Jake Delhomme's tenure as the Browns' starting quarterback got off to a rocky start in the season opener.
Delhomme threw two interceptions in the 17-14 loss to the Buccaneers. One thrown just before halftime was the turning point. Ronde Barber returned it 65 yards to the Browns 3 to set up a Tampa Bay touchdown.
At some point in the first half Delhomme twisted his right ankle, but he continued playing. On Wednesday he was in a walking boot and unable to practice. He is "day to day" for the home game against the Chiefs on Sunday.
The good news for Delhomme is his coaches and teammates trust him so implicitly as their leader that they remain solidly behind him.
"Jake is our captain," fullback Lawrence Vickers said. "Whatever Jake did, I'm behind him. If he threw 100 interceptions, I'm right behind him. It doesn't matter to me. That's my quarterback. I think he did a good job."
That support is critical because when last season disintegrated quickly no one knew where to turn for help. Brady Quinn started at quarterback and was yanked after an 0-3 start. Derek Anderson was eventually pulled and only got the job back after Quinn suffered a season-ending foot injury with two games left.
Delhomme completed 20 of 37 passes for 227 yards in Tampa. He deftly threw a pass to Mohamed Massaquoi over two defenders resulting in a 41-yard touchdown. The interceptions dragged his passer rating down to 59.2.
Almost as big in the Tampa loss as the interceptions was a miscommunication with Massaquoi in the second quarter. The receiver ran a route to the left front corner of the end zone. Delhomme's pass was toward the middle of the end zone incomplete. The Browns had to punt.
"He went to the corner," Delhomme said. "That's his read. He has a chance to go to the middle or the corner. It was his decision, and I felt I needed to get rid of the ball. That's something we're all working through. It's our first live bullets in a game and it's something we can all learn from."
Such mistakes can be corrected before Kansas City comes to town, but now with Delhomme's injury the work on timing is delayed. It's a matter of making sure the quarterback and receiver read the defense the same way. Massaquoi is confident he and Delhomme can get on the same page, but for now Massaquoi is working with Seneca Wallace.
"Jake is special," Massaquoi said. "He's one of those guys that always gives off a positive vibe. He's a veteran, so he's always cool, calm and collected, and other guys see that and he just stays poised.
"His talent speaks for itself. You know, some of the plays and some of the decisions that he makes, you know, he's just great."
Coach Eric Mangini was not talking about that specific play in Tampa, but he said Delhomme could use more help from his teammates.
"I thought he was effective throughout the game," Mangini said. "I think we could have helped him more in terms of creating plays offensively. In some plays we should have been open or been able to get open, but I have full confidence in him and thought he ran the offense well throughout the game."
SERIES HISTORY: 22nd regular-season meeting. Browns lead series, 10-9-2. As the series record would suggest, neither team has ever had a long string of success against the other. The Browns have never won more than two in a row against the Chiefs nor have they ever lost more than two in a row.
--Jerome Harrison set a franchise record by rushing for 286 yards when the Browns and Chiefs met last Dec. 20 in Kansas City. It was the best single-game rushing performance in franchise history and third-best ever in the NFL.
--The Browns were happy to take the 43-34 win in Arrowhead Stadium. It was the second win in the four-game winning streak to end the season. But that game turned out to be the Eric Berry Bowl.
The Browns, by virtue of winning their last four games, finished 5-11. They ended up with the seventh pick in the 2010 draft. The Chiefs finished 4-12 and picked fifth. The Chiefs drafted Eric Berry, the safety from Tennessee and a player the Browns coveted. Had the Chiefs won and everything else play out the same, the Browns would have had that fifth pick and the Chiefs would have drafted seventh.
--The Chiefs defensive coordinator is Romeo Crennel, who coached the Browns from 2005-2008. In some circumstances the familiarity with the Browns might give Crennel a coaching edge, but there has been so much turnover since Crennel was fired it won't do him much good. The only offensive "skill" players still on the roster from when Crennel coached are WR Josh Cribbs, RB Jerome Harrison and FB Lawrence Vickers.
