EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ
It was difficult and frustrating and nerve-wracking and harder than it should have been, given the sorry state of the injury-ravaged New York Jets.
It was not an artistic success, save for two Odell Beckham Jr. gems in a triumphant return to MetLife Stadium, his home for five NFL seasons with the Giants.
So after the Browns emerged with a 23-3 victory, their first win on Monday Night Football in 11 years, and the first coaching win for Freddie Kitchens, the question was whether they felt joy or relief.
“That’s a good question. I don’t know how to answer that. I think we’re just happy to get a win,” said Beckham, who reminded New York fans of the dynamic player he is at his best with six catches for 161 yards.
Not only did Beckham want to impress the New York fans after being traded from the Giants, he had put his neck on the line by charging Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams with targeting him in past games.
But on the prime-time national stage of the only game of the day, Beckham produced two highlights that will have the football world talking all week long – a one-handed grab for 34 yards over a defender in the same corner of the field as his signature catch as a rookie against the Dallas Cowboys, and an 89-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown on a short throw over the middle on which he accelerated like a jet taking off.
In the verbal by-play between Beckham and Williams during the week, it was Williams who questioned a reporter for describing Beckham as one of the most dynamic players in football.
“Who?” Beckham said, playfully, mimicking Williams’ line about Beckham on Friday. “Everybody has a right to their own opinion. He’s a phenomenal coach. He’s got a great defense, but I’m done talking about it. We won.”
Beckham told Kimberly Jones of NFL Network that Williams’ comments during the week inspired him.
“I just want to thank him, thank him for inspiring me and motivating me to show people who I really am,” he said.
But other than Beckham’s two plays and a 19-yard touchdown run by Nick Chubb -- who still carried the ball only 18 times despite the Browns never trailing -- the offense was far from efficient against Williams’ defense depleted of its leader, linebacker C.J. Mosley, and its No. 1 draft pick, tackle Quinnan Williams.
The Browns converted only 4 of 13 third downs, were forced to kick three field goals, and Baker Mayfield barely completed 50 percent of his passes (19 of 35 for 325 yards and one touchdown).
“We absolutely need to play better,” Mayfield said. “Not losing sight that a win is a win, especially on the road, and we needed this one. But field goals early on? We have to be able to finish those drives. It’s a little frustrating at times.”
Credit has to go to Williams, who disrupted Mayfield’s rhythm despite being totally outmanned. He didn’t have the horses on this night – or an offense to keep his defense off the field.
The Jets’ offense in the first half managed just five first downs and 45 total yards while burning through their No. 2 quarterback and a newbie just promoted from the practice squad this week.
“Not to say that they didn’t have a good scheme and weren’t playing hard,” Mayfield said of Williams’ defense, “but completions, making sure we get the chains moving … I think it falls back on us just doing our jobs.”
It was a lot easier for the Browns’ defense and defensive end Myles Garrett, in particular.
Garrett played like a man possessed, though he wouldn’t attribute his inspiration to showing up Williams, whom he criticized in an offseason national interview for holding him back as Browns defensive coordinator.
Garrett had a career-high three sacks, and also was penalized twice for roughing-the-passer and jumping offsides.
Both times Garrett was called for hitting the quarterback too high, and the second time knocked Trevor Siemian out of the game. Siemian suffered a serious injury when his left ankle caught on the turf and Garrett completed his sack with a full body smash on Siemian.
At halftime, Kitchens told national radio sideline reporter Ross Tucker that Garrett’s penalties were a “form of selfishness.”
Kitchens was a little more muted after the game.
“He’s going to continue to work on the problem,” he said of Garrett. “I sent him out there [after talking on the sideline] and his job was to get after the quarterback, and that’s what he’s going to continue to do.”
Garrett Tweeted out concern for Siemian’s recovery before he departed the stadium, and was disappointed in the penalties – but ecstatic about the win for “getting that weight [of an opening-game dud] off of us.”
“I’m supposed to be a leader on this defense and this team, so I can’t be saying that and doing that and having those negative plays affecting my team like that,” he said.
No matter the style, it was a big win for Kitchens, and not only because it was his first. He had to emerge victorious over Williams, who wanted the job that he now holds.
Kitchens said he looked for Williams in the crowded post-game scrum on the field but couldn’t find him.
As for his first career win, there was no celebrating.
“I thought these guys stayed together,” he said. “This was a tough week in a lot of ways for our team.
“I’m just ready to get to work on the next one, you know?”
The next one is a Sunday night affair in FirstEnergy Stadium against the defending NFC champion and 2-0 Los Angeles Rams. A performance like Monday night’s won’t be good enough against them.
“We came out and had a terrible home opener and everyone was talking about us,” Beckham said. “Coach Freddie was talking about how we’re going to see what kind of team we are after this.
“We didn’t play our best game but we hung in there. We made the plays we needed and we saw sparks and glimpses of what this team can be. Now we have to get right back to it.”