The Cleveland Browns won a football game for the first time since Christmas Eve 2016. And now we know something about their young quarterback.
He is not a butcher. He’s a Baker. Now, how long will it be before he is a championship-maker?
What a night Thursday was in the Dawg Pound, in a city whose love for the Browns has felt unrequited for the last two years – 635 days, to be precise.
One 21-17 victory does not make up for all the pain, and there’s no need remind anyone that Cleveland snapped its 19-game winless streak against the New York Jets, an NFL junkyard.
But after suffering through a litany of substandard quarterbacks since the days of Vinny Testaverde – Tim Couch and Brady Quinn, for example – the Browns may have finally plucked one more ripe than hype.
Should the Browns have taken Sam Darnold with the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft? Time will tell. But as for right now, in this moment when anything now seems possible, Baker Mayfield is their gift from heaven.
“He’s got that twinkle in his eye,” Jim Brown told The Athletic. “He’s the real deal.”
In the second quarter, with the Browns trailing the Jets 14-0, starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who had done a nice job navigating the Browns threw the first two weeks of the season, wobbled to the sidelines and into the first stage of the NFL’s concussion protocol.
With 1:42 to play in the half, onto the field ran Mayfield, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, a kid whose confidence has always seemed a step behind reality. This was no Cody Kessler or Kevin Hogan, who caddied last year’s underwhelming starter, DeShone Kizer.
Nothing against Taylor, who led the Buffalo Bills to their first postseason in 18 years last season. But he was nothing more than a Cleveland caretaker, a guy expected to take snaps until Mayfield finally snapped to it. He had completed only 48.8 percent of his passes with a passer rating of 64.0 in 2 ½ games.
The sight of Mayfield electrified the city, one looking for a new icon now that LeBron James has gone Hollywood. And Mayfield delivered, completing 17-of-23 for 201 yards that sent corks popping in and around The Flats, where the cool kids go to party in Cleveland.
“He has that magnetism,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “Tonight was his night. It was his coming out party.”
The Jets defense had its way with the Browns in the first half. They harassed Taylor into inaccurate throws, limited him to four completions for 19 yards before his head began to spin for real.
Then came Mayfield. Perhaps he saw things Taylor didn’t, but his reaction time in the pocket seemed quicker. Meanwhile, the Jets response seemed slower and, just as advertised, the more Mayfield scrambled the more effective he became.
There was never a time during training camp, when seemingly every sweat dollop dripped its way onto HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” that Jackson made it seem like Mayfield would be his starter. And John Dorsey, the Browns first-year general manager, had his back.
During his career as an executive in Green Bay (director of college scouting) and Kansas City (GM), Dorsey had also presided over the patient incubations of both Aaron Rodgers and Pat Mahomes.
So why should Mayfield been any different?
“I still stand by the decision. I think it was right,” Jackson said. “I still think he needed the time. He needed the time to see and understand the National Football League and how it works. I can’t tell you that Baker would have performed like that in Week 1. Let’s just be honest.”
Remember, since the Browns were reincarnated in 1999 after owner Art Modell moved them to Baltimore three years earlier, the Browns have made the playoffs just once (2002) and had a winning record just twice (2002 and 2007).
Now it seems as if the Browns, who haven’t won a road game since Oct. 11, 2015 in Baltimore, will have Mayfield around indefinitely to pump them up beginning with next Sunday’s game in Oakland.
Heck, they can even throw him the ball. Mayfield showed off his deftness as a receiver by catching a a 2-point conversion after splitting wide and being on the business end of a throw from receiver Jarvis Landry.
“Cleveland deserves a win, but we are not done yet,” Mayfield said. “We’re just getting started.”
And what of Darnold, anointed Jets savior after engineering their opening-week win over the Detroit Lions? The NFL’s youngest starting quarterback since 1970 has completed 60.2 percent of his passes with a 72.0 passer rating.
“Doubt who? Never doubt 6,” Landry told the New York Times. “I don’t think there’s a coach or player in this building who has doubted him.”