DETROIT — Baker Mayfield made a few more big throws. He didn’t take a sack, didn’t throw an interception and showed good judgment by throwing the ball away when no one was open. He led three more scoring drives. He absorbed a big hit and got right back up.
The rookie No. 1 pick made his first NFL start in the preseason finale Thursday night, leading the Browns to a 35-17 win over the Lions at Ford Field. Mayfield played the first half and left with a 25-0 lead.
“Came out fast. We set the tone,” he said. “Played well early and that’s something that we talked about and we wanted to stress that and we made sure of that.”
The Browns went 3-1 in the preseason, ending with a victory in the rebirth of the Great Lakes Classic.
Mayfield finished an impressive preseason that earned him the No. 2 quarterback job behind veteran Tyrod Taylor. He’ll be one play away from facing the Steelers on Sept. 9 in the opener.
“I’m ready to go. It’s my job to be ready for that,” Mayfield said. “So any opportunity I can get, I’ll take it. But I’ll be ready to do whatever it is, prepare the defense and just be ready to play, as well.”
As he did all preseason, Mayfield showed composure and efficiency beyond his experience. He went 9-for-16 for 138 passing yards and an 84.9 rating. He was hurt by a couple of drops and forced to throw away a few balls with nobody open and pressure coming.
The night was a big success for Mayfield, who led scoring drives on the first three possessions for a 17-0 lead, albeit against Detroit’s second- and third-teamers. He played two more series without scoring to finish the half and had his first appearance without a sack or interception.
“Baker comes to play,” Jackson said. “He needs all that experience he can get. I think he understands what the National Football League is and what he needs to do and how much harder he needs to keep working to get to where he needs to be.”
Mayfield opened the game with a 41-yard out to tight end Devon Cajuste, hit running back Matthew Dayes for a 30-yard catch-and-run on a cross and threw a 21-yard strike to rookie receiver Damion Ratley in the soft spot of the zone defense.
Mayfield’s final play was a bit scary.
Defensive end Nate Orchard, facing an uphill climb to keep a roster spot, put his best hands and feet forward with a 64-yard interception return for a touchdown with 28 seconds left in the first half. He leaped at the line of scrimmage to pick a Matt Cassel pass to the flat and sprinted down the sideline. Orchard also had a tackle for loss.
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Jackson called for a 2-point conversion try after the pick-six and 245-pound linebacker Jonathan Freeny was penalized for roughing the passer. Mayfield was OK and handed off to Dontrell Hilliard for the successful conversion.
“You know, you get hit sometimes. It’s football,” Jackson said. “They are going to tackle you in this game. But he was fine.”
The 2-point conversion gave the Browns a 25-0 lead, and Jackson said they needed to work on that situation.
“We need to go for those things and know that we can make them,” he said. “We’re going to have to try to score and have every point that we can this season. When we’re down there, we’re going to take some chances.”
Rookie running back Nick Chubb scored from 3 yards on fourth-and-1 to cap the first drive. Dayes, fighting for a roster spot, replaced him and squeezed through a crease up the middle, cut to the right and went 42 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Mayfield demonstrated command of the huddle and excellent pocket awareness throughout the preseason. He again avoided multiple sacks against the Lions with subtle movements.
He was 35-for-61 (57.4 percent) for 501 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, four sacks and an 88.2 rating for the preseason. He led the offense to five touchdowns and three field goals in 22 series.
“I just think he improved every week,” Jackson said. “I thought tonight making plays downfield with the ball, the accuracy of the ball, throwing the ball away in some key situations in the scoring zone I thought was huge.
“I think he’s growing every day, because he’s working at it.”
The Browns rested most of the starters to keep them healthy. So outside of Mayfield, the night was about evaluating the bottom of the roster. Cuts are expected to start Friday, as general manager John Dorsey must get down to the 53-man roster by 4 o’clock Saturday afternoon.
Dorsey stood on the sideline in his trademark sweatshirt for the whole game, a rarity for a general manager.
“He just wanted to get a feel for it and I think that’s awesome,” Jackson said.
Cajuste, a fan favorite after his appearances on HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” played a bunch and had an up-and-down night. He was penalized for holding on the opening kickoff and dropped a long pass from Mayfield but caught two passes for 48 yards.
Defensive end Carl Nassib had another active night in limited time. Jackson said a roster spot won’t necessarily come down to Orchard vs. Nassib and said Orchard’s touchdown could win him a job.
“Heck, yeah. He made a real big-time football play right before half,” Jackson said.
Dayes is trying to convince Dorsey to keep four running backs — Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson and Chubb are locks. Dayes, who also plays special teams, rushed eight times for 77 yards and added a 30-yard catch. He injured an ankle in the fourth quarter and didn’t return.
In the competition among young receivers, Derrick Willies had two catches for 16 yards and a drop over the middle inside the red zone. Da’Mari Scott had two catches for 31 yards and dropped two kicks. C.J. Board left the game with a shoulder injury, and Jeff Janis dropped a pass but caught two for 42 yards.
Linebacker James Burgess, who entered the game a good bet to make the roster, sustained a concussion in the first half. The linebacker depth that looked so impressive could be suspect after Mychal Kendricks was cut Wednesday after admitting to insider trading and the injury to Burgess. Rookie Genard Avery didn’t play Thursday with a hip injury suffered last week against the Eagles.
Zane Gonzalez, who won the kicking job when Ross Martin was cut this week, had a nice night with 39- and 45-yard field goals. He made a 54-yarder against the Eagles.