Playing the New York Jets, Mayfield took over for Tyrod Taylor, who suffered a concussion in the second quarter. Things looked bleak for the Browns, who trailed 14-0 and had failed to generate any offense.
Mayfield changed this, though, making play after play while leading Cleveland to three touchdown drives. This includes the game-winning drive, which was capped off by a Carlos Hyde run. The Browns got two interceptions within the final two minutes to secure a 21-17 victory — their first win in 19 months.
Cleveland’s football franchise has suffered for years. And nobody expected them to contend for the division title this season. But here we are three games into the season, and the Browns are just half a game out of the division lead at 1-1-1. They’re also ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1-1), a team that many felt would walk away with the AFC North.
It must be asked whether the Browns actually have a chance to win their division with Mayfield at the helm.
Mayfield Is Definitely a Playmaker
Tyrod Taylor has been very efficient in his NFL career. And he has the ability to run when needed. But the problem with Taylor as a starting QB is that he doesn’t make enough plays out of thin air to help a struggling offense.
Enter Mayfield, who showed the ability to make numerous big plays at Oklahoma. The No. 1 overall pick showed Thursday night that these abilities have translated nicely to the NFL.
The 23-year-old has a strong arm and made a lot of tough throws. He completed 17-of-23 passes for 201 yards and also caught a touchdown pass.
If I’m going to base everything off the two and a half quarters that Mayfield played, he looks like the best Cleveland QB since they re-started the franchise in 1999.
Many rookies might have cracked when the Jets took a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter. However, Mayfield looked like a seasoned veteran when he got the ball back. He completed some very good passes while marching the Browns down for the go-ahead score.
Expect Mayfield to Continue Starting
The idea this season was to let Taylor start while Mayfield got a chance to learn the pro game. Assuming Taylor and the Browns really went on a run, then he might’ve started all season.
But it doesn’t look like Mayfield needs any more time. In fact, he played far better than Taylor, who was just 4-of-14 passing with 19 yards before being concussed.
It’s a wonder if Mayfield has been the better starting quarterback all along. After all, he wasn’t given much of a chance to win the job in the preseason. Jackson had his mind made up that Taylor would start. He was finally forced to Mayfield a chance when Taylor was ruled out by team doctors.
The latter is unlikely to be ready in 10 days when Cleveland travels to face the Oakland Raiders. Jackson says that he wants to “watch the tape” before making a decision in case Taylor is ready to play.
But even Jackson, who seemed dead-set against playing his rookie, may be forced to hand over the keys to Mayfield. And it’s very likely that the Oklahoma product could be leading the team for years to come.
Is Cleveland at Contender Status in the AFC North?
Cleveland’s defense is really coming together nicely. They forced Ben Roethlisberger into one of the worst games of his career. They gave Drew Brees fits, and would’ve beaten New Orleans on the road if not for a kicking debacle. The Browns also made Sam Darnold look like the rookie he is, forcing the USC product into two late interceptions.
But what Cleveland has been missing is a dangerous offense to match the defense. Assuming Mayfield can keep showing what he did against New York, then the Browns could be strong on both sides of the ball.
This doesn’t necessarily vault them into contender status in the division. After all, the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Steelers all have a chance to win the North. But this division is wide open, meaning that Cleveland has a chance to compete.
Even if they ultimately fall short of winning the AFC North and even making the playoffs, the future looks bright with Baker Mayfield under center.