In 1992, Don Majkowski sprained his ankle against the Cincinnati Bengals. In came a young quarterback who flew by the seat of his pants but made things happen. At that point, the Green Bay Packers had been terrible for decades. Starting that day, with a last-second touchdown pass, Brett Favre changed everything for the franchise.
Maybe what we saw on Thursday night in Cleveland won’t end up being a seismic shift like that. Maybe Baker Mayfield had one incredible day that finally got the Browns a win, and he’ll never replicate that. Or, we just saw the start of something really special. Maybe even historic.
Mayfield, the first overall pick of the draft, came off the bench in the second quarter after Tyrod Taylor suffered a concussion. The Browns trailed the New York Jets 14-0. The Browns hadn’t won a game since Dec. 24, 2016, and it looked like that streak would continue. But Mayfield was brilliant. He made plays. He led a game-winning touchdown drive that Carlos Hyde capped with a go-ahead touchdown just ahead of the two-minute warning. Browns linebacker Joe Schobert had an interception with 1:21 remaining, and after a punt, the Browns got one final stop on another interception with 11 seconds left. Open up the beer fridges.
The Browns won 21-17, and if you ask anyone in Cleveland, that alone is a huge deal after so many years of losing. But it was more than just one win. Even if it ends up being just a fleeting moment, it certainly felt like everything was changing for a franchise that needed a night like that.
Baker Mayfield’s debut will be remembered for a long time
Who knows what Mayfield’s career will end up being, but on Thursday night he was a ton of fun to watch.
Mayfield has an innate ability to make plays. He showed that at Oklahoma. He did it on Thursday night. He has a great arm and delivered a lot of big-time passes. If you took a poll of Browns fans right now, they might vote Mayfield as the greatest quarterback they’ve had since the team re-entered the NFL in 1999. After about two quarters. That says more about the Browns’ recent history at quarterback, but still. We haven’t seen a Browns quarterback play like that, for even a half, in a really long time. Mayfield completed 17-of-23 passes for 201 yards and, of course, was the key figure in the Browns’ first win since Christmas Eve two yeas ago.
Mayfield’s most notable play might have been a catch. After the Browns scored to cut the Jets’ lead to 14-12, Cleveland ran their version of “Philly Special.” Mayfield caught it for the game-tying two-point conversion. That’s when the night seemed like it was becoming a bit magical.
You’d think a rookie, with little practice time during a short week in his NFL debut, might crack under pressure. Especially considering what this Week 3 game meant in Cleveland. But in the fourth quarter, after the Jets took a 17-14 lead, Mayfield seemed like the calmest guy on the field.
He didn’t have one highlight play on the Browns’ go-ahead drive, just a ton of really nice throws to keep the drive going. They’ll talk about it for a long time in Cleveland.
Mayfield should now be the face of the Browns
Taylor struggled over the first 10 quarters of the season. He was just 4-of-14 for 19 yards when his night ended against the Jets. Taylor wasn’t a bad quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, but he has been bad with the Browns. He shouldn’t have been starting anyway.
Imagine watching Mayfield in practice and preseason games and never even consider giving him a chance to compete with Taylor for the starting job. That’s what happened in Cleveland over the summer. Jackson never gave Mayfield a shot to win the job. And Mayfield looked great on Thursday night when Jackson was forced to take the chance. If it was Jackson’s call, and not one made by the doctors, Taylor might have played the whole game and the Browns would have been blown out.
Still, we can’t assume Jackson will stick with Mayfield. Jackson made the wrong decision for months, and only turned to Mayfield because Taylor left with a concussion. After the game, Jackson said he still needed to “watch the tape” before deciding on the starter. Hopefully though, Jackson sees what everyone else watching did. It’s Mayfield’s team now.
It seems possible he’ll lead the Browns for a decade or more, too. Cleveland, you finally have a quarterback to believe in.
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