The Browns cleaned up the turnover problem that plagued them the first two games.
Three versus Tampa Bay and two against Kansas City turned into none against the Ravens.
Now, for the persistent penalties that proved costly again Sunday in the loss at Baltimore.
The Browns were flagged eight times for 60 yards. That followed nine for 78 vs. Kansas City and five for 47 vs. Tampa Bay.
The initial inclination is to blame coach Eric Mangini.
After all, with Derek Anderson out of town, he’s the most popular target.
But I can’t put the penalty problem on Mangini.
He’s preached prevention since his first day on the job.
He makes the players run punishment laps in practice for penalties committed in practice and games. His Jets teams committed the fewest penalties for the fewest yards in the NFL in his three years, and last year’s Browns ranked third in fewest flags.
The yellow fever that’s infected the Browns the first three weeks feels different from the lack of discipline under former coach Romeo Crennel. He was never a stickler for details and would accept mistakes as part of the game.
The problem through three weeks has been the players.
What’s Mangini supposed to do when linebacker Matt Roth jumps offsides twice against Baltimore, including on the game-sealing third-and-4?
“Outside of those two plays — I hate putting an asterisk beside anyone’s name — he played well,” Mangini said.
“That has to be fixed. You don’t want to do it, ever. Period.”
Or when veteran tight end Benjamin Watson gives a retaliatory push to Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata well after the play and in plain sight of the officials?
“I’ve known him a long time. I think he’s as sick about it as you can be,” Mangini said of Watson. “He knows it was dumb, it hurt the team. I don’t think it will ever happen again, it’s completely uncharacteristic.”
Roth and Watson are two of the team’s best players and almost never leave the field.
A coach has to trust them not to sabotage his week of preparation.
There’s not much else Mangini can do. The collective bargaining agreement won’t let him levy fines for “stupid” penalties.
“The way you can affect guys is extra running, conditioning, play time,” he said.
“That’s how you handle that stuff.”
He’s tried them all. Now it’s on the players to execute the plan.
Next step: A win
The Browns made progress against the Ravens. They went hit for hit with a tough, talented team and led in the fourth quarter.
That’s three straight fourth-quarter leads — and three straight losses.
“The important thing is to understand the progress that we’ve made and the areas where we’ve made it and how we have to play and what we are capable of doing when we play that way,” Mangini said. “That being said, the issues that need to be corrected are not going to correct themselves.
“Playing that way, physical, tough, intense, emotional, that’s what we need and now we need to fix the other areas which are under our control.”
At 0-3, the odds of making the playoffs are incredibly thin, as just five teams have climbed that hill since 1990. But Mangini is a master of staying in the moment, and his players follow suit by focusing on only the week in front of them.
“I know we stand here 0-3, very disappointed, but the guys in here continue to fight and work,” cornerback Sheldon Brown said.
“Trust me, that’s what you want.
Eventually it will turn around.”
Running back Peyton Hillis and the offensive line got a lot of credit for Hillis’ impressive 144 rushing yards against the Ravens. The receivers can’t be forgotten.
“There were some outstanding plays made that I don’t know if anybody will even recognize,” Mangini said. “On Peyton’s long run, Josh Cribbs knocks down the cornerback, knocks him down, and then runs 20 yards and blocks a safety. That part of that run was as important as Lawrence Vickers coming over and getting his blocker, or (Eric) Steinbach came in and sealed. And Mohamed (Massaquoi) had a great block on Ray Lewis on one of those plays.”
◾ Speaking of Massaquoi, he’s got to be more productive. Maybe the quarterbacks need to look at him more often, but three catches in three games aren’t enough.
◾ Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll took a lot of grief for his play calling against the Chiefs. He deserves a little love after the solid game plan/play calling against the Ravens. The Browns physically punished a good defense and moved the ball consistently.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.