When Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield’s first NFL action began on that warm September night on Thursday Night Football in 2018 against the New York Jets down at First Energy Stadium, we all got a glimpse of what Mayfield was all about and could be mean for the Browns franchise moving forward. It was a spectacular display of grit and energy that the Browns hadn’t seen in a long time. The long-awaited victory, a 21-17 win, was long overdue and will forever be seen as where Mayfield’s stardom really took off.
The Browns had gone winless the previous 2017 season under then-head coach Hue Jackson. The Browns drafted Mayfield with the number one pick in the 2018 draft. However, coach Jackson was hell-bent on not starting Mayfield going into the upcoming season because he felt Mayfield needed to learn and study the game from the sideline. The Browns opened the season with a tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers, with quarterback journeyman Tyrod Taylor in the starting role. In that game, the Browns defense forced six turnovers but still couldn’t win the game. Then there was a loss at New Orleans the following week where QB Taylor continued to show little offensive energy.
That brings us to the Jets game that Thursday night in Week 3. Taylor started the game again and was hopeless, throwing numerous incompletions and just not showing that he could move the Browns team offensively down the field. Being at the game that night, I can remember how electrified the energy was at the start of the game, but then the Browns offense was going nowhere and fans quickly began to chat Mayfield’s name.
The Jets built a 14-0 lead and things seemed bleak. And then it happened. Taylor got injured on a quarterback run when he was concussed with a blow to the head and hitting the ground hard with just under two minutes left before the half. And in came the Browns’ next franchise quarterback, Baker Mayfield. Like a script made for a movie, Mayfield immediately went to work cutting the Jets defense up with his laser throws that had a zip on them like we hadn’t seen in 25 years! Receivers Jarvis Landry and Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins and tight end David Njoku all got in the mix of receptions. The Browns raced down the field and managed a field goal right before the half.
The life of the fans that night down at the stadium became renewed. It was electric again and at the half, there was a buzz in the air. The Browns came out in the second half and continued their spirited comeback. After the Browns got another field goal, they finally got that needed touchdown, with running back Carlos Hyde punching it in late in the 3rd quarter. And then the Browns went to try and convert the two-pt conversion, and in surprising fashion, that awoke the fans even more. It was a trick play where Landry floated a beautiful pass back to Mayfield in the endzone. If First Energy Stadium had had a roof at that point, it would have rocketed sky high with the burst of electricity in the stadium!
Late in the 4th quarter, Mayfield again moved the Browns offense down to the goal line and again Hyde ran it in to help the Browns move it front, 21-17. The Browns defense did the rest by intercepting passes late and securing the Browns’ first win in over a year.
I know a lot has been made over the last decade about the Browns not being able to find that franchise quarterback. But on this night that quarterback was finally found. Much has been said about how Mayfield looked to have regressed last season after that strong rookie season. But like I’ve shared before in previous articles that regression had more to do with the coaching that wasn’t happening a year ago. Obviously, that has changed this season behind the leadership of new Browns coach Kevin Stefanski and that’s why the Browns stand at 10-4 this season.
If you were there that night two years ago at the stadium or watched the game on tv, you knew you had a new sheriff in town. And though there have been a few missteps along the way, Mayfield will be the Browns future franchise quarterback for a long time and I’m revitalized as a fan knowing he’s leading the charge on the field every Sunday!