Initial pre-season games are often sloppy affairs, particularly when teams are integrating new players in key roles or are installing new schemes from the sidelines.
Browns fans can, perhaps, take some solace in this, after the Browns and Chiefs stumbled through four quarters of sleepy, sloppy, penalty-filled football at a half-full Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns emerged as winners, 16-12, thanks to an 86-yard Chris Barclay touchdown return with 1:49 left in the game. With the Chiefs third-team threatening in the final moments, Browns LB Clifton Smith smothered a fumble by Chiefs QB Casey Printers as time expired.
The game was marked by mutual offensive ineffectiveness, perhaps due both squads missing significant components. Chiefs RB Larry Johnson is still involved in a protracted holdout, and the Browns top free agent acquisition, Eric Steinbach, was among the missing due to a knee sprain suffered earlier this week. He was replaced by OL Lennie Friedman, who started next to rookie Browns LT Joe Thomas.
The Browns are also working to install the new offensive scheme of coordinator Rob Chudzinski, although we saw little of the pre-snap movement which is expected from the Browns new offensive coordinator.
Still, both teams came into the game with uncertainty at the quarterback position, and neither saw an impressive performance which answered their open questions.
Quarterback Charlie Frye started for the Browns, ostensibly due to a pre-game coin flip. Frye did just enough to earn an edge in the competition. Frye finished the first half 12-of-15 passing for 122 yards.
While he gained an edge thanks in large part to the poor performance of Derek Anderson, Frye's effort contained several significant lapses. Primary among these was poor management of the clock at the end of the first half, which resulted in the Browns failing to score after taking the ball inside the ten with less than a minute left.
Frye indirectly led to the only Chiefs touchdown of the game as well. Throwing a swing pass to RB Jerome Harrison running to his right, Frye fired the ball slightly backwards, out of the reach of Harrison. While the second year Washington State running back gave up on the pass, Chiefs cornerback Benny Sapp recognized it as a turnover, scooped up the ball, and raced 56 yards for a Kansas City touchdown.
Despite these lapses, such was the performance of QB Derek Anderson that the stats and two field goals generated by Frye were enough to allow him to emerge as the leader in the QB race.
While Frye had several downfield throws of note in the first half, Anderson did precious little. Included in a weak first half were two nearly-intercepted passes and a couple of badly underthrown tosses within ten yards of the line of scrimmage.
Both quarterbacks looked stellar compared to the fourth-quarter flight of third-string QB Ken Dorsey away from the rush in his own end zone, a play that resulted in a fumble recovered by C Rob Smith, notching a safety for Kansas City.
The poor quarterback play led to brief chants by the Stadium crowd for Brady Quinn late in the second half.
The Browns were able to put together a strong pass rush at times in the first half, with LB Antwan Peek sacking Brodie Croyle for ten yards, and LB Kamerion Wimbley forcing an interception thanks to pressure.
The team's defensive backfield has to also inspire some optimism from Browns fans, as the evening was highlighted by interceptions by cornerbacks Leigh Bodden (of Croyle) and Daven Holly (snagging a Damon Huard overthrow). Croyle tested starting CB Eric Wright early, but was foiled as Wright had blanket coverage.
Dorsey attempted to make up for his error in the end zone during the fourth quarter, completing a series of passes to TE Buck Ortega and taking the Browns within the Chiefs 30-yard-line. A missed field goal attempt by PK Jesse Ainsworth spoiled the effort. The Browns left the field happy, however, as Barclay's touchdown after a Chiefs field goal provided enough offense to overcome the struggling Chiefs.
LEWIS DEBUTS: RB Jamal Lewis made his first appearance in a Browns uniform and ran well in the first quarter. The ex-Raven running back finished with four runs for 20 yards, and three catches for 16 yards. Lewis gained fifteen of his yards on a nice run to the left side of the line in the first quarter.
CAN HE RETURN PUNTS? Chris Barclay's 88-yard kickoff return in the final two minutes provided one moment of excitement during the second half. The Browns tried three punt returners during the game: Josh Cribbs, Syndric Steptoe, and Brandon McDonald. None did much to capture the role on a permanent basis. Last season's punt return specialist, Dennis Northcutt, left via free agency to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
BRING YOUR PLAYBOOK: Neither S Justin Sandy or PK Jesse Ainsworth did much to help their causes with fourth-quarter miscues. Ainsworth missed a 43-yard field goal which would have given the Browns a lead, and Sandy was responsible for a late hit on Chiefs QB Casey Printers which moved the Chiefs inside the ten-yard line with time expiring.
LINEUP CHANGES: Charlie Frye was the starting quarterback. Antwan Peek started for the injured Willie McGinest and, as expected, Lennie Freidman started in place of Eric Steinbach. He may not have wound up on the top of the depth chart distributed earlier this week, but rookie CB Eric Wright got the starting nod against the Chiefs.