The Cleveland Browns will look to put an end to the longest losing streak in season openers this Sunday as they open the 2015 NFL season against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. The Browns have lost their last ten season openers and have only won on opening day once since returning to the NFL in 1999. That season opening win was in 2004 against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Browns look to improve on a 7-9 season from 2014 and stop a current five game losing streak in the process. Head coach Mike Pettine enters his second year in Cleveland. His opponent on the opposite sideline, Todd Bowles will be making his NFL head coaching debut as he replaced Rex Ryan in the offseason.
“I don’t think it’s as big of a deal to me, I’m just trying to get my guys ready to play,” Bowles said. “The focus is not for me. I’ve coached before as an interim but being a head coach full time you have so many other things to worry about and take care of you really don’t take a minute to sit back and think about it.”
I have known Todd for a while, very well respected in the league,” Pettine said. “You can already tell in the short time that his team has been out there in the preseason that they are very organized, well coached.”
The quarterbacks for both teams will be a story line to follow this Sunday. Josh McCown will start for the Browns and look to rebound from a very disappointing season in 2014 in Tampa Bay. McCown showed flashes of his earlier days with Chicago this preseason and showed some of the reason he struggled with the Buccaneers as well. At age 36, McCown may only be a short term fix under center for Cleveland but he wants to do his part to get a Browns win on opening day.
“It’s important. It’s just as important as every game,” McCown said. “Our mindset is to win every single one. Everybody in the NFL understands that that’s a tall order. Very few- two teams in history have gone undefeated but everybody’s mindset is to do that and we’re no different. We want to win every game. It’s great to get off to a good start, no question but its the game in front of us and that’s the one we’re worried about and we have to go win that one.”
The Jets will start veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick. The original plan for Bowles was to start Gino Smith, but Smith is currently out after suffering a broken jaw in a fight with former teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali. The Jets would cut their rookie linebacker after the incident. Enemkpali is currently a member of the Buffalo Bills practice squad and now faces a four game suspension from the league for the incident on August 11.
“Things happen on a team every day that you aren’t prepared for,” Bowles said. “This is no different than an injury and somebody going down. You look at it and you talk about it, then you move on because you have to worry about 53 other guys. You have to move forward onto the season.”
As for Fitzpatrick he plans to take the opportunity as the Jets starting quarterback and like McCown, use it as a way to keep his NFL career going for at least one more season. Fitzpatrick was with the Houston Texans in 2014 and had his season cut short with a broken leg. He didn’t expect to be the opening day starting quarterback coming into training camp but is ready to be just that on Sunday.
“I feel like I’m suited for it,” Fitzpatrick said. “My whole career has been a roller coaster of ups and downs and starting and backing up. Just with the experience that I have in this offense and being thrown into the role of being the starter like I was – that’s why I still play the game. I want to be out there playing, and it’s been a lot of fun the last few weeks.”
The Browns will go with Isaiah Crowell at running back. Saturday afternoon, the team elevated Shaun Draughn from the practice squad for some much needed depth at the position. Rookie Duke Johnson should get some opportunities in his NFL debut. Together, Crowell and Johnson can be a solid running back duo for the Cleveland offense.
“I feel like me and Duke will be a really good 1-2 punch. We’ll just see when we get out there, Crowell said. “I’m very excited to be a part of that. I feel like I have what it takes to be that 20-plus (carry) guy that carries the ball, and I’m ready to show my teammates and show the coaches I’m ready to help my team win some football games.”
“I think I can step right in,” Johnson said. “I am preparing myself. My teammates and my coaches also helped me prepare even though I wasn’t out there. I am happy to be preparing for the game, mentally and now that I am out there I can take some reps and after practice even get some more conditioning.”
The Browns and Jets defenses are the strength of each team, especially in the secondary. The Browns have four pro bowlers in Joe Haden, Tramon Williams, Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson. The Jets secondary is lead by Darrelle Revis and former Brown Buster Skrine. With the talent that both secondary’s possess, there could be a lot more running plays called by the offensive coordinators. The Browns will face an improved Jets wide receiving core lead by former Chicago Bear Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
“I am super excited. I am really, really excited about the season,” Haden said. “Just excited to get out there and play this season. I know what our defense has. I know what people don’t think our offense has, but hopefully, when you are out there on Sundays, you can finally get a chance to show what all that talking, what you are going to have and what it is going to look. It is time to finally play and see what we can do.
The last time the Browns and Jets battled one another was on December 22, 2013. The Jets won 24-13 at MetLife Stadium. New York has one the last two meetings in the series. The Browns last win over the Jets was on December 9, 2007 in New York 24-18. The Browns are 12-9 lifetime against the Jets.
Sunday’s game will be broadcast regionally on CBS with Greg Gumbel Trent Green and Jamie Erdahl on the call. The Browns are listed as a three point underdog to the Jets. The Browns will go with their Brown jerseys with orange pants look for the season opener. It’s the first time since 2004 the Browns have worn a Browns jersey with orange pants combination. That look was made famous during the ‘Kardiac Kids’ era of 1980.