CLEVELAND: Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden moved slowly as he crouched and sat in a chair beside his locker Sunday evening, his pale torso covered with pink welts.
Weeden had just been pummeled, though he wasn’t alone. The entire organization felt the pain after suffering another stinging defeat in a regular-season opener.
Defenders harassed and battered Weeden as the Browns fell 23-10 to the Miami Dolphins in front of an announced crowd of 71,513 at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Dolphins tallied 16 quarterback hits, including six sacks, five of which came in the second half. Weeden believes he has never been hit that much before in a single game.
“Things didn’t go great today,” Weeden said before visiting the trainer’s room when his postgame news conference ended. “Unfortunately, it happens. It sucks. But I’m confident in our team. I’m confident in this group of guys we have, and I’m excited moving forward.”
Fans might not share the enthusiasm. After all, the Browns are now 1-14 in openers — including 1-13 at home — since their expansion era kicked off in 1999, and they have lost nine in a row.
The loss also spoiled Rob Chudzinski’s debut as an NFL head coach. No coach has prevailed in his first regular-season game with the Browns since Bud Carson in 1989.
“There were points in the game where I thought we were going to get over the hump, but we weren’t able to do it,” Chudzinski said. “It is one game, and that’s our focus and that’s what I talked to the guys about afterwards. We will learn from this, and we will move on.”
The Browns compiled a long list of miscues.
Wide receivers Greg Little and Travis Benjamin dropped two passes apiece. Right guard Oniel Cousins was penalized four times, and one of his two holding penalties nullified tight end Gary Barnidge’s 20-yard touchdown catch late in the fourth quarter.
Strong safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Joe Haden each dropped a would-be interception. Running back Trent Richardson was held to 47 rushing yards on 13 carries (3.6 average).
“The mental mistakes are the things that eat at you more than anything as a player,” Weeden said. “The dropped balls or missed throws or missed blocks.”
While Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, struggled to stay in one piece during the second half, his counterpart thrived. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the eighth overall selection in 2012, exploited the weaknesses in the Browns’ secondary and took advantage of a worn-down front seven that sacked him three times in the first half but only once after the break.
With his No. 1 receiver, Josh Gordon, serving a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, Weeden completed just 26-of-53 passes (49.1 percent) for 289 yards and a touchdown with three interceptions, all of which were in the first half, and finished with a passer rating of 48.4. Tannehill completed 24-of-38 passes (63.1 percent) for 272 yards and a touchdown with an interception, posting a rating of 82.3.
The Browns converted only 1-of-14 third downs. The Dolphins, on the other hand, converted 8-of-16 third downs.
Leading by three points with 11:54 remaining, the Dolphins started their first possession of the fourth quarter at their own 15-yard line, and Tannehill picked on cornerback Chris Owens while orchestrating a 10-play, 85-yard touchdown drive to bury the Browns. Tannehill completed 6-of-7 passes for 78 yards, and running back Daniel Thomas plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out to give the Dolphins a 20-10 lead with 6:48 left.
“We had [Tannehill] bottled up so long and contained throughout the first half and mainly the third quarter,” free safety Tashaun Gipson said. “That drive kind of shifted the momentum from our defense to their offense.”
The Dolphins sent the vast majority of the home crowd to the exits during the next series. On fourth-and-2 at the Browns’ 33-yard line, Dolphins All-Pro defensive end Cameron Wake plowed past fullback Chris Ogbonnaya and sacked Weeden with 5:33 remaining. Caleb Sturgis then tacked on his third successful field goal, a 36-yard attempt, with 3:59 left to extend the Dolphins’ lead to 13 points.
Wake tormented the Browns all day, repeatedly beating right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and others en route to 2½ sacks and six quarterback hits.
“We knew he was going to create some havoc,” Weeden said.
The Browns led 7-6 after a sloppy first half, but Tannehill took control in the third quarter. Ward dropped a would-be interception at the goal line on an overthrown deep pass from Tannehill to wide receiver Mike Wallace.
“It touched my hands, so definitely felt like I should have caught it,” Ward said. “I had to adjust at the last minute and just didn’t bring it in.”
Three plays later, wide receiver Brian Hartline, a GlenOak High School graduate, beat the coverage of cornerback Buster Skrine with a double move and caught a 34-yard pass from Tannehill, helping the Dolphins go ahead 13-7 with 6:46 left in the third quarter.
The Browns trimmed their deficit to 13-10 on the ensuing series. New kicker Billy Cundiff capped a nine-play, 59-yard drive by making a 39-yard field goal with 3:02 left in the third quarter after the drive stalled partly because of pressure from Wake.
Although Haden limited Wallace to one catch for 15 yards, he also had one of Tannehill’s long passes deflect off his fingertips during the Dolphins’ first possession of the third quarter.
“It’s just a missed opportunity,” Haden said. “I dropped the ball.
“[Losing is] not a good feeling at all. Now we just can’t sit here and be all salty, upset or cry about it.”
The Browns led 7-6 at halftime despite Weeden throwing three interceptions in the first half. The second one deflected off the hands of Little, and the last one was thrown behind tight end Jordan Cameron, who got his left hand on the ball.
Former Browns cornerback Dimitri Patterson picked off both of those passes after they ricocheted. Patterson made his first interception at the Browns’ 27, and it led to Sturgis’ 49-yard field goal that gave the Dolphins a 6-0 edge with 13:37 left in the second quarter. His second pick was essentially negated when inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson tipped a pass from Tannehill over the middle, allowing Gipson to intercept it and return 29 yards to the Browns’ 44.
Eleven plays later, Cameron maneuvered behind the coverage of linebacker Philip Wheeler and cornerback Brent Grimes and caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Weeden in the back corner of the end zone with 28 seconds left in the first half.
The Browns, though, didn’t show much life after that. And with the defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens next on the schedule, they’re trying to keep their heads up.
“I feel real good about us,” Richardson said. “This time last year, if something would’ve happened like this, we’d be arguing. Now we’re still putting it together and we know what we need to work on. It’s early. Don’t lose hope in us, and we’re not going to lose hope in us. We hope our fans stay behind us. Lesson learned here. Don’t get it wrong. We’re going to come back and play hard.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.