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Baker Mayfield, Browns struck by harsh reality in blowout loss

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CLEVELAND -- The only positive the Cleveland Browns could take away from their 43-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans was that they have 15 games left on the schedule. There will be plenty of time to work on the lack of discipline that plagued them throughout Sunday afternoon. They can still fine-tune the offense that struggled most of the day and produced only one impressive drive. This is exactly what the Browns were telling themselves -- that it basically couldn't be much worse than what they produced in their season opener.

There was supposed to be a coronation when this game kicked off inside First Energy Stadium, the first outing for a budding powerhouse. What we ultimately witnessed was a stark revelation, that the Browns aren't quite ready to live up to all the hype that has swirled around this franchise. That high-powered offense -- the one featuring quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr. -- generated only two touchdowns. All the good vibes head coach Freddie Kitchens produced as an interim coordinator last season vanished as his team committed a ghastly 18 penalties for 182 yards.

Add in the fact that officials ejected Browns left tackle Greg Robinson in the first half (after he kicked Titans safety Kenny Vaccaro in the head in the second quarter), and it was as miserable a debut as Cleveland ever could have imagined on a day when 67,431 fans giddily anticipated a new era.

"That stadium was ready for us," said Beckham. "For those fans, we don't want to see them leaving with nine minutes left (in the game). We want to be able to stick there and fight through it. I know there's been losing around here, but that's not what we're here to do. We just gotta have everybody stick with us -- the fans, as well -- and this team has to come together."

That task seemed much harder after watching the Browns struggle against Tennessee. As much as the final score revealed how lopsided the game became, it doesn't truly depict how terribly Cleveland played. It literally felt as if officials were throwing flags on every other play. In the first half alone, the Browns amassed 107 penalty yards, which sounds even worse when considering they gained 167 total yards in those first two quarters.

Cleveland gained the bulk of those yards on its first drive, as the offense went 73 yards in eight plays and finished the series with a 4-yard touchdown run by Dontrell Hilliard. Then kicker Austin Seibert missed his extra-point attempt and all hell broke loose after that. The Browns didn't convert any of their five third-down opportunities -- they finished 1-for-10 in that category -- and they also had to reshuffle their offensive line after losing Robinson and his backup, Kendall Lamm, who sustained a knee injury in the second quarter, as well. The Titans ultimately closed out the game by outscoring Cleveland, 31-7, in the second half.

The Browns basically revealed to everybody that all the buzz around them has been unwarranted thus far. If this is supposed to be the trendy pick to win the AFC North title, then the Steelers and Ravens surely must be feeling good about life today. Titans tight end Delanie Walker said his team was so unimpressed with Cleveland that Tennessee didn't even circle this game on its calendar.

"Y'all can crown them if you want to crown them," Walker said. "We still have to play football."

As Kitchens said after the game: "I don't think the penalties had anything to do with believing in the hype. It doesn't really matter to me either way. I see the penalties. I see the lack of execution. The undisciplined (play). We have to do a better job of preparing them for that."

Kitchens had to be most concerned about the way the Titans pummeled Mayfield. Tennessee already had a stout front seven coming into this contest, so give that bunch a patchwork offensive line to work against and it can get ugly in a hurry. Mayfield learned that lesson quickly, as he was sacked five times -- one that led to a Titans' safety in the second quarter -- and harassed on countless other plays.

It became apparent rather quickly that the Browns had no answers for that pressure, especially after reshuffling their offensive line. Kitchens admitted he has to a do a better job of play-calling and that Mayfield has to unleash his passes quicker under such duress. Too often, it seemed that Cleveland expected to make big plays if Mayfield could just buy enough time. Those hopes often ended with him taking a pounding or throwing an interception (he tossed three of those, including one that Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler returned 38 yards for the game's final score).

Mayfield acknowledged that the penalties killed the Browns' rhythm on offense and led to him forcing the issue at times.

"It is extremely difficult," said Mayfield, who completed 25 of 38 passes for 285 yards and one touchdown. "Any time you get something going, you shoot yourself in the foot. That was our big problem today: not being able to build positive plays. Like I preached last week, we are trying to eliminate the negative ones. That is exactly opposite of what we did today, and that falls back on me. We are going to look at the tape and like Freddie said, evaluate the problem. I think we know it is within ourselves."

That sense of determination echoed throughout the Browns locker room after Sunday's contest. They didn't run from the hype that followed them during the offseason, so they're not about to make excuses for themselves now. Mayfield talked about how everyone on this team is going "to throw this (game) in the trash" and then move on. One game, even one that came with insane anticipation, isn't going to define them for the remainder of the season.

That's likely the upside of working for a franchise that has lost so much over the past decade. The Browns know this organization has seen darker days before. The question now is how they'll move forward, what their response will say about how far they've come.

"We have 15 more games. This is only one. It is very hard to go 16-0," Kitchens said. "This is one game, and if we can learn more from this game early on, then so be it. It is good. Adversity is hitting early, and we are going to find out what kind of team we have now."

It's actually a little early to use the adversity card. Coaches usually go to that move after a devastating injury to a star player or at a much deeper point in the season. Since Kitchens is resorting to such a motivational tactic at this stage, it gives you an idea of how much has changed around the Browns. This is a new team with bigger dreams and a lot more confidence.

Keep in mind, there have been plenty of playoff teams that floundered in their openers. The question is whether the Browns can now turn things around in upcoming games against the Jets, Rams and Ravens. The harsh reality for Cleveland is that none of those opponents will be any easier than Tennessee. The good news is that the Browns will have ample opportunity to prove they are better than what they showed on Sunday.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter @jeffrichadiha.

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