attention that they need to take the cleats off," he said. "I asked them to take the cleats off and they took their cleats off. There is no dysfunction there."
Mayfield arrived at the stadium sporting a full beard. He trimmed it into a Fu Manchu for warmups and then had just a mustache at his postgame podium.
The second-year QB could be searching for the right style.
Right now, the Browns look awful.
The Browns did cut down on their penalties, committing only five after averaging 10 through their first seven games. They also didn't commit a turnover. Those are small victories, but at this point Kitchens needs anything to convince the team brain trust that he deserves more time.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Cleveland's offense bogged down in the red zone, getting there five times but scoring just one touchdown. The Browns settled for three short Austin Seibert field goals and were stopped on a fourth-down sneak by Mayfield.
Kitchens refused to acknowledge the Browns should be trying to force the ball to Beckham near the end zone.
Running back Kareem Hunt is eligible to return from his eight-game league suspension this week. The former league rushing champion has been practicing for the past two weeks.
"I am very much looking forward to Kareem being with us and being able to play," Kitchens said. "Kareem is a good football player, and he will definitely have a role (against Buffalo)."
Beckham had five catches for 87 yards Sunday, but he was visibly upset when Mayfield missed him on a game-deciding fourth down in the final minutes. Beckham had a step on Broncos cornerback Chris Harris and put his hand up, but Mayfield threw over the middle toward Landry into tight coverage and the pass was knocked down.
Mayfield didn't throw an interception for the first time this season, but he couldn't deliver the big play at crunch time. He's last in the league in completion percentage and only has seven TD passes.
0 - The number of teams that have started 2-6 since divisional realignment in 2002 and made the playoffs.
The Browns begin a stretch of three straight home games Sunday against the rolling Bills (6-2), who are off to their best eight-game start since 1993.
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Updated November 4, 2019