HOUSTON (AP) — Entering Sunday’s game against the Houston Texans, rookie Baker Mayfield had been playing well and protecting the ball and the Cleveland Browns were on a roll, having won consecutive games for the first time since 2014.
The Browns (4-7-1) came back to earth on Sunday, with Mayfield throwing a career-high three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown in a 29-13 loss that extended Houston’s franchise-record winning streak to nine games.
Houston raced out to a 23-0 halftime lead and added two second-half field goals by Ka’imi Fairbairn to give him five on Sunday.
“Got to get better,” Mayfield said. “Got to use this, learn from it … that’s one of the better teams we’re going to play all year so if we can use this as a positive thing moving forward and get better from that, that will be great.”
Mayfield, the top overall pick in this year’s draft, had his worst game of the season, throwing three interceptions for the first time since he was a freshman at Texas Tech in 2013. He entered the game having thrown nine touchdown passes with just one interception in the past three games.
Mayfield lamented the mistakes he made in this one.
“I would’ve taken care of the ball, this game would’ve been very close,” he said.
He finished with 397 yards passing and had a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter after throwing a career-best four in a win over the Bengals last week. The 23-year-old Mayfield was just 5-of-13 for 46 yards in a first half in which he had a 9.3 passer rating.
“He’s fearless,” interim coach Gregg Williams said. “Never once did he back down at all. It’s a learning process and he doesn’t like it. He came out in the second half and was much more effective. We’ve got to do a better job around him.”
Houston’s fearsome pass rush, led by J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, didn’t sack Mayfield, but it hurried and harassed him for much of the day.
His interceptions all came before halftime to help the Texans build the big lead early.
“He probably wasn’t feeling too dangerous in the first half, but he was feeling a little more dangerous in the second half,” Watt said.
Zach Cunningham made it 17-0 when he grabbed his first career interception and ran 38 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Officials first ruled him down at the 1, but the play was reviewed and changed to a touchdown.
Kareem Jackson was called for a 47-yard pass interference penalty on Cleveland’s next drive to put the Browns at the 20. But Mayfield threw another interception two plays later and it was returned 18 yards by Johnathan Joseph.
Houston added another field goal to make it 20-0 with about three minutes left in the second quarter.
Mayfield’s third interception came late in the second quarter when Andre Hal grabbed the ball in the end zone.
“The third one, it’s just a dumb throw,” Mayfield said. “That’s what happens when you force something late.”
But Mayfield wasn’t the only one to make costly errors for the Browns. Two big gaffes came on one series in the third quarter to keep the Browns from scoring.
The Texans were up 26-7 in the third quarter when Mayfield threw what looked to be a 76-yard touchdown pass to rookie Antonio Callaway, but it was brought back because of a holding penalty by left tackle Greg Robinson.
Two plays later, Mayfield connected with Callaway again and he gained 71 yards before rookie Justin Reid chased him down from behind and knocked the ball out of his hands just before he would have scored. It bounced into the end zone, where it was recovered by the Texans.
“He did some really good things to give him some opportunities to make plays,” Williams said. “He read the thing right. He and Baker were on the same page on a few of those shots. We’ve just got to protect the ball.”