Throughout the offseason the Browns were touted, by themselves and media, as title contenders. But for the third time in five weeks, they looked anything but. The day after Cleveland's listless performance against the 49ers on Monday night, Freddie Kitchens was asked if the team had essentially stopped trying in the second half after falling behind by four touchdowns.
"I don't think we had anybody give up or anything like that. We were still fighting," Kitchens told reporters Tuesday. "Contrary to popular belief, we had our chances and we didn't do it. We had our chances. When we look at the tape as a team, we had our chances. Everybody will recognize that, and the ones in the building -- the people who matter -- are the ones who will recognize it. We will move on, and we will get better from it.
"We have a lot of guys in situations that they have never been in. We are not panicking. We are going to line up and play the next game. There are 11 more."
The five that they've played haven't exactly inspired confidence. The 31-3 drubbing by the 49ers was Cleveland's second by at least 28 points in this young season. It was the first time the offense was held without a touchdown. That had Kitchens fielding questions about being outcoached and whether the learning curve in his first year at the helm was greater than expected.
"No. I wouldn't say that at all. I wouldn't say that at all," he said. "The narrative changes with the different result that you have. Of course that can be the narrative. That's the easy thing to say. But just look at the tape."
Kitchens went on to say the team needed to tackle better, and he needed to call plays better. But he didn't feel like the game was as lopsided as the numbers would suggest. The 49ers forced four turnovers, committed none, maintained possession for nearly 38 minutes and outgained the Browns (2-3), 446-180, including 275-102 on the ground.
Still, after falling behind 14-0 early in the first quarter, Cleveland had a golden opportunity to cut its deficit to four points late in the second quarter.
Its effort was foiled when Antonio Callaway couldn't corral a low throw from Baker Mayfield at the goal line. Callaway ultimately tipped it into the hands of cornerback K'Waun Williams, whose 49-yard interception return set up a Tevin Coleman touchdown run that gave San Francisco a 21-3 lead going into halftime.
Kitchens didn't want to elaborate on the specifics of the play in a game that involved so many that didn't go the Browns' way, but deemed it indicative of the entire night.
"Out of all due respect, I would not do that. I do not talk about that kind of stuff," he said. "Everybody has the game to watch. Everybody can go back and watch the tape. That is what we are going to do. Of course, it was a big play in the game. We could have cut the lead. When you go on the road in an environment like that, you have to withstand their initial fury and emotion of being at home and all of those kind of things. We withstood that and we put ourselves in position to cut the lead to 14-10 before the half. That is a 14-point turnaround because they take the ball, they go down and score and we are down 21-3 at the half.
"That was a big sequence right there, but we have to recognize that and we have to fix that problem. I have to call better plays, and they have to make better choices and have to play better. That is how you fix the problem. It is not that hard. It is just we coach better, they play better and we have different results."
So far they've been a lot like years past.