The Cleveland Browns badly needed a win today.
They were on the verge of falling apart, and very audibly losing their hometown fans. Extending their four-game losing streak to five would’ve sent this letdown of a season further into a tailspin.
With that context, the Browns’ 19-16 victory over the Buffalo Bills isn’t something to dismiss. Considering the way this year has gone, we’re hardly in position to get picky about how this team wins games.
Still, it was impossible to watch this game and ignore the fact we’re still seeing the same problems from Freddie Kitchens. Somehow, the Browns came out on top, but did so without providing any confidence when it comes to their head coach.
I’m not trying to play Debbie Downer here. A 3-6 record, while hardly where we thought the team would be at this point in the season, is far better than 2-7. Likewise, the win featured several things to be encouraged about, from the play of Baker Mayfield to the way the team was able to utilize Kareem Hunt without forgetting about Nick Chubb.
At the same time, we can’t talk about the final score of this game without discussing the road the Browns took to get there. Said road featured plenty of the same lapses in judgement from Kitchens which have plagued this entire season.
Play-calling once again proved to be a problem area for Cleveland’s head coach in this game.
Backs against their own end zone in the second half, the Browns ran a shotgun pass with an empty backfield and zero check-down options for Mayfield. The result was Buffalo pulling off a sack for a safety which tied the game.
Later, with Cleveland down four on a last-ditch drive, Kitchens had Mayfield run a timing toss to Hunt, which was immediately fumbled, picked up by a Bills defender and carried into the end zone for what appeared to be a back-breaking score. Though replay review eventually ruled it an incomplete pass, the fact Kitchens called a play like that for someone who was taking part in his first regular season game in over a year wasn’t exactly encouraging.
Then, of course, there was the Browns’ red zone struggles.
Somehow, on Cleveland’s second drive of the day, despite running eight separate plays at the doorstep of the end zone, the team failed to gain a single yard. Late in the second quarter, given three more goal-to-go opportunities, the Browns once again couldn’t hit pay-dirt.
Runs up the middle were terribly telegraphed. Too-clever-for-their-own good shovel passes were called despite the fact this kind of play has become Cleveland’s kryptonite as of late. Imaginative calls were set aside for plays which were either overthought or predictable.
All in all, the Browns finished the first half with 234 yards of offense, three red zone trips, 12 goal-to-go plays and nine points.
So, while Kitchens finally got the monkey off his back, the way he went about accomplishing it just brought up more question marks. Hell, there was even irony in the fact the game-winning reception was hauled in by Rashard Higgins, a wideout Kitchens has spent the entire year mysteriously ignoring.
Frankly, this wasn’t the kind of game which turns down the heat on Kitchens’ seat. He’s still making questionable in-game decisions, still trying to get too cute with play-calls, still doing things which make winning an uphill battle for his players.
Anyone who came into this game seeking proof Kitchens can handle this job received little to none, despite the fact the Browns came out on the winning end. How else can you explain the fact the hashtag #firefreddie was trending on Twitter during a game in which Cleveland was ahead for nearly two uninterrupted hours?
The Browns beat Buffalo and, in the end, that’s the most important takeaway here. Despite receiving several opportunities to fold and call it a year, they were able to steal a victory.
However, it was a victory which didn’t exactly make you feel comfortable about the team’s head coach. It wasn’t a win which made you feel as though Kitchens finally saw the light.
Instead, it was a victory made all the more improbable when considering the many ways Kitchens almost prevented it from happening in the first place.