Baker Mayfield was thrust into the primetime spotlight after starter Tyrod Taylor was knocked out of the game, and the rookie blew up every possible expectation while engineering a comeback win.
The Cleveland Browns beat the New York Jets on Thursday Night Football, their first win in 635 days, in a game that very much looked like it was quickly getting away from them. Stubborn head coach Hue Jackson stuck with Taylor despite his consistent struggles moving the football, but a concussion forced his hand to play his rookie signal-caller.
And Baker looked like nothing close to a rookie who hadn’t taken a single first-team practice rep during the short week leading up to Thursday night’s game. He made quick decisions, fit the ball into tight windows in rhythm, and made no crucial mistakes, save for a mistake on the goal-line that probably should have been intercepted. It wasn’t, but throwing the ball in the tight confines of a goal-line offense is something that he’ll have to work on in the coming weeks.
Mayfield started with two quick completions that juiced his teammates and the FirstEnergy Stadium crowd like we haven’t seen in forever. That momentum snowballed throughout the rest of the game, leading the Browns to find a way to win a close game in the fourth quarter, a situation they had failed in so many times before over the past three miserable seasons.
It looks like they finally learned how to win.
It’s not officially official, but it may as well be. The Baker Mayfield era has begun for the Cleveland Browns.
“Obviously, what he did tonight was outstanding for the football team and his teammates and just the way he competed,” Jackson said in his post-game press conference. “I have to watch the tape, and we will go from there.”
You have to watch the tape, coach? Anyone with eyes and even a rudimentary understanding of football can save you some time: Mayfield is your starting quarterback.
“It felt like it was moving quicker. It felt like that position was playing quicker. Seeing things very clearly and the ball was coming out of his hands,” Jackson added. “That was the good thing. I am going to watch the tape and make the best decision for the organization and for our football team moving forward.
“That is my job. That is what I will do.”
Jackson has no real choice other than to stick with Mayfield moving forward. Taylor will be in the concussion protocol this week, and the rookie’s performance has left little doubt who’s the better player. There isn’t any remaining justification for keeping him on the bench to “learn” by playing behind Taylor, when he so convincingly outplayed the veteran.
Taylor had been good enough at times, but he held onto the ball way too long and missed way too many throws, including a second-quarter bomb to Antonio Callaway that should have been a touchdown. Even worse, and maybe feeling his opportunity slipping away, Taylor blamed Callaway for some reason on the missed connection.
If for some incomprehensible reason Jackson decides to go back to Taylor, the coach should be fired on the spot.
Mayfield’s quarterback No. 1 now for the Browns, and there’s no nuance in the tape that’s going to change the considerable gap between the two players. Taylor is a great guy, and a hard worker, but the debate is over before it ever had a chance to start.
Mayfield left no doubt.