Mayfield Era takes flight despite Browns coach's cautionary note

The Sports Xchange
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield throws a pass on June 13 at minicamp in Berea, Ohio. Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Browns.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield throws a pass on June 13 at minicamp in Berea, Ohio. Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Browns.

The Baker Mayfield Era is underway on the shores of Lake Erie.

Or is it?


Despite Mayfield's dazzling NFL debut, in which he came out of the bullpen to lift the long-suffering Cleveland Browns to their first victory since Christmas Eve in 2016, Hue Jackson was not ready to commit to the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft as the team's new starter -- yet.

"I have to watch the tape," Jackson told reporters shortly after Mayfield rallied the Browns from an early 14-point deficit in an exhilirating 21-17 victory over the New York Jets on Thursday night.

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Mayfield came on late in the first half for injured starter Tyrod Taylor (concussion) and ignited the comeback by playing superbly in his NFL debut, finishing 17 of 23 for 201 yards without a turnover.

For good measure, and to add to the giddiness of Cleveland fans, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner completely outplayed New York rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, who was taken two slots behind Mayfield in 2018 the NFL Draft.


"That's why we drafted him,'' said Jackson of Mayfield in the afterglow of the victory. "We drafted him for that reason. He has that magnetism. He has it. He's still a young player. He has a lot of work to do. He's got to keep working. Tonight is his night. It was his coming out party.

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"It's just really ironic that it happened that the quarterback on the other side was a rookie, too. Baker did some good things tonight. He truly did."

Does that sound like a man who is wavering on handing over the keys to his offense to Mayfield?

Taylor's injury may make it a moot point that Mayfield will get the start when the Browns visit the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 30. But even if Taylor is cleared from the NFL's concussion protocol, it will be almost impossible for Jackson not to stick with his prized rookie.

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Mayfield led the Browns to a field goal on his first possession to make it a 14-3 deficit at halftime. He guided Cleveland to another field goal in the third quarter before directing a pair of lengthy touchdown drives that were capped by a pair of 1-yard runs from running back Carlos Hyde.


"Obviously, once Baker got into the game at quarterback, you just saw a different rhythm,'' said Jackson. "Obviously, the young man did some really good things. You can't take that away from him. What a night for him. He came off of the bench, went in there and led this team and helped lead this team to victory.''

Still, Jackson declined to say if he would've re-inserted Taylor back into the game if he received a medical OK to return to the lineup Thursday night.

"(Taylor) got hurt,'' said Jackson. "Let's not talk about if I would have or would not have. Baker played great, and he won the game. That's what's important."

Acquired in an offseason trade with the Buffalo Bills, Taylor was only 4 of 14 for 19 yards prior to the injury. Through his three starts, Taylor is completing only 48.8 percent of his passes and owns a quarterback rating of 63.7.

Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry, also acquired in the offseason trade with the Miami Dolphins, was among Taylor's staunchest backers throughout the team's offseason program. Yet he couldn't help but acknowledge the obvious after Mayfield's stellar introduction to the NFL.


"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," said Landry. "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."

Jackson said he has no regrets about opening the season with Taylor as the starter. The plan all along, said the coach, was to allow Mayfield time to develop and not be rushed into the lineup.

"I think it was right. I still think he needed the time to see and understand the National Football League and how it works," said Jackson. "We're better served -- I can't tell you that Baker would have performed like that in Week 1. The way he works, the time he spends, it's been invaluable for him.

"That's all I ever said about Baker -- when we stick him out there, he was going to play well, and I truly believe that tonight was his coming out party.''

The Browns have used 29 different starting quarterbacks since the franchise relocated back to Cleveland in 1999. The player who almost assuredly will be No. 30 said the city should get used to more success.


"Cleveland deserves a win, but we're not done yet," said Mayfield. "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."

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