CLEVELAND — Baker Mayfield's work in parts of the game needed to beat Baltimore counted for something. But for how much?
It was hard to watch the sit-on-the-lead second half, including for him.
"We did enough to win the game (24-22)," Mayfield said. "Check that box. We got conservative. We need to put that team away."
Two critical points of business got handled; one, beating the AFC North leader; two, ,taking some encouragement from Mayfield's first-half work coming off a bye.
"That's the best I've felt since Week 2," Mayfield said.
"Baker looked good in practice, and he felt good coming in," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I think the rest helped."
It was tough to watch Mayfield's first series without a grunt or a groan or this thought: They worked two weeks for this?
Stefanski's opening play call got Austin Hooper open for what promised to be a catch and run of 10 yards. Mayfield threw an uncatchable ball at the tight end's ankles.
The second play was a pass that lost a yard. The third was a pass Kareem Hunt had to dive to catch well short of a first down. Punt.
The Browns were in no position to decline good luck. They got it on a sideline pass on which Anthony Averett interfered Donovan Peoples-Jones. Mayfield then got untracked with a 9-yard strike over the middle to Hooper.
Flags came out like Raven droppings on the next throw, another pass interference. Mayfield then made a nice hot read on a blitz to salvage a third-and-5, preserving field goal range and a 3-0 lead.
Mayfield seemed patient, resolved and "intent on finding it" within a pass-first game plan.
"I thought (pass first) worked well for us while we were doing it," Chubb said. "We passed well, and that did open things up for us."
Mayfield went 16-of-20 for 143 yards passing in the first half.
He began his third series with two strong plays, a scramble for 3 yards out of what looked like a sack, then a third-and-4 zip to Peoples-Jones, who was sandwiched by DBs Brandon Stephens and Averett.
Later, a third-and-3 swing pass to Kareem Hunt worked. Half of Mayfield's 2021 struggles owe to not even being accurate on the short stuff. This one was where it needed to be.
A well-poised drive culminated with a 9-yard touchdown strike to Jarvis Landry.
Mayfield's fourth series was his best of the season, all things considered. Maybe Stefanski's, too.
His only off-target throw still was catchable, brought in by Landry. Baltimore arrived focused on Chubb. Stefanski mixed in a steady diet of passes, including on first down.
With the Ravens stacking the box on a third-and-1, Mayfield faked a handoff, spun to his right, and easily sprinted to the Baltimore bench with a first down. Stefanski was finding mismatches. Mayfield was putting the ball in good places.
On one, cornerback Chris Westry interfered. Peoples-Jones caught Mayfield's pretty sideline pass anyway for a 34-yard gain.
Hooper made a catch on the right side. Chubb sprinted 15 yards the other way. Near the goal line, Chubb got knocked backward. Mayfield sprinted 20 yards to help him up. In its way, it was one of the most striking scenes of the game.
On first-and-goal from the 1 after another interference, the Ravens played hard run. Hooper was wide open for a TD pass.
The good work got compromised after Mayfield opened his fifth series with a completion over the middle to People-Jones. On the next play, with the pocket condensing, he fired toward Landry on the right sideline. Averett made an easy pick.
A 17-0 lead with a chance for more turned into just a Baltimore field goal, but a closer game.
The question became how the interception would dry up the Browns' offensive flow. It didn't help. Mayfield went 6-of-13 for 47 yards in the second half, when Stefanski buttoned up the game plan.
"Give our defense credit," Mayfield said. "They played great all game long ... especially when it was crunch time."
It was late in the first half when Mayfield crossed midfield by continuing to throw on first down. On third-and-7 just inside midfield, inside the two-minute warning, he tried to jam a throw to Peoples-Jones against tight coverage. It was tipped and nearly picked.
It was 24-6 when Mayfield threw poorly on a little first-down pass to Chubb. It was an example of why these misses can rupture a drive or even a game. It led to a punt.
By then Tyler Huntley was Baltimore's quarterback after Lamar Jackson left with an injury. Still, crisp play from Mayfield was needed, partly to get the team's mind right heading into the final four games.
A conservative Browns drive set up a 40-yard field goal doinked by Chase McLaughlin.
Mayfield got another a chance at a "confidence" series after the Ravens got to within 24-15 with 8:56 left. It didn't happen. Chubb got ankle tackled on a dink pass. Another dink, to fullback Andy Janovich, made it third-and-3. Mayfield threw incomplete while scrambling to force a punt.
The Browns' defense cranked up the pressure on Huntley, and it worked.
Mayfield took over near midfield with 6:51 left and the 24-15 lead. A defense that arrived preparing for Chubb on early downs got just that and had Mayfield in a quick third-and-11.
Say what you want about the statistic "passer rating." It reflects the way Mayfield has looked in recent games.
Three of his four worst 2021 passer ratings were in the last three games, 79.4 against Baltimore, 56.3 at New England and 53.2 against Detroit.
He entered the game ranked 20th in the category at 89.9.
His overall passer rating Sunday was 91.9 — in a win over the division leader. That's enough progress to matter.
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On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Cleveland Browns, Baker Mayfield fight to win vs. Ravens