“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good ol’ days before you’ve actually left them.”
― Andy Bernard, The Office
The Cleveland Browns travel to Arrowhead Stadium this week to cap off what has been a long stretch of preseason “action.” We have seen our share of debate about depth and practice squad players interrupted by the unfortunately frequent Cade York missed field goal attempt.
Sure, we’ve had fun watching Dorian Thompson-Robinson capture our imagination with his skill and agility while slinging it around on the field. We’ve marveled at Austin Watkins Jr. pulling down TDs and racking up yards while competing for that last wideout spot.
We’ve witnessed an apparent transformation through the new Jim Schwartz defense that has fans checking Tipico for Browns anytime safety odds (the Browns defense started the scoring in two preseason games with a safety).
Nonetheless, with the Browns playing four preseason games this year because of the Hall of Fame Game, the team and the fans are ready for the regular season.
Before we get there, however, let’s revisit the last iteration of the Browns “good ol’ days” in Saturday’s matchup with Kansas City at famed Arrowhead Stadium.
For this week we go back to the site where the water receded on the old version of the Browns. Way back … in 2021. Those Browns had just defeated the hated Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round and were headed into the divisional playoffs playing with house money. No one expected much from the Browns against the vaunted Chiefs.
The Browns had different plans, however. The team showed their mettle and were pacing the Chiefs through the first two quarters. Just before the half, the Browns put together a drive culminating in receiver Rashard Higgins catching a pass near the goal line and stretching to score before being drilled by safety Daniel Sorensen in helmet-to-helmet fashion and fumbling the ball through the end zone for a touchback. It was a clear penalty on the play, but it was not called.
Had Higgins scored, it would have cut Kansas City’s lead to 16-9 and left the Browns with positive momentum heading into halftime.
Instead, the Chiefs got the ball back with under two minutes left up 16-3 and proceeded to drive down the field and kick a field goal for a 19-3 lead at the break. Despite this momentum swing, the Browns battled in the second half, outscoring the Chiefs 14-3. The helmet-to-helmet play would ultimately be the deciding factor as the Browns lost 22-17.
Despite the loss, we all felt confident heading into that offseason. And why not? We had our franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield, who was dazzling fans and inspiring people to get their Baker merch in droves.
Kevin Stefanski had proved that, even from his basement (as he was in the Wild Card Game), he could be the sought-after, long-awaited coach in Cleveland. Hopes continued to climb in the offseason as GM Andrew Berry added Jadeveon Clowney, Troy Hill, Malik Jackson, John Johnson and Tak McKinley to make the defense a force in the difficult AFC North.
That offseason also brought a curious draft pick in the third round: a young speedster from Auburn named Anthony Schwartz. He was raw as a receiver, but boy could he run.
When Schwartz was in high school, he set a world youth record in the 100-meter dash, running a 10.15. He also won state in Florida back-to-back in both the 100 and 200, both in record times of 10.07 and 20.41, respectively. In 2018 he helped Team USA win gold in the 4×100 relay at the IAAF U20 Championships.
Schwartz was shaky as a receiver and lacked discipline as a route runner, but Berry thought that could be taught.
The Browns opened the 2021-2022 season against, yes, the Chiefs in Arrowhead. Once again playing a competitive game, the Browns fell 33-29.
Optimism for the season had not been doused, but the following week at home against Houston permanently altered the Browns’ timeline.
On a third-and-long, Mayfield overthrew Schwartz — a route he seemed to stop on — and Mayfield injured his non-throwing arm on the ensuing tackle attempt. Mayfield tried to play through it, but was never the same.
That play set off a chain of events that led to Mayfield departing and Deshaun Watson entering. Watson came with a lot of baggage and a large price tag but also established star power. Last year in six appearances – after returning from an 11-game suspension — Watson did not look the part of a franchise quarterback and often looked lost on the field.
Fans hope Watson can regain the form he displayed in 2020, when he led the league in passing or if he continues to disappoint as he did last year. There is no doubt the success of the season will be determined by Watson’s play.
On Saturday, we will get a drive or two at most out of Watson and this version of the Browns against the Chiefs. Hopefully we get some momentum from this brief appearance that can light the way toward a productive year for the offense.
As for Schwartz … I believe he is already gone, but this front office seems bent on giving him every opportunity possible to make the team so don’t be surprised to see him getting some touches.
Hope runs high that this squad can recapture some of the magic they had going into that day in Arrowhead in January 2021. Perhaps this season will become one we can look back on as the good old days.
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