Thursday, Sept. 20 had marked 635 days without a regular season victory for the Cleveland Browns. However, rookie backup quarterback Baker Mayfield, the first overall pick in this past year’s NFL Draft, changed the fortunes of the often mocked organization, coming into the game and carrying his team back to beat the New York Jets 21-17.
Neither side could seem to move the ball in the first quarter as the two teams combined for nine punts and zero points scored in the first 15 minutes of the game. The stalemate was finally broken when former Browns running back Isaiah Crowell punched the ball in for the Jets from the Browns’ 7–yard line. Crowell finished the night with 34 yards on 16 attempts for a measly 2.1 yards per carry; despite his low carry average, he was responsible for scoring both of the Jets’ touchdowns.
Slated to backup starter Tyrod Taylor to start the season, Mayfield received his opportunity when the Browns’ coaching staff decided to replace Taylor with Mayfield late in the second quarter, giving him less than two minutes to complete a drive before halftime. Taylor, taken out of the game due to the lack of movement from the Browns’ offense, had seen two close games slip away in the previous two weeks of play, and the coaching staff decided to give Mayfield a chance to lead the Browns to victory.
Mayfield, who was incredibly efficient on the night, completed 17 of 23 pass attempts and threw for 201 yards with zero interceptions. Even though he was unable to find a receiver in the endzone through the air, his efficiency in moving the offense through the air received complementary work from the running game. Running back Carlos Hyde carried the scoring for the Browns’ offense, as he finished the game with 23 rushing attempts for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
Mayfield’s first drive was only six plays for 39 yards. Despite this, he managed to get the offense down the field and put the ball within range for rookie kicker Greg Joseph who sent the ball through the uprights to cut the Jets’ lead to 14-3 heading into halftime.
The second half appeared to be a repeat of the first quarter, as both teams punted on their first drives of the second half. On a drive starting on their own 12-yard line, the Jets’ offense saw a pair of penalties set them back to second-and-13, which led to quarterback Sam Darnold delivering a strike to wide receiver Robby Anderson. Anderson, who was tackled by Browns’ rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, also had the ball stripped by Ward in the process, giving Mayfield and the offense the ball back on the Jets’ 8-yard line. Mayfield and the offense were unable to move the ball, and the drive resulted in another field goal by Joseph.
After receiving the ball back with three and a half minutes left in the third quarter, Mayfield orchestrated a seven play, 69-yard drive that resulted in Hyde breaking through two tackles for the touchdown. In order to tie the score, the Browns kept Mayfield and the offense on the field to go for two points. The ball was snapped directly to running back Duke Johnson, who handed the ball off to wide receiver Jarvis Landry on an end-around run, which Landry then proceeded to throw to a wide open Mayfield in the left corner of the endzone, tying the game at 14-14 going into the fourth quarter.
Darnold, refusing to go down without a fight, had the Jets’ offense march down the field on a 12 play, seven minute drive that resulted in kicker Jason Myers putting the ball through the uprights for a field goal, putting the Jets on top 17-14 with less than a quarter left to play in the game.
Mayfield’s play on the night, after facing the heavy scrutinization of a number one overall pick, showed his draft pedigree was worthy of his abilities as a signal caller. He impressed once again with a well calculated drive, burning through the game clock on a 15 play drive that featured a balance between Mayfield’s arm and Hyde carrying the ball. Landry also had a highlight catch at the end of the drive, catching a perfectly placed ball from Mayfield over a defender to set the Browns offense up on the Jets’ 1-yard line.
In a similar pattern to that of the previous drive, the Browns were unsuccessful until they handed the ball back to Hyde, who fought his way in for the score, putting the Browns up 21-17 with two minutes left to play in the game.
Wrapping up an interesting night featuring two rookie quarterbacks drafted at the top of their draft class, Darnold showed why he was the third overall pick and not the first overall pick, as he threw interceptions on back-to-back drives to wrap up the game.
Mayfield’s chances at becoming the starter for the Browns have risen astronomically, with the win and his game tape giving the Browns’ coaching staff reason to support him as their starting quarterback for the rest of the season. Going into week four with a 1-1-1 record, the Browns have already taken the first step towards improving their franchise by finding a strong rookie quarterback.