CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns were dominant in their season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs for the entire first half. And then the self-inflicted wounds mounted, and the Chiefs, a team you have to play nearly perfect against to have a shot at beating, capitalized on those mistakes, beating the Browns 33-29.
The true turning point came on Cleveland's first punt attempt of the game.
With just under nine minutes to go, Jamie Gillan fumbled the ball on an accurately placed snap, missing his clear shot to punt downfield. Despite fumbling, Gillan appeared to have enough time to get a punt off, albeit probably a short and inaccurate one. Instead, he chose to run the ball.
Getting just four yards on the run, the Chiefs took the ball over at the Browns' 25-yard-line, and fans around the world watching the game knew how that was probably going to end. Their fears were well-founded. Three plays later, the Chiefs took the lead for the first time all night with a touchdown reception from Travis Kelce. After failing the two-point conversion attempt, the Browns were trailing in what would be the final score.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski said that Gillan had time to get a punt off, and they've addressed the play.
“Yes, he could have, and he knows that. We talked to him about that in the moment, and we talked to him about it today. Obviously, he knows he has a job to do. We expect him to do his job at a high level. If something like that happens, you need to just get the ball to punt it, and he knows that,” Stefanski said Monday after the loss.
Those conversations were also had with special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, who said that while the crowd was incredibly loud at Arrowhead Stadium, that had nothing to do with the mistake.
"Did he take his eye off it? I don't know. I don't think the moment was too big for him, I don't think the crowd was involved," Priefer said. "He's not a rookie. If he was a rookie and that was his first play, maybe. But he's got plenty of time ... We had it blocked up, and they had a return look, but he's got to pick it up, take one step and punt it out of there, and he didn't reacted the way we asked—the way we wanted him to."
The special teams coordinator also noted that the team practices punt and field goal snaps with the JUGS machine about twice a week, so fumbling the ball on a snap is less likely. But while they've discussed the less-than-ideal scenarios that could happen during a punt—like the one we saw with Gillan on Sunday—they don't do hands-on work with mistakes like that.
"I don't like to practice failure," Priefer said. "We talk about it. We might walk through it, but we never want to practice that exact situation because to me you're practicing a dropped snap. You're practicing failure. Do we talk about those things? Of course, and we cover the different situations."
This team isn't one for excuses, which is why Stefanski and Priefer aren't sugar-coating the mistake. But it isn't all doom and gloom for the Scottish Hammer after the mistake, and the team isn't giving up on him because of it.
Priefer said that Gillan has "great hands" and has shown that as a reliable holder for the Browns, and that the mistake, described as "unexplainable" has not made him lose any faith in his punter. He said that Gillan and the entire team were "devastated" when it happened.
"Devastated. We all were. We all were for him and for our football team," Priefer said.
After the fumbled snap, Priefer held back from saying anything to Gillan, not wanting to shake his confidence with plenty of game still left to be played. On the plane back to Cleveland, Gillan and Priefer discussed the moment and Gillan refused to make excuses for himself.
"He's not an excuse maker. He's a stand-up guy, and he knows he's got to perform at a high level and keep being a weapon for our football team, and it starts this Sunday," Priefer said.
Gillan will look to bounce back and prove his talent once again inside of FirstEnergy Stadium as the Browns take on the Houston Texans in the 2021 home opener.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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