At that moment, the energy and feel of a stadium changed. A Cleveland Browns team and fan base used to seeing bad things happen suddenly noticed the first overall pick in the draft bringing energy to what had been a listless, ineffective offense.
When Mayfield walked on the field late in the first half, the Browns were down 14-0. By game’s end, Mayfield had erased the deficit and scored 21 points in just more than a half, giving the Browns a 21-17 win over the Jets and opening up Bud Light beer coolers all over Cleveland to celebrate the Browns’ first win in 635 days.
“Dilly dilly to the Cleveland fans,” said Mayfield, who guided four scoring drives and threw for 201 yards as the Browns got a win for the first time since Dec. 24, 2016.
When Terrance Mitchell intercepted Jets rookie Sam Darnold with 11 seconds left, he ran 65 yards to jump into the Dawg Pound at the east end of FirstEnergy Stadium. It was sweet relief and a cathartic end to a long and drawn-out nightmare.
“Am I excited about tonight?” coach Hue Jackson said. “Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? I am tired of all the jokes. I am tired of all the things being said.”
Mayfield drew the plaudits, and deservedly so. He didn’t look, carry himself or play like a rookie, nor did he look like a guy who had not taken a regular-season NFL snap before he replaced Tyrod Taylor, who left with a concussion.
Mayfield played with energy, with poise and with precision.
And in doing so he energized the team and its home stadium.
Baker Mayfield is going to enjoy the win with his teammates, but isn’t losing focus on the big picture.
“He has that magnetism,” Jackson said.
“He was so ready for this moment,” Landry said.
Mayfield led the Browns down the field for a field goal on his first drive, and they added another field goal in the third quarter. He then guided the Browns on scoring drives of 69 and 75 yards in the final two quarters, the last ending with Carlos Hyde‘s 1-yard touchdown run with 2:04 left.
On that 15-play drive, Mayfield went 6-of-8 for 60 yards; both incompletions were drops by Browns receivers. He finished 17-for-23 with a rating of 100.1.
In describing his approach, Mayfield said, “Don’t overthink it. Live in the moment. It is that time. I have to command the offense. I have to command the team. I have to bring a spark and give us a chance to win.”
Said Landry, “I promise you, it’s just a testament to how hard he’s worked since he stepped into the building and not having that backup mentality.”
Among Mayfield’s plays was a reception on a two-point conversion, thrown by Landry after he had taken a pitch from Duke Johnson Jr., who had taken a direct snap. Mayfield had seen the play run with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, but he hadn’t run it until the game.
“It’s not too hard to call out a cadence, walk up to the line and kind of just stand there,” said Mayfield, whose energy was infectious in a stadium that celebrated like it was a playoff game.
Jackson was not ready to say that Mayfield will start the Browns’ next game in Oakland on Sept. 28, but it would be very difficult to see Jackson going back to Taylor, who was 4-for-14 for 19 yards with three sacks before he left the game.
General manager John Dorsey had said before the season that everyone would know when it would be the right time for Mayfield, and it would be best if it happened naturally.
This seems to be that natural progression to Mayfield becoming the starter.
“I don’t think there’s a coach or a player who has doubted him or felt like we were at a disadvantage when he came on the field,” Landry said. “That’s something you’ve got to love about him. That’s why he’s the first pick. That’s why he’s the Heisman Trophy winner. You saw it tonight, firsthand.”
“Everybody has their job to do,” Mayfield said. “It’s not all on one person. It’s not all on me.”
Mayfield’s play was so dramatic that it almost overshadowed the Browns’ need to simply win a game and end the 19-game winless streak that was hanging around their necks like an albatross.
To the players, the win was a relief, but also a statement.
“This,” receiver Rashard Higgins said, “is something we got to get used to.”
The final kneel down brought no over-the-top celebrations like their last win. Players merely shook hands and congratulated each other with some hugs.
“Cleveland deserves a win, but we’re not done yet,” Mayfield said, then turning his words to the Browns fans. “So don’t break the dilly dilly coolers too hard; just enjoy it. We deserve it, but at the same time we’re just getting started.”
When the game ended, one of the first to greet Jackson on the field was former tackle Joe Thomas, who was on the team the last time the Browns won and who was in the stadium as an analyst for NFL Network.
“He gave me a big hug,” Jackson said. “I remember the last time we got a win, I was in there crying like a baby and hugging Joe Thomas. There are no tears tonight, because I am telling you, we are going to win more games.”