Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for 850 ESPN Cleveland.
If you thought the Browns’ 21-18 preseason win over the Indianapolis Colts was ugly, almost unwatchable at times … well, you’re on the same page with coach Freddie Kitchens.
Despite concluding a productive four days here against the playoff-caliber Colts with a second consecutive preseason victory, Kitchens couldn’t bring himself to declare the week a rousing success.
“It ended the week, that’s about all it did,” huffed Kitchens, who emerged from a post-game tirade looking like he’d been in a fight.
“I think we made too many mistakes. You’re not gonna win football games with the amount of mistakes we made. The penalties we made, the missed tackles we had, the missed opportunities because of the penalties. You’re not going to win very many games like that.”
The teams combined for 29 penalties, 13 by the Browns. Neither team committed a turnover, however. The Browns missed two long field goal tries. But the defensive subs saved the game with a stand at the Browns’ 10-yard line to secure the triumph on the scoreboard.
Kitchens rested his biggest stars; Colts coach Frank Reich played the majority of his available starters through the first quarter.
After Kitchens cooled down some, he laid the blame for a lot of the mistakes on the younger players.
“I’m really upset about the penalties,” he said. “It’s not who we are or want to be. They were tough and physical. I think we could’ve played smarter. But there is a transition that goes on as a rookie in understanding what gets called. Without knowing specifics, I would say a lot of those penalties we had were on rookies. They need to learn what gets called and what doesn’t.”
If he’s looking for more negatives, Kitchens could also vent against the kickers, who each missed field-goal tries from over 50 yards; and prospective backup center Austin Corbett, who made two high snaps out of the shotgun and committed a holding penalty.
But the overwhelming feeling in the locker room was there was more good than bad accomplished on this road trip to the Indiana cornfields.
Kitchens said Garrett was “a little banged up” from one of the last plays in Thursday’s practice, but he would have played if it were a real game. Garrett declined to elaborate on the minor injury.
“We saw our guys compete,” Garrett said of the work week. “We showed toughness against another team, scrapped with them and showed we’re not going to take anything from anybody. [It was a] success.”
Receiver Jaelen Strong, who continued his run for a roster spot with three catches on three targets, including one of 4 yards for a touchdown, said, “I believe the week was good. We got a good chance to compete in a different environment against different looks. I think we learned a lot about ourselves.”
Perhaps the big winners of the day were No. 3 quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who started and put together two touchdown drives in five series; receiver D.J. Montgomery, who had three catches for 77 yards; running back D’Ernest Johnson, who had 53 yards rushing plus 26 receiving and a touchdown; and backup punter Jamie Gillan, who boomed a 74-yard unreturnable punt on his first try and finished with a 52-yard average on three.
Gilbert continued an impressive training camp after his encouraging eight-game stint in the ill-fated Alliance of American Football in the spring. Gilbert displayed what he’s shown in camp all summer – a live arm with really good accuracy.
“He’s ballin’,” said Rashard Higgins, who was four-for-four on targets from Gilbert. “He’s doing his thing. It’s not new to us. He’s been doing it at practice.”
Despite his continued improvement, though, Kitchens put to rest questions about whether Gilbert can overtake idle Drew Stanton as Mayfield’s top backup.
Kitchens praised Gilbert for his control of the huddle and for making good throws and decisions, but affirmed, “Drew’s our backup. Drew brings a lot of value to our team.”
Which is OK with Gilbert, whose expectations have been blunted, perhaps, by failed stints with five other NFL teams.
“My job, my goal, really every day is simply to go out and improve and be the best quarterback I can be for this team,” Gilbert said. “Just continue to learn. Where I fall on the depth chart doesn’t matter to me. It’s all about improving each day and from there everything else will take care of itself.
“I feel very comfortable in this offense, but I’m still finding my way.”
If nothing else, Gilbert has the post-game clichés inherent in quarterbacks down pat.
“Even in wins there’s plenty to work on,” he said. “We’ve got to play better situational football. There’s going to be plenty to see on tape that we’re going to have to fix.”