CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Browns will open the 2021 season in the same place they finished 2020: on the road against the Super Bowl runner-up Chiefs in a rematch of their 22-17 loss in the AFC Divisional playoffs.
It’s another classic matchup — 4:25 p.m. on Sept. 12 at Arrowhead Stadium — between Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes, the MVP of the previous Super Bowl who was knocked out of the Browns game with just over seven minutes left in the third quarter.
The rest of the schedule will be released at about 7:45 p.m., although games will likely leak out throughout the day.
Facing the Chiefs kicks off the season with a bang for the Browns, who are 1-20-1 in openers since they returned in 1999, and haven’t won one in 16 years — since they beat the Ravens, 20-3, at home in 2004. Conversely, Chiefs coach Andy Reid is 14-8 in openers in 22 seasons as a head coach, including 7-1 with the Chiefs and six straight.
The Browns, who are out to change the narrative in openers, got blown out by the Ravens 38-6 in the 2020 opener in Kevin Stefanski’s head coaching debut, but went on to finish 11-5 and make the playoffs for the first time in 18 years. They clobbered the Steelers 48-37 in Heinz Field before narrowly losing to the Chiefs in the divisional round with Mahomes out of the game and woozy after a hard hit to the back of the head by linebacker Mack Wilson.
The Chiefs went on to lose 31-9 to the Bucs in the Super Bowl, and will have to beat the odds to win it this season: only one team in the last 48 years has gone from losing the Super Bowl one year to winning it the next. What’s more, three of the last Super Bowl runner-ups have missed the playoffs in the following season.
The Browns on the other hand, closed out the season profoundly disappointed that they failed to advance to the AFC Championship and ultimately go all the way.
In fact, coach Kevin Stefanski asked the players to sit with the pain for awhile to fuel them for 2021.
“The margin in this game is so razor thin, and especially in the playoffs, and everything gets magnified,’’ Stefanski said. “To go on the road and beat the defending champs, you’re going to have to make a bunch of plays. Ultimately, we just came up short. That’s where I’m looking at myself and saying, ‘What could I have done better?’ There’s a very real disappointment in coming up short.”
They expected to beat the 14-2 Chiefs, and came close. But they dropped about five passes and lost the turnover battle 2-1. Rashard Higgins was involved in the controversial fumble- rule, fumbling through the end zone as he was hit in the head to give the Chiefs a touchback at the end of the half instead of the touchdown that would have been the difference in the game.
“The expectations for us will always be to play to win that last game,’’ Stefanski said. “That’s where the disappointment comes when you come up short and you don’t get into that second-to-last weekend of that season. When you taste the success like we did this season, guys understand that the work that they did was what allowed them to taste that success.’’
Browns running back Nick Chubb took Stefanski’s message to heart to let the disappointment sink in.
“That’s what I’m doing,’’ Chubb, who caught only 2-of-5 targets for 4 yards, said after the game. “I’m going to hold onto this feeling for awhile and get back to work later and see where we are.’’
He was especially mad at himself for dropping two passes on the Browns’ second drive.
“Yeah, I am down,’’ he said. “But it’s just those close games when you lose like that hurt way more than when you get blown out and just knowing that one drive could’ve made a difference in us going home or playing next week, and just for me personally, I hold myself to a high standard of playing at a high level every game and I didn’t do that yesterday. Had a couple…