The screams came early: We Want Baker! We Want Baker! Tyrod Taylor overthrow. We Want Baker! Another Taylor miscalculation, this ball not even within 20 yards of a receiver. We Want Baker!
Taylor was stunningly abysmal in the first half, going just 4-for-14 for 19 yards in the first half. Whether Hue Jackson would have handed the keys to Baker Mayfield, the no. 1 overall pick, without Taylor’s injury will remain a mystery because the decision was made for him. Taylor was concussed on a sack with three minutes left in the first half. Enter Mayfield who first started his magic show with the Browns down 14-0 to the Jets and 1:42 left in the half. His first regular season pass was a strike to Jarvis Landry for 14 yards, followed by a gem up the seam to David Njoku for 16 yards. The release was quick, the energy from the stadium was palpable, and football fans at home felt like they were suddenly infused with coffee.
It took about 30 seconds for anyone with eyeballs to realize Taylor wasn’t getting his job back. This was Mayfield’s team now.
That first Mayfield drive resulted in a made field goal, a small victory after the Browns’ early season kicking woes, but also because it put actual points on the board. Those 3 points kept the confidence high and the crowd rocking through a halftime we all wanted to be over as soon as possible so the Mayfield show could return. Mayfield continued his masterful ways in the second half, aggressively keeping the Jets defense off balance. The Browns inched back with another field goal in the third quarter. Down 14-6 with 3:31 to go in the third, the new look Browns drove down the field with lightening speed. It all seemed so natural for young Mayfield, who was dialed in for the moment. Then came the pass of the game: a gorgeous 29-yard, perfectly placed strike to Jarvis Landry who somehow came down with it at the Jets’ 1-yard line despite suffocating coverage. Carlos Hyde scored the easy touchdown, followed by Landry throwing to Mayfield for the 2-opint conversion, Philly Special style. Tied game. A deafening roar.
The fourth quarter was basically two long drives. The Jets’ version resulted in a field goal, which in the Cleveland we’ve all come to pity would have been it. The Browns would have mucked up any ensuing chances in some nitwitted or heartbreaking fashion.
Perhaps no moment signified the new culture in Cleveland than the ensuing drive. Mayfield methodically drove down the field, eating up clock and finding every receiver along the way. Hyde eventually punched in that second touchdown on a 3rd and 1 from the Jets 1-yard line for the Browns. The Jets had two minutes but this felt different. The Browns weren’t losing this one. Cleveland 21, New York 17 would become final after Sam Darnold was intercepted twice on the Jets’ final drives. For the first time since December 24th, 2016, the Browns tasted victory. More importantly, their future became their present. The Cleveland crowd was as overjoyed as is possible at sporting event. Hugs everywhere. Tears. Glowing smiles that hadn’t been on those faces for almost two years.
“This crowd deserved to see this first win at home,” Mayfield told NFLN after the game. Notice the emphasis on “first win,” not just “win.”
What Mayfield did tonight in Cleveland was nothing short of remarkable. He was almost flawless, finishing with 17-of-23 passes for 203 yards in just over a half of action. Some of the incompletions were due to receivers not used to the velocity on his ball. But mostly Mayfield’s presence elevated his team from the young left tackle stepping up to his receivers making plays. Even Njoku’s hands issues seemed to mostly vanish. The entire team played as if they were chasing victory, not trying to avoid defeat. Bear in mind that Mayfield as a backup quarterback wasn’t practicing with most of these players.
“I don’t get the reps, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to know what’s going on,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield just gets it. He’s a winner. He’s stoic. He understood the long game wouldn’t be that long and was supportive as possible of Taylor. The perfect teammate when so many others in his position would have been brash and impatient He accepted the wait game.
Hue Jackson said after the game that he would need to evaluate the tape before deciding who will be under center when the Browns travel to Oakland next Sunday. Jackson said the right thing given that Taylor is in concussion protocol and this wasn’t the appropriate venue was a franchise-altering annoucnemnt. But Jackson knows Mayfield is the starter. The city of Cleveland knows Mayfield is the starter. America knows the Browns are a real football team now with many more wins on the horizon. And just like that, the factory of sadness has gone out of business.