Todd Porter: Seemed like Browns took Sunday off

Todd Porter

 If civilization had gotten off to the kind of the start the Browns did Sunday, Adam and Eve still would be lost in the garden.

The creator rested on the seventh day.

The Browns did, too.

Despite a gray overcast sky hovering overhead, optimism and the smell of brats wafted in the air around Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Then the Browns got their hands on the afternoon. Actually, new punter Paul Ernster didn’t get his hands on much, which sent the game and the start of the 2007 season to hell in a handbasket.

“For a home opener, we didn’t do very well,” said Head Coach Romeo Crennel, who might well have said the grass is green. “There is not an explanation I can give for it. ... We felt that we improved as a team and gotten better, then we go out there and you saw the results.”

Sunday’s 34-7 bodycast was a result. It was the consequence of ... a punt.

After a three-and-out series to welcome 2007 — it seemed all too familiar — Ernster dropped a perfect snap. He was signed Saturday afternoon to replace the injured Dave Zastudil, a possibility the team knew of much earlier. Why wait until the day before the game to sign a player?

Still, that’s no reason to drop a punt snap that could have blown a hole in the middle of Ernster’s stomach.

“Totally my fault,” Ernster confessed in a Charles Manson sorta way.

The dropped snap was just the tip of the iceberg.

Cleveland was called for four — yes four — penalties on the play. The tragedy of errors was just a hint of the day ahead. When there are two holding penalties, an illegal man downfield and an illegal formation, that’s a pretty good indication that nothing went right.

Four penalties and the best this team can do is net a 5-yard punt. Commit four crimes in a day, and someone better at least come away with a sack of money.

Pittsburgh scored 17 points in the first quarter, all on drives that started in Browns territory.

“As the game went on, it was like an avalanche,” said Crennel, the man buried under. “A play is a play. You try to recover from it and try to do better on the next play. ... Still, I think we can be a competitive team.”

Where? Mexico?

“Turnovers. Sacks. Drops. Touchdown passes we gave up,” Crennel said, ticking off a list of things that went wrong.

Crennel is on thin ice as things are. A few days ago, General Manager Phil Savage said the

Browns would have to lose their first six games 50-0 for Crennel’s job to be in jeopardy. Maybe he shouldn’t have given the players a target to reach for.

Cleveland didn’t resemble an NFL franchise Sunday — unless Moe, Larry and Curly are the team captains.

The new offense turned the ball over five times. New running back Jamal Lewis looked like every back before him and ran for 35 yards. The new offensive line gave up six sacks, but at least three of those were because Charlie Frye treated the football like an anvil and held on to it.

The defense held ground, at times, but it too caved. Special teams were a disaster because of the punt.

“We just made too many mistakes,” receiver Braylon Edwards understated. “We practiced too hard and have come too far. We’re definitely a way better team than we showed today.”

Whew. For a minute there I was getting concerned.

Way better? This opening day loss goes down in Browns history as one of the worst. That’s the good news.

The bad news?

Any time Cleveland loses on opening day by 27 points or more, the Browns go on to have a lousy season. Four other times, the Browns have been blown out to start the season, and four times they failed to win more than five games that season.

Crennel tried to spark his offense by changing quarterbacks. Derek Anderson was modestly better than Frye but quicker in making decisions.

Meanwhile, chants of “BRAY-DEE, BRAY-DEE” echoed through the stadium early in the second quarter.

By that time, Cleveland was down 17-0. It was 24-0, and people were still in their seats.

It took an act of God to get Browns fans to leave. The heavens opened in the third quarter and rain poured. Finally, the masses took a cue from above and went home.

They were disappointed, and worse, embarrassed again.

Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail: todd.porter@cantonrep.com