By Ed Meyer
There was something you had to like about the work clothes that Browns offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens wore in Sunday’s 35-20 road victory over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
No disrespect to the Paul Brown legend was intended, I’m sure, but Kitchens wore an orange sweatshirt with the words DAWG POUND emblazoned across his chest.
We all know how things were, shall we say, wide open in that place when the Browns energized the city with an exciting team that was on the threshold of the Super Bowl three times in the 1980s.
I think Kitchens, who turns 44 on Thursday, is a Dawg Pound kind of guy, and there is no doubt that his players are responding to his easy Southern demeanor and, more importantly, the strategic changes that he has made in playing to the strengths of his personnel – all of his personnel.
It is admirable that his boss, interim head coach Greg Williams, has given Kitchens the freedom to make rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield the special player that he was thought to be when General Manager John Dorsey made him the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft.
That fact alone should give Dorsey something to seriously consider as the search process for the next head coach begins to heat up in the final five weeks of the regular season.
Mayfield, who began to look lost as the Hue Jackson-Todd Haley drama wore on, is thriving now. His four touchdown passes against the Bengals, according to team statisticians, set a Browns record for rookie quarterbacks.
That list, of course, has the names Brian Sipe, a former league MVP, and Bernie Kosar in granite.
Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells said that unfounded rationalizations often are made about teams, particularly struggling teams, but there is no better measuring stick, he said, than the conclusion “you are what your record says you are.”
This is what the record says about the Browns since the Oct. 29 firing of Jackson and Haley.
The team is 2-1 under the direction of Williams, who now has one more win in the four weeks that he has been in control than Jackson did, with that grotesque record of 1-31, in two full seasons on the job.
The Browns are an energized, motivated team, just learning how to play together, and their performance shows it in the way that offensive records are falling in droves.
Their 28 points in the first half against the Bengals, who could do nothing to stop Mayfield and his array of young playmakers, were the most by the Browns since they put up 31 against the Colts in Indianapolis, 27 years ago.
· Mayfield has thrown for multiple touchdowns in each of his last five starts, the first Browns rookie to accomplish that, and the first Browns quarterback to do so, period, since Vinny Testaverde in 1994-95.
· In only eight career starts, Mayfield’s 17 TD passes are the most ever by a Browns rookie, and his 2,242 passing yards are fourth.
· Rookie running back Nick Chubb, with 84 yards rushing and one touchdown against the Bengals, plus three receptions for 44 yards and a touchdown, is the first player in team history to record a rushing and receiving touchdown in consecutive games.
· With one interception and one fumble recovery in Cincinnati, the Browns have 27 takeaways for the season, their most through 12 weeks since 2001 (31 takeaways).
· Defensive end Myles Garrett has 10 sacks to tie for the most by a Browns player through 12 weeks since the great linebacker, Clay Matthews, had 10 in 1984.
The only records that the Browns set in the Hue Jackson era were for futility.
Snubbed handshake fallout
Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield took a ton of flak Monday by ESPN’s NFL commentators, who said he needs to grow up for barely shaking hands with Hue Jackson after the Browns took apart the Bengals, only to survive a furious comeback by backup quarterback Jeff Driskel.
Jackson and Mayfield approached each other at midfield when the game was over, Jackson extended his right hand and said a few words, and the rookie appeared to brush it off with a simple “thank you,” and that’s all.
Mayfield was asked about his reaction in the post-game locker room, and said: “It’s just like any rivalry, and that’s just how it is now. That’s how I’m going to treat it every time we play ‘em, but there’s no hate. That’s just how it is. That’s how I’m going to treat it, and I think that’s how our team should treat it, too.”
I’m not sure what more Mayfield was supposed to do after the intensity of the Bengals’ comeback bid.
Maybe give Jackson a bear hug, and whisper sweet nothings in his ear?