Baker Mayfield watched rookie Joe Burrow will the Bengals to another touchdown and another lead, this one with 1:06 left in the game. Mayfield decided that was plenty of time for him to respond, then determined he wouldn’t be satisfied with a field goal to force overtime.
“I told the guys, ‘Screw that. We are going to win. No need to settle for that. Just go do our job,’” Mayfield said Sunday.
Mayfield did his in the tensest of circumstances, leading a 75-yard drive that ended with a 24-yard pass to sixth-round rookie receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, who got behind cornerback Darius Phillips and got both feet inbounds in the end zone with 11 seconds left.
After a missed extra point by Cody Parkey and an unsuccessful but nerve-racking Hail Mary heave into the end zone by Burrow, the Browns walked away with a 37-34 win at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
The Browns bounced back after an embarrassing loss in Pittsburgh last week and are 5-2 for the first time since 1994. They didn’t lead until the fourth quarter, couldn’t stop Burrow and needed Mayfield to be perfect down the stretch.
“I just could not be more impressed with how he played, including that last throw there,” coach Kevin Stefanski said.
Mayfield threw an interception on his first pass for the second straight game.
Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. went down with a knee injury on the same play as he tried to chase down Phillips, who made the pick. Beckham didn’t come back.
The Browns did — behind what could be a defining performance for Mayfield.
Playing with a cracked rib and coming off an awful performance in the blowout loss to the Steelers, Mayfield started 0-for-5 with the interception. He completed his next 21 passes — a Browns record.
After a spike to stop the clock with 16 seconds left broke the streak — the last drive started with the Browns out of timeouts — and trailing 34-31, Mayfield threw the strike down the right sideline to Peoples-Jones for his fifth touchdown pass, which tied a franchise record.
“He is such a competitor,” Stefanski said. “He did not back down, and every time I looked at him on the sideline, he had that steely look in his eyes.
“I think that is the story of Baker.”
This was the first game in NFL history with five go-ahead touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“He loves to call himself a gunslinger. Hell, I agree with him completely,” defensive end Myles Garrett said of Mayfield. “He is going to live or die by his arm. He is going to believe in it.
“We live and die by that. Whatever happens, we are going to have his back. If we have to go out there and put out the fire, we will. Just like today, he is going to win the game for us and we couldn’t be more proud.”
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) October 25, 2020
Mayfield did it all without Beckham, the superstar wideout who frightens defenses and changes the way they attack the Browns. He’ll have an MRI on Monday, but the concern is the knee injury his serious.
Mayfield blamed himself for the poor throw that led to the interception, and injury, and talked to Beckham in the locker room at halftime.
“I told him I love him, and he said, ‘Go be great,’” Mayfield said.
With the league’s top-ranked running game mediocre for the third straight game (88 yards on 22 attempts), Mayfield was called upon to carry the load without Beckham or No. 1 tight end Austin Hooper, who had an appendectomy Friday. Mayfield finished 22-for-28 for 297 yards, five touchdowns, no sacks, an interception and a 135.6 passer rating.
Rookie tight end Harrison Bryant caught touchdown passes of 3 and 6 yards. Tight end David Njoku made a diving 16-yard touchdown catch to provide Cleveland’s first lead in the fourth quarter. After the Bengals (1-5-1) regained the lead, Mayfield led another 75-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard pass to running back Kareem Hunt for a 31-27 lead with 4:53 remaining.
The defense couldn’t make it stand, but it didn’t matter with Mayfield in charge and answering all the critics who piled on the past week.
“What criticism are you talking about?” he asked, and was told from the national media. “Sorry, I don’t know who they are.”
Mayfield pointed both arms to the sky and let out a huge scream after Peoples-Jones came down with the winner.
“That is our leader,” receiver Rashard Higgins said. “We look to him to lead us, and he came up big today.”
Mayfield and receiver Jarvis Landry (five catches, 48 yards, a 19-yard pass) each suffered a cracked rib Oct. 11 against the Colts, were in the hospital together getting checked and haven’t missed a game.
“Jarvis and I love the game of football,” Mayfield said. “There is never a moment where we do not want to be successful. We are extremely motivated, and we do everything with a purpose.”
Mayfield needed to work so hard because Burrow continues to look like the real deal. He went 35-for-47 for 406 yards, three touchdowns, an interception and a 112.5 rating in the battle of No. 1 draft picks. Burrow threw 61 times and for three TDs in Cleveland’s 35-30 win in Week 2.
“He is a talented quarterback, and we have seen that,” Garrett said. “He has been playing well, but we can’t let him control the game like that. We did just enough.”
Mayfield was just as good over the final three quarters. He got a lot of help from some unlikely sources in Bryant, Peoples-Jones, who entered the game with no catches and exited with three for 56 yards, and Higgins, who had six catches for a game-high 110 yards, including two for 38 on the winning drive.
“Those guys made unbelievable plays,” Mayfield said.
Hunt ran hard and finished with 18 carries for 76 yards, a 4.2 average, as the Bengals committed to slowing down the rushing attack. The defense was gashed for 468 yards, but Garrett extended his sack streak to a franchise-record six games with his second strip-sack of Burrow this year and cornerback Denzel Ward broke up two passes in the end zone and tipped a pass that turned into an interception by linebacker B.J. Goodson in the end zone on the game’s first possession.
The win confirmed what the Browns have established in the first half of the season.
“We are resilient as a team,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “There is no quit in these guys. We fought through it. We needed a field goal on the last drive, but we went down and got a touchdown.”