The Browns have themselves to blame for letting Kansas City off the hook, and they know it.
After a dream first half, they slipped to a 33-29 loss behind a nightmare sequence including:
- A Nick Chubb fumble.
- A whiffed block that got Baker Mayfield hammer-sacked.
- A 75-yard Chiefs touchdown moments after a Browns TD provided a 29-20 fourth-quarter lead.
- A third-down underthrow to David Njoku followed by punter Jamie Gillan's drop of a snap.
- An interception that erased a plausible chance to win at the wire.
On the flip side, the Browns think the Chiefs got away with a big one.
Starting safety Ronnie Harrison got kicked out of the game in the opening moments after an 11-yard catch and run by running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The play ended near fifth-year Chiefs running backs coach Greg Lewis.
Lewis, a 41-year-old former NFL receiver, pushed Harrison but didn't knock him back very far. Harrison pushed back, sending Lewis into a dramatic backpedal.
Browns center JC Tretter, president of the NFL Players Association, used livid language Monday in assessing the sequence.
"Obviously, Ronnie's going to get called for that," Tretter said, "but we can't have opposing coaches putting their hands on opposing players. We can't have that.
"We've seen rules be changed. I think a few years ago, we had an incident with the Bengals and Steelers, which led to coaches not being allowed on the field during injuries because something like this happened.
"It ramped everybody up and we had a few nasty plays because of it. The NFL's whole stance behind this change in the taunting rule was to avoid retaliation and avoid events that caused retaliation, so I expect that the coach gets held to the same standard, if not a higher standard, than Ronnie, being the first one in.
"Being a coach, putting his hands on an opposing player, I don't think there's any room for that in this league."
The Chiefs' coach seemed to go after the Browns' player, perhaps thinking Harrison stomped Edwards-Helaire. Stefanski said no stomping took place.
"I think any contact that came from Ronnie was incidental," Stefanski said. "It's pretty obvious he's getting collisioned as he's trying to get off their boundary.
"The game officials will always see the second guy, not the first guy. I talked to Ronnie about it. It's the oldest thing in football."
The ejection instantly changed Andy Reid's play calling.
As analyst Tony Romo put it when Kansas City made a big gain one play after the ejection, "They went after Harrison's replacement." Tyreek Hill gained 24 yards with M.J. Stewart newly in at defensive back.
Stefanski blamed the loss on other things.
The Browns scored touchdowns on their first three possessions. Their fourth posssession came after the Chiefs scored.
Aiming to regain a two-possession lead and burn clock, the first three plays were gives to Chubb, for gains of 6, 17 and 4 yards. He fumbled on the latter, near midfield.
The game was a dogfight from then on, with the Chiefs cutting a deficit to 22-20 after three.
Trailing by five in the final moments, Mayfield and Kareem Hunt connected on a 19-yard gain to near midfield. On first down, though, Mayfield tried to avoid a sack while getting grabbed around the ankles. He threw an interception with 1:09 left.
Stefanski was firm and sympathetic, saying, "Ultimately, (Mayfield) has to take care of the rock. He was trying to throw it away. He's very hard on himself."
Cornerback Denzel Ward lamented the turnover differential. The Browns didn't have a takeaway.
"The main focus is that we've got to attack the ball and take it away and put our offense in better position," Ward said Monday. "We've got to find a way to take the ball away in the next game."
The Browns are an early 12-point favorite against Houston in their home opener.
Mayfield fell to 0-3 as the starter in Browns openers. Tyrod Taylor, Houston's No. 1 quarterback now, started for the Browns in the 2018 opener, a 21-21 tie with Pittsburgh.
Stefanski agreed with Ward as to turnovers, saying, "Minus-2? You're not going to win a close game when you have that."
Tretter scoffed at any notion of blaming the loss on Mayfield's late interception.
"There's a ton of game before the fourth quarter," Tretter said. "This isn't an all-Baker thing and Baker has to be the one to lead us to the promised land. Everyone has to be dialed in.
"We played well early on at Kansas City. Now it's a totally different opponent and totally different game plan.
"I don't look at 'what does this mean going forward?' We move on the the Texans."©2021 www.beaconjournal.com. Visit beaconjournal.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.