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The sad history of Cleveland Browns season openers

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A 1-19-1 record, 15 losses AT HOME, and an NFL record 13 straight losses in the opener? This grid is really all you need to know about the Cleveland Browns franchise from 1999 onward.

2019 Update: This one was supposed to be different. This was the year that this chart was going to stop being a thing, stop being relevant. The Browns received more hype this offseason than ever before, had their franchise quarterback, and were rolling into Week 1 against the Titans as favorites. It started with an opening touchdown drive and then, well, it was the same old opener of disaster. There were 18 penalties, including one where a Browns player simply had enough and said “f—k you” to an official. The left tackle was ejected for kicking a Titan in the face, and his replacement, the only left tackle remaining on the roster, was injured as Baker Mayfield was sacked in the end zone for a safety. Oh, and Mayfield also threw three interceptions in what became a laughable blowout loss and may be the most disappointing in the 20-year history of Factory of Sadness opener disappointments. Mayfield, the franchise QB, had to go for X-rays after the game and left the stadium with his wrist wrapped, too. A Titans coach was heard shouting “Same old Browns!” after the game and it’s hard to argue after another home opener of embarrassment.

2018 Update: The Browns did not lose! The Browns did not lose! The winless streak is still alive, but the 13-game season-opener losing streak has ended!

Given the recent awful recent history, you can go glass half-full with this. But as with all things Browns, it's not that simple. The 14-point 4th quarter comeback was nice. But there's more context to this. It's a game they should have won. Look at this mind-boggling Brownsy statistic.

This was an all-time Browns classic. It had all the rollercoaster of heartbreak, relief, elation, and disappointment. They dodged a loss when the Steelers missed a 42-yard field goal that would have won it in overtime. But you left in the end, feeling like it should have been something more. That turnover margin, and the fact that the last and final one should have put them on the Pittsburgh 14-yard line with 36 seconds left in the game. That's a field goal just over 30 yards. This thing is in the bag.

But a penalty on Joe Schobert's fumble return put the offense 10 yards farther back, making the field goal more perilous. After running a play and losing a yard, they set up kicker Zane Gonzalez for a 43-yard field goal to end the losing streak, both in the opener, and, uh, that one that encompassed all of last season. And it went about how you'd expect:

It figures the Browns would be involved in the NFL's first Week 1 tie in almost 50 years, going back to the opening day of 1971. Ever since this franchise came back, opening day has been a complete, often sad, circus. This one you could say is less sad, but it's not exactly jubilant. You're left with that Browns taste of nothing actually going as well as it should.

2017 Update: The Browns did, in fact, drop another season opener, again at home, and again to the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was not a completely depressing affair, but it started with a prompt 3-and-out and blocked punt for a Steelers touchdown.

That would be the difference in the game, a 21-18 loss for the Browns. DeShone Kizer looked promising -- here's hoping they can keep him upright and alive.

***

The Cleveland Browns open their 2018 season on Sunday at home against their rival from another, more competitive era, the Pittsburgh Steelers. If history is our guide, it will not go well for Hue Jackson's group, which is back at home starting the season against the Steelers for the second straight year. That the game is at home, however, should not matter much.

That the Browns have been bad is nothing revelatory. But their opening day record and performance is a different level of staggering incompetence.

Since 1999, when the franchise was reconstituted into a hollow, abominable shell of its former self, the Browns have started the season with a loss in 18 of 19 years. That's really, really bad. What's worse, and really hard to compute, is that 14 of those 18 losses to start the season have come at home. Did the NFL just keep giving Cleveland openers at home thinking they'd finally lead things off with a win?

And some of these opening games have provided the most humorous moments and heartbreaking finishes in an 19-year span bursting with them. To wit:

  • In 2016, the RG3 era started. This longshot potential career resurgence lasted just one game. He was hurt late in the game against the Eagles and was shelved until December, when he finished out the string in a 1-15 season, the franchise's worst in an era of worsts since it came back in 1999. Carson Wentz, who the Eagles picked in the Browns draft slot after a trade, threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns, which added to the many rational and measured reactions across Cleveland sports radio.
  • In 2014, the Browns actually ran all over the Steelers with promising debuts from rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. West actually became the first Browns back since 1999 to hit triple digits rushing in the opener. Of course, his run of success with the Browns didn't last too long and they shipped him out of town in Week 1 the following season. Despite their success running the ball in Pittsburgh, the Browns still gave it away to their "rival." Aside from yet another loss, the most memorable thing from that game will probably always be their punter getting dropkicked in the face.
  • The 2012 opener started with mild enthusiasm for a new rookie quarterback, Brandon Weeden. He promptly started his career getting trapped under the flag during the national anthem (GIF via SI.com).

  • The 2012 opener then ended with Michael Vick hitting Browns linebacker L.J. Fort in the chest for a sure interception. But Fort dropped it and Vick threw the game-winning touchdown on the next play with just over a minute left. Weeden finished his 12-for-35 debut by throwing his fourth interception on the next play to officially end it.
  • The 2011 home opener was lost when the Browns defense decided to hang out in the huddle a little too long, waiting for a defensive call and unaware that the Bengals had already broken their huddle and lined up on the ball. The ball was snapped and A.J. Green jogged down the sideline uncovered for a touchdown as Joe Haden broke the defensive huddle and hopelessly chased miles behind.
  • The franchise returned with a home game in primetime against the rival Steelers in 1999. They accumulated 9 rushing yards and 31 net passing yards (out-gained 464-40) and lost 43-0 in a game that was over early in the second quarter. But at least they were back and seasons of joy were sure to follow!
  • Local boy Charlie Frye began the 2007 season as the starting quarterback, but lasted just over one quarter after going 4 of 10 and throwing an interception inside his own red zone on just his second series. That led Romeo Crennel to make the rare first half of the first game QB change.
  • And then there's the 2002 opener, probably the most infamous and absurd loss of them all. This was actually a fine performance and should have been a win. But the Browns lost by a point on a last second Chiefs field goal after Dwayne Rudd threw his helmet in premature celebration on what was supposed to be the final play of the game.

In a way, these openers in front of the home crowd have been a gift, a prompt recalibration of any delusional expectations, liberating one to enjoy the rest of the fall free from hope