BALTIMORE — Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. both believed their chemistry would be better this season from having gone through an entire season together, but they had a horrible start during the Browns’ 38-6 loss to the Ravens in Sunday’s season opener.
If they don’t get it together soon, it will be a long season for both of them, and a waste of Beckham’s immense talent.
In one of the most disappointing aspects of an ugly game, Mayfield and Beckham looked no better together than they did most of the time last season, when almost half of Beckham’s targets were incomplete.
Against the Ravens, Beckham was targeted a game-high 10 times, but caught only three passes for 22 yards. It was reminiscent of last season, when Beckham had only two catches for 20 yards in the Browns’ 40-25 victory here. By the third quarter Sunday, Mayfield was forcing the ball to Beckham again with disappointing results.
“Yeah, we did not connect a few times out there,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “We have to get to the bottom of it, obviously. Pass game requires precision from 11 guys in order for it to go.”
This season, the Browns don’t have the excuse that Beckham couldn’t practice because of his core muscle surgery, and therefore they couldn’t get their timing down. He was healthy throughout training camp — although it only consisted of 14 padded practices — and they had plenty of reps this time around.
“A few of those times I did target him, there were some defensive penalties, so I would say that had something to do with it,” Mayfield said. “But I’ve got to be better giving him a chance on some of those things, the free play late in the game (on an offsides penalty), just give him a chance. He’s a great player, so I’ve got to give him a chance.”
On Beckham’s most memorable target, he dropped a crucial pass on third and 2 in the red zone with the Browns trailing only 17-6 late in the second half. Either Beckham scores there or the Browns convert and go on to try to trim the deficit. Instead, Austin Seibert, who will likely lose his job to practice-squadder Cody Parkey this week or soon because of the short week, sailed a 41-yard field goal attempt wide right.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson took over with 41 seconds left in the half and put another touchdown on the board with 6 seconds remaining in the half for a 24-6 lead. For all intents and purposes, game over, so the drop loomed large.
On Beckham’s first target of the game, with 10:05 left in the second quarter, he grabbed cornerback Marcus Peters’ facemask and was flagged 15 yards to put the Browns in a first and 29. It was one of three Browns facemask penalties — the other two were on returns — that had Stefanski irked.
It was a frustrating game all around for Beckham, who caught a short pass to the right in the third quarter, but had stepped out of bounds first. Two plays later, Mayfield looked for him on third and 10 over the middle, and Peters knocked it away. Earlier, safety Chuck Clark bobbled and almost intercepted a pass intended for Beckham.
Part of the problem is that the Ravens have two Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Humphrey and Peters who play physical, knock passes away and push the envelope with their aggressiveness.
“I’ve said this before: Marcus Peters is one of the smartest corners I’ve ever seen play the game,” Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale said recently.
Beckham won’t run into Peters and Humphrey every week, and he’ll undoubtedly make his plays. If he doesn’t, he’ll be frustrated, and the last thing the Browns need again this season is a frustrated Beckham and Landry, who caught 5-of-6 targets but for only 61 yards.
Even tight end Austin Hooper, who figured to lead the team in receptions in the opener, caught only two for 15. If the team’s star players get restless, Stefanski will have to take a long, hard look at Mayfield and determine if he’s ready to lead this team.
Overall, Mayfield, who had plenty of time to throw, completed only 21 of 39 attempts for 189 yards, with one TD, a 1-yarder to Njoku, and one interception by Humphrey off Calais Campbell’s second batted pass in a row on the Browns’ first drive.
The pick seemed to take the wind out the Browns’ sails, and the mistakes snowballed on them.
What they can’t let continue is their franchise quarterback and star receiver not being on the same page.
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