CLEVELAND — For weeks the Browns have had both spurts of competence and embarrassing blunders. Each week after a loss, rookie head coach Freddie Kitchens points to himself, saying he needs to do a better job at putting his guys in better positions to find success — but is he?
In a game that can only be described as baffling, Kitchens' decisions Sunday were all over the place.
The first-year head coach chose to use his two challenges on plays that don’t usually get overturned, an offensive pass interference call against his team and the spot of a Patriots first down.
To no one’s surprise, both challenges failed and he not only lost two timeouts, but he also killed his chance at a crucial challenge later in the game.
In the fourth quarter with the Browns down two scores, the Patriots had what appeared to be an obvious fumble that would have been recovered by the Browns, had it been ruled a fumble. The ruling on the field was an incomplete pass, but Kitchens couldn’t throw a red flag because he had already used them.
Through the first seven games of the season, Kitchens hasn’t gotten the hang of when to throw his challenge flag, and it shows.
More questionable decisions
If the challenge debacle wasn’t enough to make you question if the rookie coach and play caller has too much on his plate, the plays he’s calling might do it.
On 4th-and-11 with the special teams unit on the field ready to punt, Kitchens called for an intentional false start to save a timeout (even though he was fine with wasting two on his failed challenges.) At 4th-and-16 after the foul, you would think the plan to punt the ball would stay the same. You’d be wrong.
Freddie confirms he deliberately took the false start with punt unit running on field late in game to go for it. "I didn’t want to use the timeout. I wasn’t giving up right then."— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) October 28, 2019
Kitchens, in a jaw-dropping moment, decided that five yards further back he’d take out the special teams unit and go for it — and it went exactly how you’d expect it to go.
Then there's the basics
The Browns, while talented, also lacked discipline, once again. That, too, falls on Kitchens.
In Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the Patriots, the Browns had 13 penalties, six false starts (including that weird intentional one), three turnovers that all came in the first quarter and the two failed challenges.
Where do the Browns go from here?
With all of the hype that surrounded the Browns at the start of the season, a 2-5 record in Week 7 is heartbreaking.
The roster is filled with talent. Running back Nick Chubb rushed 20 times for 131 yards, the defense sacked Tom Brady three times, Denzel Ward had an impressive field goal block, and Austin Seibert and Jamie Gillan continue to succeed.
Talent isn’t the question anymore. It’s whether Kitchens is up to the task of managing that talent.
It's his first year as a head coach in any capacity, so it’s too early to reasonably call for Kitchens to go on the chopping block just yet. The Browns knew what they were getting, in terms of experience. The case for not firing Kitchens -- whom we all know is capable of assembling a great offense -- is that all the weird losses this season will have a payoff as the coach learns from mistakes, corrects them and adapts accordingly. That's entirely possible, but it's going to require patience from ownership and fans.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.