Secret's out: Browns have long way to go

Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker

CLEVELAND -- There are only so many secrets the Browns can hide from their opponents.

Energy and effort can only carry a team so far. The same goes for desire and preparation.

But eventually, the most talented team will prevail more often than not in the NFL, and that was certainly the case in Cleveland’s 34-20 season-opening loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

If we learned anything in the debut of Cleveland coach Eric Mangini, it’s that the Browns simply don’t have the horses to run in this 2009 race.

The Browns did some nice things early. They fed off the home crowd. They played a near-perfect first half. But the team in purple had Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre, Percy Harvin, Jared Allen, Antoine Winfield, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams.

Cleveland had … well … you get the point.

The Browns were left with no answers because there aren’t any on their roster.

Peterson rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns against the Browns. Favre managed the game efficiently with 110 yards, one touchdown and a 95.3 passer rating in his Vikings debut. Minnesota defenders registered five sacks.

By approximately 4 p.m. Sunday, the disparity in talent between these two teams was clear.

“With a team like Minnesota, who is talented across the board, and with a player like Adrian Peterson, there can’t be any [mistakes],” Mangini said.

As Mangini alluded, for the Browns to consistently win this season they will have to play very efficiently for four quarters. That is a very hard thing to do in the NFL every week.

Cleveland did well against Minnesota for one half. The Browns were scrappy defensively, quarterback Brady Quinn led the offense to a pair of field goals, and Joshua Cribbs scored a touchdown on special teams.

The Browns did just about everything right and the result was a 13-10 lead at intermission. Then Minnesota flexed its muscles and asserted its will to the tune of 24 unanswered points to start the second half.

“Adrian Peterson, Brett Favre, I mean, come on now,” Cribbs said, giving the better team credit. “They have very talented guys on their team as well.”

After weeks of speculation and secrecy, Quinn became the third Week 1 quarterback for Cleveland in as many years. He completed 21-of-35 passes for 205 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Quinn managed the game well enough in the first half. But his two turnovers (one pick, one fumble) in the second half helped contribute to Minnesota’s dominance.

Quinn’s interception was a miscommunication with receiver Braylon Edwards, who had only one catch for 12 yards. Quinn threw the ball outside when Edwards finished his route inside. Either way, Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin was waiting near the sideline to make the easy pick. Both Edwards and Quinn took the blame for the gaffe afterward.

As the offense unraveled, so did the defense in allowing 155 second-half rushing yards by Peterson. The gritty first half from Cleveland was a total team effort and so was its second-half demise.

“We will be critical of ourselves watching film and prepare for Denver next week; that’s all you can really do at this point,” said a disappointed Quinn. “It’s the first game of the season, but there are 15 more.”

For the most part, Cleveland is stuck with this roster for the remaining 15 games.

The new regime of Mangini and general manager George Kokinis gutted a team that went 10-6 two seasons ago and brought in 23 new players. Seven of those players are former New York Jets that Mangini felt comfortable with to help change the culture, and 16 additional players came via the draft and free agency.

Of all the new arrivals from New York, safety Abram Elam had the biggest impact with eight tackles and a sack.

None of the rookie draft picks had much of an impact. First-round pick Alex Mack got the start at center for an offensive line that gave up five sacks. Rookie receivers Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie combined for one reception, and first-year tailback James Davis rushed for only five yards on four carries.

Despite the many changes, the first offering of the 2009 Browns looked very similar to the many losses of the 2008 Browns.

It’s probably not what Cleveland wants to hear, but a new challenge could arise to avoid the same losing mentality from taking over, which has happened often since its return to the NFL a decade ago.

“Last year has nothing to do with this year,” Mangini said sternly. “Next year will have nothing to do with this year, either. What we control is right now with this group of guys, with the way we work and by the way we prepare. That’s what affects right now. It’s consistently going to be emphasized because it’s right.”