The much-hyped Cleveland Browns have their first win of the 2019 season.
Cleveland defeated the New York Jets 23-3 in Monday's AFC showdown at MetLife Stadium and improved to 1-1. The Jets fell to 0-2 and appear well on their way to a ninth straight season without making the playoffs.
Baker Mayfield finished 19-of-35 for 325 yards, one touchdown and one interception, but it was Odell Beckham Jr. who shined the brightest. The Browns' top option posted six catches for 161 yards and a touchdown, proving far too much for the overmatched Jets secondary.
For New York, Trevor Siemian exited the game in the first half with an ankle injury. The Jets were already without Sam Darnold, who was sidelined with mononucleosis, and had to turn to Luke Falk. Falk went 20-of-25 for 198 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions, while Le'Veon Bell tallied 21 carries for 68 yards to go with 10 catches for 61 yards.
Browns Need Superhuman OBJ to Reach Unrealistic Expectations
It's not every day one walks away from a 20-point victory feeling discouraged, but Browns fans would be forgiven if that was their general takeaway from Monday's win.
This was not the Cleveland team football fans were promised before the season.
Sports Illustrated proclaimed "The Browns are Back" on the cover of its season preview issue. Six different Cleveland.com reporters offered their predictions for the team's final record, and 10-6 was the worst mark. Mayfield was featured in an extensive GQ profile, and the Browns were one of the most popular bets to win the Super Bowl leading up to the campaign.
Yet, they were a disaster in Week 1 and lost by 30 points to the Tennessee Titans while committing 18 penalties for 182 yards. The offensive line was nonexistent, especially after left tackle Greg Robinson was ejected, and it looked like the same old Browns once again.
It was more of the same for much of the contest against the Jets.
Outside of a 19-yard touchdown run from Nick Chubb in the second quarter, Cleveland's offense was largely stuck in neutral despite consistent favorable field position against a terrible Jets team that needed a monumental effort just to pick up a first down.
Mayfield hesitated in the pocket, missed open receivers on multiple occasions and unleashed a number of high throws that sailed over the heads of pass-catchers. As a result, the Browns struggled to separate from New York even though the home team managed minus-13 passing yards in the entire first half.
The Oklahoma product also threw a late interception while trying to put the game away in the fourth quarter.
There's one difference on this year's Browns compared to lost causes of the past—they have one of the most talented players in the entire league to bail them out when they need it the most in Beckham.
Cleveland's first field goal came after OBJ hauled in an incredible one-handed catch for 33 yards down the sideline. It was a fitting play for his return to the Big Apple given his tendency to do just that on the New York Giants, and he rescued his quarterback from another sailing incompletion.
That is the top play of the season for most receivers, but it wasn't even Beckham's biggest of the game.
The two sides combined for four punts and a turnover on downs in five straight possessions to start the second half, and a general malaise settled over the game despite a 13-point lead for the Browns. That's when Beckham streaked down the middle of the field untouched and turned Mayfield's short pass to a wide-open target into an 89-yard touchdown.
It essentially ended the contest and underscored just how dangerous No. 13 is every time he gets his hands on the ball.
Anything short of a deep postseason appearance would be a disappointment in Cleveland given the astronomical preseason expectations, but an uninspiring win over one of the worst teams in the league doesn't do much to erase the Week 1 debacle. The Browns aren't good enough to compete with the elite teams in the AFC unless their best player is up to the role of Superman on a consistent basis.
He was Monday.
Jets Must Avoid Temptation of Relying Too Heavily on Le'Veon Bell in Lost Season
An 0-2 record is far from the only issue for the Jets.
Darnold is sidelined with mono, Siemian left with what appeared to be a gruesome ankle injury and the defense that was playing without linebacker C.J. Mosley couldn't contain Beckham when the game was still hanging in the balance. There were plenty of boos from the home fans, especially as Myles Garrett wrecked the offensive line on his way to three sacks.
Falk put up solid numbers on paper, but many of his completions came against soft-shell defensive looks after the game was already well in hand. He was also a sixth-round pick last year and didn't play as a rookie, which doesn't exactly scream savior.
Bell may have seemed like the savior when the Jets signed him to a four-year deal this offseason, but not even the three-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection can rescue a team with so much attrition through a mere two weeks.
It was not for a lack of effort, though.
The Jets consistently ran him into crowded boxes during Monday's game, never giving him much opportunity to show off his shiftiness in the open field. They also threw it to him behind the scrimmage on multiple occasions with a sense of "here's the ball, please go make something happen," which led to a number of hard hits.
The team even asked him to run the Wildcat offense at times during the blowout loss.
An overreliance on Bell was never more apparent than a 4th-and-2 from Cleveland's 12-yard line in the third quarter. The Jets were facing a 13-point deficit but had a chance to get right back in the game before Falk simply threw it to Bell on a dump pass well short of the sticks with two defenders and zero blockers in the area.
The result was a turnover on downs, and Beckham scored his long touchdown on the ensuing play.
It may be tempting to give the ball to someone as talented as Bell every down, but he is under team control for multiple years. Having him absorb crushing hits 30 to 40 times a game during what is already shaping up to be a lost season is not the recipe for long-term success.
New York surely plans to be competitive during the course of that four-year deal, especially once Darnold is healthy and developing again. Putting too much wear and tear on Bell's legs as the primary runner and receiver (his 10 targets were four more than any other Jets pass-catcher) before the competitive window opens would be the quickest way to close it.
Matchups with last season's Super Bowl participants are on the horizon for the Browns and Jets in Week 3. Cleveland hosts the Los Angeles Rams, while New York hits the road to face the AFC East rival New England Patriots.