The only win occurred at home in 2004 against the Baltimore Ravens, who played without Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden. His glaring absence allowed Browns defensive end Kenard Lang to have a field day in harassing Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller. There would have been a win over the Kansas City Chiefs to open the 2001 season but an infamous helmet toss by linebacker Dwayne Rudd cost the Browns in an embarrassing way.
The NFL did no favors to the Browns this season by matching them against the Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday. The Chiefs represented the AFC in the last two Super Bowls, winning it in the 2019 season and losing to Tom Brady and Tampa Bay last season.
The last time we saw the Browns, they gave a decent effort in a 22-17 loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead in an AFC semifinal playoff game. While the defeat obviously stung for a while, a realistic view of the season indicated that the Browns had arrived as a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
The missing ingredient would be the need for another banner offseason for general manager Andrew Berry, the man with the Midas touch since assuming the role in 2019. Berry appears to have done his job well, adding several key free agent additions and selecting two promising defenders in the draft – cornerback Greg Newsome (first round) and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu Koramoah (second round).
The key factor in Berry’s game plan was an almost tunnel-vision approach to bolstering a defense that was weak against the run, struggled in coverage and had only one legitimate pass-rush threat (end Myles Garrett).
The result of the additions have made the Browns as favorite pick of many to make a serious run at the AFC Championship. The last time anyone said that was when some guys named Bernie Kosar and Clay Matthews were still playing.
As important as the defensive additions are, it goes without saying that continued improvement by quarterback Baker Mayfield is the ultimate key to success in what will be a 17-game grind. Mayfield benefited from the offensive system deployed by first-year coach Kevin Stefanski to have one of the better seasons in the league.
Mayfield has the leaderships skills and physical talents to lead a team deep into the playoffs. He has matured on and off the field since his rookie season of 2018, which is so essential for the most important position on the field.
If the Browns return from Kansas City Sunday night with a win, all the preseason hype will be for real. Maybe it is best that the schedule-maker set up a brutal game one to see exactly where the Browns stand in the power structure.
Browns fans have been disappointed many times in recent decades. Perhaps this is the year that changes. Former coach Sam Rutigliano talked about having the audacity of hope. You get the feeling the 2021 Browns are buying into that thinking in a big way.