CLEVELAND — With the stunning and convincing victory complete, quarterback Baker Mayfield winged the ball to the Browns sideline for safekeeping, then met Falcons counterpart Matt Ryan for a hug and quick chat. As Mayfield sprinted off the field, he hyped up the still-buzzing crowd while chasing down free safety Damarious Randall to celebrate on the way to the locker room.
Mayfield was feeling it Sunday.
Before, during and after the 28-16 win over the Falcons at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“When I woke up this morning, I was feeling pretty dangerous,” he said.
The Falcons (4-5) weren’t ready and watched their win streak end at three.
Mayfield completed all 12 passes in the first half for 165 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. With rookie running back Nick Chubb dominating on the ground, the defense keeping Ryan and the multitalented Atlanta offense in check and the Browns (3-6-1) in front on the scoreboard, Mayfield didn’t need to do much after halftime but manage the clock. The No. 1 pick finished 17-for-20 for 216 yards, a career-high three touchdowns and a 151.2 rating.
The rating is the highest in NFL history for a rookie with at least 20 attempts. It’s the best for a Browns rookie and fifth in franchise history — the best in 40 years — trailing 158.3 for Otto Graham and Brian Sipe and 154.86 and 153.94 by Milt Plum.
“He does everything right,” Chubb said of Mayfield. “He is just a great leader, and you know no matter what is going on around us or outside noise, just the bad stuff that has not gone well for us, he is going to give us all 100 percent and he is not going to let it affect him.
“He is fiercely competitive. Everyone just likes it and loves him and loves who he is.”
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) November 11, 2018
Mayfield’s best game in the NFL came at the perfect time.
With a four-game losing streak making the season feel a lot like its pitiful predecessors, the Browns needed a win to prove things are different and, indeed, headed in the right direction. Mayfield is a primary reason for the optimism surrounding the franchise and gave it legitimacy with a brilliant performance.
Interim coach Gregg Williams, who’s 1-1 since replacing the fired Hue Jackson, told Mayfield during the week the organization had his back and to “cut it loose” and not be afraid of making mistakes. Mayfield found the ideal combination of confidence and efficiency.
He looked completely comfortable in the second game with Freddie Kitchens as coordinator and play caller, completing a career-high 85 percent and improving to 2-5 as the starter. He didn’t throw an interception and wasn’t sacked for the first time in his eight games, meeting one of his weekly objectives.
“It is huge,” said Mayfield, who added the linemen earned a steak dinner from line coach Bob Wylie. “Obviously I am very happy about it, but those five guys in front of me are a lot happier, too. They played really, really well today.”
Mayfield led the way and got a lot of help along the way.
Chubb, the No. 35 pick out of Georgia, broke the heart and spirit of his hometown team. He rushed 20 times for 176 yards, an 8.8 average and a 92-yard touchdown. He caught three passes for 33 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown.
The 92-yarder is the longest run in franchise history, surpassing Bobby Mitchell’s 90-yard touchdown in 1959. It’s second-longest by a rookie in NFL history, trailing only a 97-yarder by Pittsburgh’s Bobby Gage in 1949.
“It was a great handoff,” Mayfield joked. “No, we made it look like a run that we had run on the last series to the strong side of the formation. So when I handed it off, it parted like the Red Sea. The whole right side of the line did a great job. (Center) JC (Tretter) had a push-by block and he was in the clear after that. I had a pretty good view of it.”
Williams and his players were delighted with the complementary nature of the victory. Williams called it “synchronized.”
The defense got a stop to end the first half, then opened the third quarter with a takeaway, as cornerback TJ Carrie stripped receiver Mohamed Sanu and recovered to set up Mayfield’s 11-yard pass to Duke Johnson for a 21-10 lead. The defense wasn’t done, making a goal-line stand from about the 2-inch line early in the fourth quarter to preserve a 28-10 margin.
The offense was in sync from the start and used an interesting change of pace for a drive in the second quarter to keep the Falcons guessing. Kitchens went with a full-house formation that featured all three running backs — Chubb, Johnson and rookie Dontrell Hilliard — in the backfield. He used the personnel package for seven straight plays and the formation for six, with Johnson running the option twice with Chubb.
To make the effort complete, the special teams didn’t have its trademark breakdown.
“I feel like this is the first game we put together,” said defensive lineman Chris Smith, who sealed the win with a strip-sack recovered by linebacker Jamie Collins with 1:19 left. “Baker was on fire today. Nick Chubb, I don’t know what he ate for breakfast, but he was ridiculous.”
The Browns improved to 3-2-1 at home and guaranteed their best overall record since 7-9 in 2014. The last win by more than four points was 24-10 over the 49ers on Dec. 13, 2015.
After the four-game slide and coaching changes, the victory was necessary to calm the storm and set the right tone heading into the bye week and final six games.
“Not only as a team but as an organization, we’ve been through a lot of adversity on and off the field,” Smith said. “So that’s one thing about it, Gregg always has the mentality. It’s just like the will to work and the will to win. Never back down from anything, play within the rules of the game, but it’s a dogfight out there.”
Mayfield completed 13 straight passes to open the game and his last attempt last week against the Chiefs, and 14 in a row tied for fourth in team history. He was frustrated with himself for missing a few throws last week but worked on his mechanics in practice and was razor-sharp. The incompletions were all intended for Landry — a throwaway, a low ball on a slant in which Landry had beat his man and a tough pass down the sideline.
“It comes down to just doing my job,” Mayfield said. “Them saying they trust me enough to let the ball go, I was brought here for a reason so just go do my thing. That obviously makes me feel comfortable when they say that.
“We have been very close. We capitalized on it this week.”