The first 22 mins of this game just felt like any other Browns’ disappointing loss. Although this one was about to be extra disappointing, because national media experts, Vegas odds makers and local sports personalities thought this would be a game the Browns could and should win. Especially since they almost beat two perennial playoff contenders in the first two weeks. Unfortunately, that attitude changed rapidly after the opening kickoff. Excitement and enthusiasm changed into worry, and that feeling that Browns fans get in the pit of their stomach when they foresee something bad returned. It’s almost uncanny. Soon after came restlessness and boos halfway through the first quarter as the offense was sputtering in first gear.
The game began with some very peculiar play calling on offense that led to a couple three-and-outs to start the game. Defensively, the Browns stayed in it, which was promising. I think the decisive point in the game for Browns’ fans came on an intentional grounding call by a seemingly confused Tyrod Taylor when there wasn’t even a rush on him. With a shiny new toy, the No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, on the sidelines chomping at the bit, many Browns fans started to question why Taylor was still on the field. Fast forward to about three minutes left in the first half, and Taylor is sacked yet again, and this time his head slammed against the turf. He immediately grabbed at his helmet to indicate he suffered some sort of injury. My mind instantly went to Mayfield’s debut. Sure, you never want to see a player lose his job because of an injury, and with the way the offense was performing, did we really want Baker coming into this mess?
Nonetheless, Mayfield entered the game and jumped into a two minute drive, which, in hind site, was probably the best time for him to come in. There’s no time to overthink, only time to react. Mayfield’s first play was a quick, three-step throw to Landry for about 14 yards. The defense quickly came to the line for the next play, and he hit tight end David Njoku down the seam over the corner and in front of the safety for 17 yards. By this time, the energy in the stadium immediately changed. As a side note, you could feel the energy change at Game On in Lakewood, where LOTL was watching the game (yes, we were definitely hoping to unlock Bud Light’s Victory Fridge. Check out a video we took of the fridge opening here). That drive led to a field goal which got the Browns on the board going into halftime.
In the second half, the momentum continued. Mayfield had clearly prepared himself for this moment in a way that not even the Browns’ coaches could dream of. If they would have known he could play like this, there is no way they would have started Tyrod at the beginning of the season. Mayfield’s impact was immediate. Everyone’s demeanor changed, from his teammates, to the fans at the game, to the fans watching at home. It was a memorable moment, and by now, we all know how it ended. Baker led the Browns on a drive with only a few mins remaining to take the lead. Then the defense, which were given only their second lead in the first three games, picked off rookie quarterback Sam Darnold to end the game, end the drought, and open the fridges.
The Browns had won a regular season NFL football game for the first time since Christmas Eve in 2016 — a winless drought of almost two full years. After the game many expected Mayfield to react as if the Browns had won the Super Bowl, but the cool, calm and collected rookie showed his leadership and maturity when he was interviewed right after the game by the NFL Network.
Mayfield’s performance got the spotlight for obvious reasons, but some other players really stepped up and contributed to the win. None other than Denzel Ward, who not only provided great coverage all night, but also got the turnaround going with his strip sack and return deep inside Jet’s territory.
Thursday night’s performance left the Browns’ with a difficult decision on who to start as quarterback going forward. I say difficult because you never want to take away a guys job because of an injury. But circumstances sometimes dictate results, and Mayfield getting into the game was directly due to Tyrod’s injury. Mayfield took advantage of the opportunity and he is the future of the franchise. So making the decision wasn’t too difficult, but the emotion behind it was. Tyrod has been a stand up leader for this team all pre-season and has stabilized the position while the team waited for Mayfield to be ready to take over. It happened quicker than he would have liked, but Tyrod came to Cleveland knowing full well that the team was going to build around Mayfield.
Now we move on to week 4 and Mayfield’s first start as quarterback of the 1-1-1 Cleveland Browns vs. the 0-3 Oakland Raiders. Despite the record, Oakland is a team that has talent. They have a very good quarterback, a solid offensive line, and some playmakers. Their Achilles heel so far this season has been second half defense, and a lot of that has to do with the lack of a pass rush, which is pretty amusing since the team traded away Khalil Mack, one of the top pass rushers in the NFL just before the season started.
Look for the Browns to get their running game going and try to control the line of scrimmage. I don’t think they will put any harnesses on Mayfield, and I hope they just let him rip and let him do what he does. I think you will see a more emotional and vocal leader out of Mayfield now that he’s been given the keys and this is his team. Hopefully, we will see more of the same out of the defense and their good pass rush, with a secondary that has a reputation for creating multiple turnovers each game. It should be a good game and I predict a Browns’ victory, 24-17.