--The Browns have played some bizarre games since returning to the NFL in 1999, none stranger than the one referred to in Cleveland as "Helmet-gate." In 2002 the Browns seemingly won the season opener, 39-37, over the Chiefs, but before the final play ended linebacker Dwayne Rudd removed his helmet and skidded it along the ground. A penalty was called on Rudd, giving the Chiefs one more play. The Chiefs won the game on a field goal.
The Browns recovered from that loss and won their next two on their way to a 9-7 record and their only playoff loss in the new era. But Helmet-gate is a good example why the Browns are 1-11 in season openers.
--The Browns haven't played tie game since they battled the Chiefs to a 10-10 draw on Nov. 19, 1989. Marty Schottenheimer, who coached the Browns from mid-1984 -- 1988, was coaching the Chiefs. The late Bud Carson was coaching the Browns.
BY THE NUMBERS: 351 -- Yards rushing by the Browns when they played the Chiefs on Dec. 20 last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we won it would have been great. The big thing is how you respond. That's the true character of a man." -- Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme looking ahead to Kansas City after losing the opener.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Regardless who starts at quarterback against Kansas City the Browns are likely to use more Wildcat formations than they used in the opener. It is a benefit to Seneca Wallace practicing with the first team while Jake Delhomme recovers from an ankle injury.
The Browns showed some Wildcat in preseason with either Wallace or Josh Cribbs at quarterback and Delhomme temporarily on the sideline, but not much of it. During the game in Tampa Cribbs completed a nine-yard pass to Wallace. That play was not used in preseason.
"Seneca is another capable guy who can make plays with his arm and now with his feet as well," Cribbs said. "It gives them a lot to think about. It means the Wildcat will be up every play.
"That's no secret. Seneca is good with his feet. That's something maybe they didn't have to practice on for Jake."
The Browns were in the Wildcat four times in Tampa. Cribbs ran three times for 11 yards and threw the nine-yard pass to Wallace.
--RG Shawn Lauvao is still sidelined with a sprained left ankle.
--DL Shaun Rogers did not practice because of hip and ankle injuries.
--QB Jake Delhomme is in a walking boot and did not practice.
--S Nick Sorensen was limited in practice Wednesday. He missed the opener because of a concussion suffered Aug. 28 in Detroit.
--LS Ryan Pontbriand was limited in practice with an ankle injury.
GAME PLAN: It sounds simple, but for some reason the Browns have difficulty executing it; they have to protect the football. They fumbled three times in the opener and lost one. They fumbled 10 times in preseason and lost seven. After a flawless preseason, Jake Delhomme threw two picks in Tampa. The Browns are not good enough to overcome huge mistakes.
"There's a certain way you have to carry the ball," Mangini said, sounding as though he had explained the technique to his players a hundred times. "It's way too many and it's something that we work on. We are constantly having the defense pressure the football. You're trying to simulate that as much as you can."
If they can hold onto the ball they want to run against the Chiefs, particularly if an ankle injury prevents Jake Delhomme from playing. It worked last year, and now the running attack is stronger because in addition to Jerome Harrison, who rushed for 286 yards against the Chiefs last year, they have bullish 241-pound Peyton Hills. The problem is Hillis fumbled twice in the opener
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Browns LB Scott Fujita, who made six tackles in the opener, vs. Chief RB Jamaal Charles. Charles proved in the Chiefs' upset of San Diego Monday night how quickly he can shoot through the line and get to the second level. One of the reasons Fujita was signed in free agency is to prevent runners like Charles from gashing the Browns. He will be an outside linebacker in some formations and inside in others.
Browns KR Joshua Cribbs vs. Chiefs kick coverage unit. The Buccaneers did an excellent job of bottling up Cribbs in the opener, holding him to 46 yards on three kick returns. The Browns have to find a way to spring him, because when Cribbs is neutralized the Browns are in trouble.
INJURY IMPACT: QB Jake Delhomme is day to day with an ankle injury. Seneca Wallace practiced with the first team and played with the first team in preseason, so Wallace is prepared to step in.
--DL Shaun Rogers missed practice with hip and ankle injuries, but he has a way of healing in time to play on Sunday.