Thursday night football between the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets was shaping up to be a dud. Neither offense could move the ball and Browns QB Tyrod Taylor was particularly bad with two underthrown passes to WR Antonio Callaway that both should have been touchdowns.
By the second quarter, Cleveland fans had grown restless. Their veteran QB was being outplayed by Jets rookie, Sam Darnold and their team had just fallen behind 14-0 after former Brown, Isaiah Crowell, scored his second TD of the night. Crowell celebrated the score by wiping his butt with the football and throwing it in the stands. Seemed like a typical night for the team that has gone 635 days without winning a game.
Suddenly with less than two minutes left in the first half, the atmosphere in the stadium began to change. Tyrod Taylor was unfortunately knocked out of the game with a concussion, giving first overall pick, Baker Mayfield his first real taste of professional football. Mayfield completed three of his first four passes and put the Browns into field goal range; making the score 14-3 at the half.
Cut to 1:19 left in the third quarter where the Browns are driving down by eight. Jarvis Landry makes a spectacular catch over Jets safety Doug Middleton, setting Cleveland up at that one-yard line. Carlos Hyde scored the next play and the Browns elected to go for two. Their first attempt ended with Mayfield being sacked and fumbling the ball but holding penalties on each team negated the play and gave the Browns another shot. RB Duke Johnson took the snap, flipped the ball to Landry on a reverse run, and then threw the ball to a wide-open Baker Mayfield in the end zone. Tied game.
Anyone who is somewhat familiar with the NFL instantly recognized that the play was almost identical to the famous “Philly Special” call the Philadelphia Eagles ran in Super Bowl 52 en route to beating the New England Patriots. It’s currently the most exciting play in football and it was ran flawlessly buy a team that’s gone 0-18-1 since the start of 2017 and is coming off a week where they controversially traded former first-team All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon to the Patriots.
The Jets responded by kicking a field goal the following drive, giving them the lead early in the fourth quarter. After failing to pull out late victories their past two games, you’d think self-doubt would start to creep up on the Browns, but it didn’t.
When Mayfield took the field down three, with 8:56 left, it felt like he was going to march his team down and score. And he did. Despite two dropped passes, three third downs, and an illegal blocking call on the drive, Mayfield didn’t flinch, and the Browns retook the lead after a one-yard TD run by Carlos Hyde. Darnold would go on to throw two interceptions in the final two minutes to clinch the game for the Browns. Mayfield was electric, accurate, and had the entire city behind him. It appears that the Browns have their franchise QB after searching for almost 20 years.
Obviously, there’s a long way to go. He hasn’t even started a full game yet, but this feels different from other Browns QB’s of the past. Mayfield is far more talented than DeShone Kizer or Brandon Weeden and he’s not the off the field disaster that Johnny Manziel was. He’ll struggle like all young players and the camera might catch him making an inappropriate gesture, but it was clear from his first drive that he’s got what it takes to succeed in this league.
Cleveland was heavily criticized after this year’s draft for passing on Darnold who was generally regarded as the best QB prospect available; while Mayfield was dinged by scouts for concerns about his height and personality. But that’s what makes this relationship perfect. A scrappy and controversial QB is the exact player for the league’s most dysfunctional franchise to rally behind. He’s far from perfect, just like the Browns. He might not be able to replace Cleveland’s King, but he’s more than capable of planting his own flag in the land.