NFL expert Lindsey Prather covers the stunning triumph of Cleveland breaking their losing streak.
For the first time in years, Cleveland Browns football has a spark of hope again. On Sept. 20, the Cleveland Browns (0-1-1) faced the New York Jets (1-1) on Thursday Night Football. Coming off a tough loss in New Orleans against the Saints, Tyrod Taylor and the Browns were looking for their first win of the season. They found it, but not in the way anyone could have expected.
After an abysmal performance early on, Taylor was pulled from the game following a questionable hit in the second quarter, clearing the way for former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield to take the field. What resulted was a fairytale for Mayfield, snapping a 19-game winless streak on behalf of the Browns and beginning his audition for the cursed role of Cleveland Browns starting QB. Following his entrance just before halftime, the first-overall draft pick helped the Browns overcome a double-digit deficit and energize the crowd as they rallied toward their first win since 2016.
Following some brief struggles with completing his reads, Mayfield settled in and passed for 201 yards on 17 of 23 attempts, looking to be every bit the franchise quarterback the Browns have been searching for. Mayfield was patient and poised in the pocket and precise with his throws, leading the comeback that convinced Cleveland they had finally found their man. Mayfield looked absolutely unflappable, rallying his team better than some veteran quarterbacks. So why didn’t Mayfield get the nod sooner?
The Cleveland Browns have a history of chewing up and spitting out young quarterbacks. Colt McCoy, Deshone Kizer, Johnny Manziel and Brandon Weeden are all prime examples. After spending another high draft pick on Mayfield, the organization’s decision to sit him behind Taylor was justified. Considering their history, combined with their lack of faith in the quality of the offensive line, it wouldn’t be unusual for the team to throw Mayfield into the fire. Due to this questionable history with starting young quarterbacks too early, the decision to bench Mayfield initially is probably the best decision they could have possibly made. Allowing him to develop behind a veteran quarterback helped him greatly, and the payoff is obvious from his performance against the Jets.
Baker Mayfield elevated the team following his NFL debut. Behind an offensive line that forced Tyrod Taylor to run for his life just one quarter earlier, Mayfield executed reads and threw pinpoint-accurate passes. On the defensive side of the ball, a star-studded, solid defense that previously had trouble containing the Jets found themselves capable of making plays and creating opportunities. The entire Browns team was responsible for the win over the Jets, although the question remains as to whether they will maintain the level of play that Mayfield somehow teased out of them.
Named officially as starting quarterback, Mayfield now has an opportunity to repeat his success against the Jets as they look toward their next game against Derek Carr and the Raiders in Oakland. With his first career start in the NFL and all eyes on him, the odds of replicating the same energy and success are unknown. Ideally, the Browns’ poor performance on both sides of the ball can be alleviated by improved quarterback play.
This early in the season, it’s hardly sink-or-swim. Nonetheless, consistency and the ability to execute will be vital to the continued success of the Browns, however long or short-lived the success of Baker Mayfield turns out to be. If he is able to muster half of the charisma and confidence he showed against the Jets, the Browns might be something more than a punchline this season, and one thing is for certain: it’s about time.