CLEVELAND — Baker Mayfield’s performance last week had some critics and fans questioning whether he was the guy for the job. This week, after a first quarter that looked eerily similar to last week, Mayfield made a statement and showed he can, in fact, be the difference-maker this team needs and carry the Browns to a victory.
A full 180
Mayfield started Sunday’s game against the Bengals the same way he started last week’s with the Steelers—an interception on his first pass that resulted in a touchdown. The interception also resulted in Odell Beckham Jr. leaving the game with a knee injury.
It wasn’t just the first drive, though. Mayfield started Sunday’s game with five straight incomplete passes. Fans flooded social media with cries to bench him and start Case Keenum, but Mayfield quickly shut down that idea.
He had an extremely rough start, but, after the first quarter, Mayfield was nearly perfect, completing 22 of 23 passes. His lone incompletion was a spike to stop the clock. Mayfield broke the Browns franchise record of 17 consecutive completions—passing Bernie Kosar (1989) and Kelly Holcomb (2003)— and ended the game with 297 yards and five touchdowns, but what really solidified his performance was his final drive.
Defining moment for a franchise quarterback
After the Bengals took the lead late in the fourth quarter, a win for the Browns seemed all but improbable. With no timeouts and just over a minute left on the clock, the game was in the hands of Mayfield.
Starting at his own 25 yard line, Mayfield completed a pass to rookie wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones for 13 yards, but time was still running out. Thanks to a remarkable catch by Rashard Higgins that included a heads-up move to roll out of bounds, and a review that gave the Browns a free timeout, Cleveland moved the chains again, pressing closer to Bengals territory.
With 39 seconds left, Mayfield resorted to his gun-slinging ways and found Higgins once again for 30 yards, putting the Browns at Cincinnati’s 24-yard-line.
After spiking the ball, the Browns were in field goal range to tie the game, but that wasn’t good enough for Mayfied.
“We got out onto the field, and everyone was talking about how we have to get to the 30 for a field goal, and I told the guys, ‘Screw that, we’re going to go win it,’” Mayfield said after the game.
And win it they did.
On the next play, Mayfield found Peoples-Jones once again, but this time in the end zone, putting the Browns up 37-34 after a missed extra point from Cody Parkey.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow threw it deep with four seconds left in the game, but couldn’t complete and the Browns walked off the field with the win.
Mayfield successfully completed a full 180 from his play from last week.
Success in the face of adversity
The Browns entered Sunday’s game missing wide receiver Taywon Taylor, linebacker Jacob Phillips, guard Wyatt Teller, tight end Austin Hooper and defensive end Joe Jackson.
In the opening drive, the Browns lost Beckham to the knee injury and nearly lost JC Tretter, who was shaken up on the same play. Mayfield was able to turn the passing game around despite two major weapons in Beckham and Hooper being lost and an offensive line dealing with injuries and replacements.
Mayfield, who said he's beating himself up for the play that took out Beckham, talked to the receiver at halftime and told him he loved him. Beckham responded by telling Mayfield to "go be great."
Mayfield was great. He wasn’t just able to turn the game around in spite of an injury-riddled offense. He did so in spite of a defense that could not contain Burrow and the Bengals.
Myles Garrett showed his game-wrecking ways with two sacks, one being a strip sack recovered by Ronnie Harrison. Denzel Ward was involved in three massive plays in the opening drive, including tipping an interception to B.J. Goodson, and continued those big plays, locking up A.J. Green and staying dominant all afternoon.
Outside of that, however, the defense struggled. Terrance Mitchell failed to catch a gift-wrapped interception that could have essentially sealed the game for the Browns much sooner. Andrew Sendejo allowed another touchdown on Sunday, continuing a less-than-ideal season from the starting safety. You were hard pressed to find a tackle made by the secondary when they needed them most. The Browns will need to address concerns at safety.
But despite injuries and poor performances on the other end of the ball, Mayfield found a way to win on Sunday—and that’s exactly what he needs to be able to do moving forward and exactly what he needs to continue proving to make the Browns (and their fans) confident that he is the quarterback the Browns have been waiting for all these years.
The old confident Mayfield seems to be back, quoting the DMX hit "Ruff Ryders' Anthem" on Sunday about his incredible turnaround.
“Whatever it takes to win. Stop, drop, shut ‘em down, open up shop," Mayfield said.
Mayfield did everything it took to win on Sunday, dropped plenty of bombs down the stretch to his receivers and shut down the critics questioning if he had what it takes to carry a team in a game-winning moment. He'll open up shop next week at FirstEnergy Stadium as the team looks to stay hot against the Las Vegas Raiders. But until then, enjoy your fifth Victory Monday of the year, fans.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.