Meet the new Browns.
Same as the old Browns.
OK, so maybe it is only one game and it may be unfair to label a team with 15 more to play.
But we’ve seen before what happened Sunday. It’s been like a continuous 14-year loop. Wasn’t that supposed to end this season?
So much was new and different on Sunday, but most of it happened before the season opener against the Miami Dolphins began.
New coach. Pat Shurmur? Gone. It’s Rob Chudzinski’s team now.
New kicker. Old Faithful, Phil Dawson, is with the San Francisco 49ers now. The Browns signed his replacement, Billy Cundiff, just last week.
New faces on defense. Starters Desmond Bryant and Paul Kruger were free-agent acquisitions.
New punter. The Browns had to punt so much in Shurmur’s so-called offense last season that Reggie Hodges wore out his leg. Spencer Lanning replaced him.
New stadium name. It’s FirstEnergy Stadium now, but naming rights apparently do not prevent a nearly empty seating bowl halfway through the fourth quarter.
That’s because despite all the changes above and others to numerous to mention, one thing — the most important thing — remained the same.
The Browns lost, this time 23-10.
And some of the hallmarks of Cleveland football — turnovers, ill-timed penalties, dropped passes, third-down failures on both sides of the ball and blocking breakdowns — again played major roles.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden (26 of 53 for 289 yards and a touchdown) threw three interceptions and completed less than 50 percent of his passes.
“We didn’t play well enough,” Weeden said. “We missed too many opportunities. Not the way we drew it up.”
Right guard Oniel Cousins and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz were simply overwhelmed by Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake, who had 21/2 sacks and six “hurries” against Weeden. Cousins was flagged twice for holding (one of the penalties negating a fourth-quarter touchdown), once for illegal use of the hands and once for a false start.
Cousins started in place of Shaun Lauvao (ankle) and went the distance despite all the penalties.
“He’s the best we have and he’s going to get the job done for us,” Chudzinski said.
Chudzinski and Weeden praised Miami’s defensive front. So did left guard John Greco, a Boardman High graduate.
“They’re a good front,” he said. “They did some things that we just couldn’t handle and it goes all around. If everyone does their job a little better, maybe we get a pass off cleaner and a route is cleaner.”
There were some things to like about first-year defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s group. The Browns held the Dolphins to just 20 yards on 23 rushes. Miami’s longest run went for just 5 yards.
Browns cornerback Joe Haden all but shut down Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace, who left Pittsburgh for Miami and a huge free-agent-deal. Wallace had one catch for 15 yards.
But former Canton GlenOak and Ohio State wideout Brian Hartline more than made up for Wallace’s lack of production with nine catches for 114 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown. Second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill (24 of 38, 272 yards) used Hartline as his security blanket, targeting him 15 times.
“He’s not that fast, but he runs really good routes and he’s got great hands,” Haden said.
Hartline’s third-quarter touchdown erased the Browns’ 7-6 halftime lead and swung the momentum in the Dolphins’ favor.
“I just try to do my part,” Hartline said. “I was just there when the team needed us to move the chains and to move the ball. I had the opportunity to make a big play and I was able to do it.”
Bryant had two sacks and Kruger and Quentin Groves each had one, but three of the Browns’ four sacks came in the first half.
The Browns’ offense struggled to sustain drives, converting just one of 14 third-down situations, but Bryant denied the defense wasn tired.
“That is definitely not the case,” he said. “We missed a couple of assignments in the second half, but we’ll go look at the tape tomorrow and get those corrected. We’ll be ready for Baltimore next week.”
The Ravens — humiliated on national television by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 49-27 on Thursday night — also figure to be ready for the Browns. The sting of allowing Manning an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes can’t be sitting well in Baltimore.
Greco felt the frustration an opening-day crowd of 71,513 experienced as the excitement of the preseason faded into an all-too-familiar malaise. But the Boardman and University of Toledo product has a message for the fans.
“Stay excited,” Greco said. “We’re 0-1 and I know it’s not the start anyone wanted, but we have a game coming up against the Super Bowl champs and we’re going to go back this week and re-focus and re-energize and try to get a W.”