CLEVELAND — The win was bigger than Baker Mayfield.
But it wouldn’t have happened without him.
The Browns ended their 19-game winless streak Thursday night at a rocking, then reeling, then reveling FirstEnergy Stadium with a 21-17 victory over the New York Jets.
Mayfield came off the bench late in the first half when starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor left with a concussion and led a captivating comeback from a 14-0 deficit. In his first NFL action, Mayfield was in total command, made quick and correct decisions and threw darts all over the field.
“That is why we drafted him,” coach Hue Jackson said. “He has that magnetism.
“Tonight is his night. It was his coming-out party.”
Mayfield, the No. 1 pick, was only here for a tie and a loss during the 634 days without a win, but he has been around long enough to know what a victory means to the team and city. The fans that sprang to their feet as he jogged to the huddle and went for a thrill ride on each of his 17 completions cheered long after Mayfield took the final snap in the out-of-moth-balls victory formation.
“The best part about it was that we were here at home,” he said. “You guys could feel the energy of the crowd and how badly they wanted it. This city deserves it.”
The Browns are 1-1-1 after three winnable games. Jackson improved to 2-32-1, with the only other win Dec. 24, 2016. He said he didn’t shed any tears this time, but was emotional when he handed the first game ball to owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam.
“For their support of me,” Jackson said. “They have always been outstanding, contrary to what people think.”
Mayfield also got a game ball after leading four scoring drives in six possessions. He was 17-for-23 passing for 201 yards, a sack and a 100.1 rating.
He deserved a game ball. He saved the night.
Make that … the season.
Mayfield entered an NFL game for the first time with 1:42 left in the second quarter. The Browns trailed 14-0 and were headed toward 0-2-1 and questions about Jackson’s future.
The comeback started immediately with a field goal on his first drive. It ended with a 1-yard Carlos Hyde touchdown run with 2:04 left.
Mayfield did what the Browns drafted him to do.
Just a lot earlier than planned.
“He was so ready for this moment,” receiver Jarvis Landry said. “He grabbed it by the horns.
“He’s really special.”
Jackson wouldn’t commit to making Mayfield the starter but strongly hinted at it and called the victory Mayfield’s “coming-out party” more than once. A coming-out party isn’t followed by a return to the sideline.
“I feel like people have been talking about it for a while,” he said. “I have just been waiting for my moment. I have been patient. I was never whining or complaining about playing time.”
The victory in front of a national-TV audience snapped the winless streak that was tied for second-longest since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. It set off a raucous celebration, and that was before the Bud Light victory fridges sprang open.
“Dilly Dilly to the Cleveland fans,” Mayfield said, quoting the beer’s slogan. “It’s not the only win we’re going to celebrate.”
“This is just the start of it, I truly believe, for this football team,” Jackson said. “I’m tired of all the jokes. We have been the brunt of jokes, the brunt of everything. We deserve that, but hopefully, maybe people will start seeing that things are going to change here and that we are working at it.”
Mayfield immediately re-energized a crowd quieted and disgusted by an ugly performance.
Taylor (4-for-14, 19 yards, 39.6 rating) had gone to the locker room after his third sack, by linebacker Avery Williamson. Taylor was slow to get up, a theme of the first half, and walked into the medical tent on the sideline. After an initial examination, he walked into the locker room and was diagnosed with a concussion at halftime.
In just over a half, Mayfield outplayed Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, whom the Jets took at No. 3 after the Browns passed. Darnold went 15-for-31 for 169 yards, two interceptions and a 38.2 rating. He was intercepted on the final two drives by linebacker Joe Schobert and cornerback Terrance Mitchell as he tried to lead a comeback.
Hyde arrived late to the stadium because his child was due to be born and ran with an obvious passion. He rushed 23 times for 98 yards and two 1-yard touchdowns, and Jackson said after the game the baby hadn’t been born.
Cleveland was badly outplayed in the first half of what was supposed to be its big night. Isaiah Crowell had rushing touchdowns of 7 and 2 yards for the Jets in his return to the lakefront after playing the previous four years with the Browns.
He fired the ball into the stands after each score. He added a twist after the second, wiping his backside with the ball before launching it. He was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.
His first score came after another major mishap by the Browns special teams.
Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis blocked Britton Colquitt’s punt, giving the Jets the ball at the Cleveland 28-yard line with 2:13 left in the first quarter. The Browns had a field goal blocked in overtime of the opening tie vs. Pittsburgh, then Zane Gonzalez missed four kicks Sunday in a 21-18 loss to New Orleans.
Undrafted rookie Greg Joseph, who replaced Gonzalez, made 45- and 27-yard field goals and an extra point in his NFL debut.
“I’m just happy for the guys in the locker room, especially those who have been through a lot here,” Joseph said. “They deserve it more than anyone.”
The Mayfield Era has begun.
And it began with a win that was a long time coming.