With 1:23 remaining in the first half and the New York Jets leading the Cleveland Browns 14-0, Baker Mayfield took under center and Sooner magic made the transition to Cleveland with him.
After starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor struggled to complete passes through the majority of the first half then got hurt, Mayfield took over and spearheaded a drive down the field resulting in a 37-yard field goal, getting the Browns on the board right before halftime, 14-3.
That was just the beginning.
“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.”
In that first half with Taylor under center, the atmosphere was dormant and it was evident what needed to happen. Taylor completed 4-of-14 of his passes for 14 yards, was sacked three times and had a QBR of 5.6. Mayfield, in just his first drive, surpassed Taylor’s effort and by the end of the game, it was clear who the Browns’ future quarterback would be.
Mayfield’s first drive in the second half ended with a punt, but his defense held and on the ensuing drive he led the Browns down the field leading to another field goal, 14-6 Jets.
Although the Browns were still trailing in the third quarter, the wave of excitement and anticipation rumbled through the stadium, almost to the point that you just knew something big was going to happen.
The anticipation wasn’t for nothing (like many games during this 635-day winless streak). After the Browns defense held New York to a punt, Baker took the field and led his offense on a seven-play, 69-yard, 2:49 drive for their first touchdown of the game, capped off by Mayfield receiving the ball on a pass from Jarvis Landry for the two-point conversion, 14-14.
It was at this moment, social media started talking about Mayfield leading this team to its first win since his junior year at Oklahoma.
The Browns defense did end up surrendering a 12-play, 65-yard drive, ending with a field goal to the Jets with 42 seconds remaining in the third quarter but those were the only points the Jets would score in the second half.
The fourth quarter started with an extensive drive for the Browns. Baker once again led the offense 75 yards down the field in 15 plays and took up 6:52 of the fourth quarter which ended in a Carlos Hyde one-yard touchdown. The Browns took their first lead of the game, 21-17.
Cleveland’s defense deserves more credit. While Mayfield led the team to a 21-3 comeback, the defense was responsible for only giving up three points after giving up 14 in the first half. On the Jets final two desperate offensive possessions, Cleveland’s Joe Schobert and Terrance Mitchell forced two consecutive interceptions, ensuring that New York had no chance to regain the lead, something the Browns let happen numerous times during their 19-game losing streak.
Analysts ranted and raved about Mayfield’s accuracy since his last game at Oklahoma all the way up to this moment and that specific attribute shined through on Thursday night. He threw 17-of-23 for 201 yards, no interceptions, and a two-point conversion reception. He had a 94.9 QBR and averaged 8.7 yards per completion. More importantly, he flaunted the same confident, positive energy that he trademarked during his college career. It was hard to tell the Browns had a rookie on the field.
Although this is such a minuscule sample size, the city of Cleveland has to be more optimistic about what’s to come, because they’ve clearly found a special player in Baker Mayfield.