With his longtime friend Mayfield and Drew Stanton standing on the sidelines in ballcaps and sneakers, Gilbert got the start and made a strong case in the first half of Saturday’s 21-18 victory over the Colts that improved the Browns to 2-0. Gilbert opposed Jacoby Brissett instead of the injured Andrew Luck (high ankle issue), and outperformed the Colts’ backup.
He did so without the services of Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Damion Ratley, David Njoku and other key skill players, who were either injured or got the day off.
Kitchens let some of his key starters rest because they got so much good work in against the Colts during the two days of joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday, especially the latter when they upped the tempo and took it to Indy.
“We got our work done during the week,'' Kitchens said. "That was it.”
Signed by the Browns as a free agent in April after the Alliance of American Football folded, Gilbert completed 13 of 19 attempts for 151 yards and two touchdowns on back-to-back drives en route to a 127.3 rating and a 14-7 halftime lead. He picked up where he left off in the AAF, where he led the league with 157 completions and 2,152 yards for the Orlando Apollos.
“I was very happy for Garrett,'' said Kitchens. "He came in and had control of the huddle, got the guys lined up and made some plays – made the plays that he was supposed to make and eliminated the mistakes. So, I thought he performed very well.''
Kitchens complimented Gilbert’s performance at halftime, saying he would’ve been even better if his receivers had helped him out a little more. On his opening drive, receiver D.J. Montgomery dropped a deep ball over the middle on third down to bring out punter Britton Colquitt. Gilbert was sacked on third down on his second drive, but the third possession was a charm.
Gilbert found Jaelen Strong wide open in the back right corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown pass that made it 7-0. The TD capped a 7-play, 64-yard drive that included a 25-yard pass interference call against first-round cornerback Rock Ya-Sin.
Gilbert came back on his next possession in the second quarter and hit running back D’Ernest Johnson with a 6-yard TD pass. The drive featured a 32-yard strike to Montgomery down the deep right side.
But he wasn’t out to steal Stanton’s job.
“Absolutely not,'' he said. "Where I fall in the depth chart, any of that stuff, that doesn’t matter to me. It’s all about improving every day and from there the chips will fall where they will.''
Kitchens was steamed after the game about the 13 penalties and numerous missed tackles.
"You’re not going to win football games with the amount of mistakes that we made, the penalties that we made, the missed tackles that we had and the missed opportunities because of the penalties,'' he said. "We want a smart, tough football team. We were not smart tonight.''
Mack Wilson got a lot of playing time, but drew a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty when he hit quarterback Phillip Walker helmet-to-helmet in the second quarter. The Colts missed a 51-yard field goal on the drive.
Rookie Sheldrick Redwine later drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike flag for illegal use of his helmet on a receiver.
Austin Corbett, the one-time frontrunner to win the right guard job, didn’t see action at all at that spot. Eric Kush started and rookie Drew Forbes replaced him on the second drive. Corbett didn’t get into the game until the third iteration of the O-line on the third drive — at center. He remained there the rest of the game. Forbes, who’s been coming on strong, also spent time at left guard with the third-team line. The Browns like him a lot. But as Kitchens said this week, time is running out.
Kitchens wasn’t happy with Corbett’s holding call and a few high snaps.
“Yeah, I think on third-and-three we need to get the snap, alright?'' said Kitchens. "So, I don’t know what to say.”
As first reported by NFL Network, Kitchens and several Browns assistants flew to Tennessee on Saturday to attend funeral services for longtime NFL assistant coach Darryl Drake, who coached in Arizona with Kitchens from 2013-17.
Other Browns coaches who attended were Steve Wilks, Ryan Lindley, Stump Mitchell and Adam Henry.
Garrett and Denzel Ward got the night off because they’re banged up. Ward has been nursing something and sitting out team drills, and Garrett got nicked on Thursday, the final day of practice against the Colts.
"He’ll be fine,'' said Kitchens. "It’s just if they’re a little bit banged up, I’m going to make sure they’re fine. If we’d have played a [regular-season] game today, he would’ve been out there.”
Most of the first-team defense played the first two series, including veteran newcomers Sheldon Richardson and Olivier Vernon.
Safety Jermaine Whitehead suffered a leg injury on Thursday and was replaced by Eric Murray. Linebacker Sione Takitaki was also idle with the hamstring injury that cost him both midweek practices.
"I would have liked to have sit some other guys defensively, but numbers-wise we just couldn’t do it,'' said Kitchens. "They sucked it up for the team. They knew they had to get some snaps in to prolong the inevitable of coming out of the game and being done and then you’ve got to go with what you’ve got. So appreciate those guys.''
Punter Jamie Gillan, the Scottish Hammer, boomed a 74-yard punt in the first quarter that started the Colts at their 10. They punted five plays later from their 18. ... Greg Joseph sailed a 53-yard field goal attempt wide right and rookie Austin Seibert sent a 52-yarder wide left. They each made extra points.
"I felt like I hit it really well but it just didn’t go through,'' said Joseph.
Said Kitchens: “I want them through the uprights. I don’t care how they get there. I think they had the distance. So, I mean the first ball was hit very good. The first miss was hit good. It just didn’t go through. Both (of) those guys can kick the ball that far.''
In addition to the starters who rested, the Browns had plenty of players out with injuries — David Njoku (knee), Takitaki (hamstring), T.J. Carrie (hamstring), Antonio Callaway (high ankle sprain), Jarrell Owens (groin), Tavierre Thomas (hamstring), Dontrell Hillard (hamstring), Justin Burris (hamstring), Whitehead (leg injury), and WR Damion Ratley (hamstring).
The following players have concussions and didn’t travel: Seth DeValve, Kyle Kalis, Brian Price.
Defensive lineman Devaroe Lawrence, who suffered a knee injury Wednesday against the Colts, rallied and played on Saturday. He said the knee turned out to be "nothing'' and that he’s fine.
Receiver Ishmael Hyman suffered a concussion during the game and receiver Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi suffered a rib injury during a second-quarter punt return but returned.
The Browns play the Buccaneers in the third preseason game in Tampa at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.