It's tough to imagine a worse opening-day loss for coach Eric Mangini and the Cleveland Browns. Pretty much every nightmare that could have come true did come true.
Starting with losing 17-14 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that finished 2009 with a worse record than the 5-11 Browns. The season opener sets a negative and nasty opening tone that, though it can be overcome, makes a Week 2 game against Kansas City a near must win.
The Browns did everything Mangini does not want his teams to do. It turned the ball over, made silly penalties and looked disorganized when it needed to be organized.
Of prime concern are the struggles of quarterback Jake Delhomme who looked every bit like the guy who struggled last season at Carolina. Delhomme's two interceptions were crucial in the loss, and both were the result of very bad decisions and forced passes.
Delhomme limped through much of the second half with a sore ankle and he will have tests on the injured ankle this week. That might explain some of his bad throws. But nothing he did eased concerns brought about by the fact that Carolina, his home for seven years, let him go.
The Browns have the 10th hardest schedule in the NFL. They opened against Tampa Bay and Kansas City, games considered winnable. If they are to make anything of this season, they cannot afford to start 0-2.
?REPORT CARD VS. BUCCANEERS
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- There were moments when Jake Delhomme seemed to be in a good rhythm early in the game, but his interception just before halftime changed the tone of the game. It was an ill-advised throw and it gave the Bucs the momentum. Whether Delhomme was rattled by that throw or by a sore ankle, he did nothing in the fourth quarter when the Browns needed a drive. His numbers -- 20-of-37 for 227 yards, one TD and two INTs -- were not terrible, but his overall game management was not good.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- When the Browns ran, they ran fairly well. Peyton Hillis, Jerome Harrison and Josh Cribbs had 21 carries for 104 yards, a 4.95 yard per carry average. Problem was the Browns threw 38 times and ran just 23 times. That is an out-of-balance approach for a team that needs balance to offset its lack of playmakers.
PASS DEFENSE: D -- The low grade is not because of any great numbers by the Bucs, but because the Browns allowed Josh Freeman to complete too many important throws at key situations. Most important was his 33-yard TD to Micheal Spurlock -- which came when the Browns blitzed on third-and-10 with a 14-10 lead. Instead of playing the odds and forcing a field goal, the Browns gambled and were burned. The execution and planning on that play were simply not good.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- Nobody expects the Bucs to run the ball like All-Stars, but nobody expects them to be able to gain 119 yards either. Cadillac Williams was patient and persistent, and the Browns let Freeman loose for a long scramble. The positives were no scores in the running game by Tampa Bay, but the Browns did not contain it the way they needed to.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Because of a lack of big plays from Josh Cribbs, the premier returner in the league. Cribbs averaged 15 yards on his three returns, and did not get past the 20-yard line on any of them. The Browns need better from Cribbs if they hope to compete. The competition is only going to get more difficult.
COACHING: D -- The Browns seemed to let down after Jake Delhomme's late first-half interception. It hurt, but there was no need to give up at that point. It led to a touchdown, but the Browns still led 14-10 at halftime. A fumble early in the third quarter wiped out a scoring chance, which further dampened the mood. Good teams overcome those mistakes; they don't get so down they appear to give up. The worst tactical mistake came with the Browns on a last-chance drive late in the game to tie. Facing fourth-and-four with about 1:20 left, the Browns had three timeouts. Instead of using one, they raced to the line and were disorganized as they lined up for a key play. Result: A false start that led to an incompletion on fourth-and-nine, which essentially ended the game. Coach Eric Mangini has called timeouts at odd times in games; not calling one there was very, very odd.
--QB Jake Delhomme looked every bit of his 35 years in the season-opening loss to Tampa Bay.
Delhomme's two interceptions were costly, and the first -- a sidearm throw into coverage as he was falling down -- at the end first half changed the entire complexion of the game.
"I've got to be smarter," Delhomme said, an understatement of large proportions.
The upside of Delhomme when he arrived in Cleveland was his veteran leadership. The downside was his sliding performance and tendency to throw interceptions. Starting the season with one TD and two INTs only confirms the downside.
--RB Peyton Hillis played a large role in the game plan and ran well at times, but his second-half fumble was very costly.
The Browns had taken the second-half kickoff to the Bucs 15-yard line. He ran up the middle, but fumbled the ball away and Tampa recovered.
Those were the kind of mistakes the Browns made all day long -- Hillis had another fumble the Browns were able to recover.
Coach Eric Mangini seems to like Hillis because he is a hard-working guy with size. But he lacks speed, and if he starts to turn the ball over those problems will obscure any positives.
--WR Mohammed Massaquoi showed he could be the Browns' prime target. He was able to split two defenders on a 41-yard touchdown catch, but turned the wrong way on another TD opportunity. Massaquoi is a nice receiver, but does not have great speed. He makes up for that with good size, by running good routes and catching the ball well.
--WR Brian Robiskie continues to be an enigma. Robiskie has talent, but struggles to find catches. He started the opener, but had just one catch for six yards.
--RB Jerome Harrison may have to be revived. He broke free for a 39-yard scamper around right end and had 52 yards on nine carries. The problem: The nine carries. A back that finished 2009 as strong as Harrison did deserves more touches.
--S T.J. Ward had an excellent debut as a rookie. He had 10 tackles, was around the ball all day and was involved in two Tampa Bay turnovers.
--CB Joe Haden had good coverage on a touchdown pass caught by Micheal Spurlock, but was victimized by the Browns' approach. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan chose to blitz, which left Haden in single coverage. He was there, but Josh Freeman's pass was too good.