Sure, Browns coach Butch Davis has three weeks to right the ship before the start of the regular season, but a 24-3 loss to the Titans seemed to reinforce all Browns fans worst fears.
"There were a couple of things we want to get accomplished, and one of those was that we wanted to play a hell of a lot better than we played," said Davis. "We didn't play as well as we are capable, and we didn't play as well as we are going to play."
The Browns first-string offensive line struggled to protect Jeff Garcia, just as it did for Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Ty Detmer, Spergon Wynn and every other quarterback to put on an orange helmet since 1999.
First-round pick Kellen Winslow lived up to his reputation as a hot head in his pro debut, throwing a punch at Titans safety Lamont Thompson in the second quarter. The 15-yard personal foul cost the Browns scoring opportunity deep in Tennessee territory.
Based on previous experience, meltdowns by Winslow and the Browns offensive line shouldn't come as much of a shock. What was truly alarming, however, was the dismal showing of the Browns No. 1 defense, which was torched by Titans quarterback Steve McNair and little-known backup Billy Volek in the game's first 18 minutes.
"The way we played was unacceptable," said Browns defensive tackle Gerard Warren. "We better find a sense of urgency and find it fast, or we are going to be the laughing stock of the NFL. Point blank. I thought we were past all of this."
McCutcheon's night started off promising as he ended the Titans first drive with an interception pulled out of the air after it deflected off teammate Earl Little.
It all started to turn sour for McCutcheon on the Titans next possession. First, he failed to turn his head on a long throw from McNair to Mason down the left sideline. When McCutcheon ran over Mason as the ball arrived, he was flagged for a 42-yard pass interference penalty.
McNair attacked McCutcheon again on the very next play, finding Mason wide open in the left corner of the end zone as he blew by the flat-footed cornerback. The 21-yard touchdown put the Titans ahead 7-0 with 3:15 remaining in the first quarter.
"I know I'm capable of playing better," said McCutcheon. "I have to be more consistent. You can't get an interception one play, then give up a touchdown the next. I'm disappointed, but I'm a veteran, I'm going to learn from my mistakes, and I'm going to go back to the drawing board. Starting with practice on Monday, I'm going to get better."
The Browns starting defense remained on the field into the second quarter, but the nightmare continued against Volek and the bulk of Tennessee's second unit. Volek chose to pick on the Browns other starting corner, Anthony Henry, in lofting a 30-yard touchdown pass to University of Akron graduate Jake Schifino for a 14-3 lead just 3:14 into the second quarter.
Volek finished the first half with 98 yards on 8-of-10 passing, while McNair completed 5-of-6 for 54 yards.
"We've been victimized and we've played horrible in our pass defense," Davis said. "We gave up too many big plays, two touchdown passes, and a big (pass interference) and those things are hard to overcome."
Phil Dawson gave the Browns their only first-half score, booting a 50-yard field goal early in the second. That score was offset by Joe Nedney's 44-yard kick on the first-half's final play, sending the Titans into the half with a 17-3 lead.
A 1-yard touchdown run by reserve running back Vick King extended the Titans lead to 24-3 early in the third quarter.
Garcia completed 3-of-5 passes for 25 yards in a difficult, three-possession debut as the Browns starting quarterback. He was forced to scramble for no gain on the game's first play when Titans defensive end Carlos Hall easily broke through the Browns offensive line. Two plays later, Garcia absorbed his first sack in a Cleveland uniform when right guard Kelvin Garmon failed to pick up a stunt by end Kevin Carter.
It all added to a quick three-and-out for the Browns first-string on its first offensive series.
Kelly Holcomb enjoyed some success when he took over the Browns offense in the second quarter, completing 6-of-9 for 79 yards.
"You expect that from Kelly," Davis said. "He's a veteran and he's playing with a good supporting cast. We just need to get the ball in the end zone. Steve Heiden had a touchdown called back because of a penalty and Andre (King) dropped one in the end zone."
King appeared to catch a short fourth-down throw over the middle from Holcomb, but lost the handle on a ferocious hit by Titans linebacker Rocky Boiman at the goal line.
If there was a highlight for the Browns, it was the short-but-inspired efforts of Lee Suggs and William Green in their battle to win the starting job at running back. Green broke off first-down runs of 10 and 11 yards in his first two runs, while Suggs showed his speed and elusiveness in a 12-yard run for another first down.
"In the first quarter, knowing (the starters) were going to only play 15 or 18 plays, we wanted to really try to establish the run," said Browns coach Butch Davis. "I thought Lee Suggs and William Green ran as hard as I've seen them run."
Suggs totaled 24 yards on five carries and Green added 23 yards on three runs as the two alternated plays in the first quarter. That was a positive."