CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns beat the New York Giants on Sunday, and while a few players, such as ex-Giant Olivier Vernon, had standout games, there was some sweet justice in watching wide receiver Rashard Higgins shine under the prime-time lights while the coach who failed to utilize him last season had a front-row seat from the sidelines.
Last season, Freddie Kitchens was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns and had Higgins at his disposal, although you wouldn't have known it.
Higgins played in just 10 games and only had 11 targets in 2019. Compare that to the 53 targets he had in 2018, which he converted into 572 yards and four touchdowns. It just didn’t make sense.
Fans were left scratching their heads at the sudden disappearance of Higgins after he suffered a knee injury in the first week of the season. Although a full participant in practices, Kitchens limited his playing time.
After being let go by the Browns at the end of last season, Kitchens is now the tight ends coach for the Giants, and on Sunday he took over as the team’s play-caller after offensive coordinator Jason Garrett tested positive for COVID-19.
Standing on the sidelines, Kitchens was forced to observe one of the most egregious mistakes of his short head coaching tenure—not utilizing Higgins.
Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski has been able to showcase the talent Higgins brings to the team.
Before Sunday night’s game, Higgins had 44 targets. He had caught 70.5% of those targets for 468 yards and four touchdowns.
On Sunday, Higgins didn’t find the end zone, but he did put on a show for Kitchens, making big plays when the Browns needed him.
A 22-yard catch gave the Browns a first down near the red zone, which quickly resulted in a touchdown from tight end Austin Hooper to give the Browns a 7-3 lead.
Higgins would prove crucial to another touchdown, this one in the third quarter, after a 20-yard catch on 3rd-and-7 that moved the chains, and a 17-yard catch put Cleveland on the 4-yard line, leading to a Nick Chubb touchdown.
Stefanski incorporates Higgins in important plays. Throughout the season he’s found ways to get him the ball in the end zone. He hasn’t shied away from the undeniable chemistry between Higgins and quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Kitchens, a good guy in the grand scheme of things, was not ready to be a head coach in the National Football League when the Browns hired him. He made mistakes that held the Browns back.
On Sunday night, he had to watch what the offense should have looked like and what Cleveland has always known—that Higgins is a Browns staple and deserves to be out on the field where he can make plays.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.