Baker Mayfield leads Browns to first win since 2016 in NFL debut
CLEVELAND — Thursday night football turned into a Baker’s Special for the Cleveland Browns.
Rookie Baker Mayfield entered for his NFL regular-season debut late in the second quarter and brought the Browns back from a 14-0 deficit to prevail 21-17, snapping a 19-game winless streak dating back to Dec. 24, 2016 — a span of 635 days.
When Joe Schobert intercepted a Sam Darnold pass with 1:21 left to more or less seal the win, Browns fans stood and cheered like they had won the Super Bowl. When Terrance Mitchell intercepted Darnold with 11 seconds left to completely seal it, Mitchell ran 65 yards to jump into the Dawg Pound at the East end of FirstEnergy Stadium.
“I’ve just been waiting for my moment,” Mayfield said. “I’m just getting started.”
The top pick in this year’s draft, Mayfield entered the game late in the first half after Tyrod Taylor left the game with a concussion. He went 17-for-23 for 201 yards passing and remarkably caught the two-point conversion that tied the game at 14 with 42 seconds left in the third quarter.
It was sweet relief and the end to a long and drawn-out nightmare. Only 10 players on the Browns roster were on the team’s roster the last time they won a game.
Mayfield provided the spark. He followed that game-tying, two-point conversion by guiding a game-winning, 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with 2:04 left on Carlos Hyde’s second touchdown run. On the drive, Mayfield completed 6 of 8 passes for 60 yards, with both incompletions being drops by Browns receivers.
Mayfield did not look like a rookie who had never played. His passes were crisp and accurate, he got rid of the ball quickly and didn’t seem to be confused about where to go with it. He was decisive, and he frustrated a Jets pass rush that had frustrated Taylor by getting rid of the ball in a hurry.
Mayfield was able to thrive despite not getting first-team reps in preseason or training camp.
“As funny as it sounds, it’s kind of how my whole life has gone,” he said. “I have had a backup role and had to fight through some things, and I always had to be mentally ready.”
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett said he wasn’t surprised by Mayfield’s performance.
“I’ve seen him every day in practice,” said Garrett, himself a No. 1 overall pick of the Browns in 2017. “He’s a winner. That guy has a chip on his shoulder and he’s willing to grind each and every day. And I wasn’t surprised, I knew he was going to have a hell of a debut whenever he made it. “
The Browns job now belongs to Mayfield, far sooner than the Browns envisioned or expected. And he will get a few extra days before what surely will be his first start when the Browns play in Oakland on Sept. 30.
Taylor suffered through a difficult game. He finished just 4-for-14 passing for 19 yards and was sacked three times as the Jets frequently brought free rushers. He left the game after being sacked by linebacker Avery Williamson with 2:55 left and was ruled out with the concussion at halftime.
“That’s never the way you want to go out on the field, not when you see one of your captains go down,” Mayfield said of Taylor. “That’s a guy I have a lot of respect for. He has helped me out tremendously throughout this process.”
Mayfield guided the Browns to a field goal on his first drive, added a third-quarter field goal after fellow first-round pick Denzel Ward forced and recovered a fumble, then guided the Browns on a seven-play, 69-yard touchdown drive to make the score 14-12.
The conversion came after offsetting penalties gave the Browns a second try after a miss. Mayfield lined up in the slot left. Running back Duke Johnson took a direct snap, ran right and pitched to Jarvis Landry, who threw to an open Mayfield in the left side of the end zone to tie the game at 14.
The play was similar to the Philly Special, a pass to quarterback Nick Foles that the Eagles used to win the Super Bowl.
Mayfield became the first of the past six first-overall picks to come off the bench and lead his team to a score on his first possession, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. JaMarcus Russell, Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Michael Vick and Tim Couch all failed to score on their first possessions.
Cleveland selected Mayfield with the No. 1 pick in April’s draft after he won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma. In his senior season, Mayfield threw for 4,627 yards with 43 touchdowns and six interceptions in 14 games as the Sooners went 12-2 and won the Big 12.