In a terrible weather game against one of the best defenses in NFL history, playing in their building, the Cleveland Browns led by Freddie Kitchens got the best performance out of a quarterback the New England Patriots have faced this season in Baker Mayfield. Nick Chubb put up the best day a running back has had against the Pats this year. The game plan effectively dealt with a variation of the Patriots Cover-0 defense that completely shut down the New York Jets offense and had Sam Darnold seeing ghosts just six days prior.
The Browns also turned the ball over in flabbergasting, almost inexplicable, one in a million, fusilli in the stove pipe fashion that put the Browns down 17-0 before the first quarter was over. The penalties and turnovers that have been present in every single game this year persisted and were the primary reason the Browns lost another game almost before it started. Now they're 2-5 with little room for error.
The Patriots entered this game giving up 74.7 yards rushing per contest. The Browns rushed for 159 yards as a team fueled by Chubb's 131. The Patriots were only giving up a remarkably low 4 yards per play and 223.3 total yards per game. The Browns generated 5.3 yards per play and had 310 total yards. The Patriots were only allowing teams to convert 12.7 percent of third down opportunities. The Browns converted 25 percent of their third downs.
On one hand, head coach Freddie Kithens and his staff were up to the task of coming up with the gameplan to beat the New England Patriots, when many thought them incapable. On the other, they have not improved on the issues they've been facing this season. And while players are responsible for their own actions as it pertains to penalties and turnovers, Kitchens is the head coach and if they aren't coaching it, they're allowing it. That's a motto he's undoubtedly heard straight from the mouth of someone he knows and respects a great deal, Nick Saban of Alabama. That means he's allowing some consistently bad football to keep happening and the losses are piling up as a result.
The Browns cannot be a team that has a track record for moral victories but is unable to produce wins. Kitchens came into this job knowing there were expectations on this team and he had to deliver. 2-5 was not an unforeseeable record to this point and the team can still make the playoffs from here, but they have to win next week. And they have to win at least seven of their next nine games to justify this hire. As talented as they may be, the way they are playing currently won't allow that to happen.
Kitchens deserves every bit of criticism he's going to get for this game. The use of challenges looked like the product of a temper tantrum rather than a prudent use of strategic resources. Even if he was right on both, he was never going to get the officials to agree with him and it felt like he was trying to make a point rather than win a game. Kitchens actively put his team at a disadvantage, leaving them without a challenge and only one timeout with 13:10 left in the fourth quarter.
From a game planning and strategic standpoint, Kitchens and his staff were more than up to the task against the Patriots, but all of that feels in vain when the game ends with a 27-13 loss. Part of the frustration with Kitchens is he has a good coaching staff and the hope is he can get through this, get his team through this, so the staff's value can show for what it is.
Baker Mayfield looked like he took a major step forward against the Patriots defense, only making two bad decisions. He was a good quarterback in the game and was effective throwing the ball in the rain and wind.
The fumbles are a killer, but Nick Chubb still looked like a franchise back. Kitchens was right to stick with and believe in Chubb despite the mistakes as they were so out of character for him. Chubb responded by having a great rest of the game.
The questions on the line persist. Justin McCray isn't the answer at left tackle but he doesn't need to be. That should be solved in the offseason. Rotating the right guard seemed out of place given the time they had during the bye week to get Wyatt Teller fully up to speed. They should take the same approach they did with Robinson. Put Teller in there until he gives a reason to pull him out since he represents a possible long-term answer to that spot. The offensive line wasn't the reason the Browns lost the game.
But they did lose the game and as long as that keeps happening, Kitchen is going to be a focal point for critics. That's the job. So if the Browns don't win and his game management continues to be an impediment the way it was in this game, all the statistics and production won't be able to save him.