CLEVELAND, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Baker Mayfield answered the critics Sunday with a performance for the ages..
After starting the afternoon 0-5 with an interception, which came on his first throw of the afternoon, Mayfield caught fire and took a blowtorch to the Bengals.
Mayfield threw for a season-high 297 yards and five touchdowns, including a 24-yarder to rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones with 11 seconds remaining, to give the Browns a 37-34 victory at Paul Brown Stadium.
“I just got back on track,” Mayfield said.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski wasn’t sure what clicked for Mayfield, but he admired how he responded the final three quarters.
“He is such a competitor. He does not give up,” Stefanski said. “That first throw, we wanted to take a shot there. They made a nice play, a credit to them. He did not back down, and every time I looked at him on the sideline, he had that steely look in his eyes. He was not going back down. I think that is the story of Baker. There is nothing coming his way that he has not seen before. Really proud of how he responded.”
At halftime injured receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was the intended receiver on that interception and will undergo an MRI on his left knee on Monday, told Mayfield to “go be great.”
Mayfield was that, and then some.
Mayfield completed 21 consecutive passes, breaking the franchise record of 16 in a row held by Bernie Kosar (1989) and Kelly Holcomb (2003), including five touchdowns.
Those five touchdowns tied another franchise record and made him the first Browns QB to accomplish the feat since Derek Anderson did it in a 51-45 victory over the Bengals on Sept. 16, 2007.
“That is mentally where I am used to being – I can make any throw, just getting into a rhythm,” Mayfield said. “It starts with protection. Those guys making a ton of plays and protecting the ball so we can make those plays. We have great skill players. It is just all about executing. That is all that matters. This was a good team win. It does not matter how we do it.”
Tight end Harrison Bryant caught a pair of touchdowns. Running back Kareem Hunt and tight end David Njoku also got on the board off throws from Mayfield, who saved his best throw of the afternoon for last.
During the CBS broadcast of the game, the announcers revealed that Mayfield is playing with a cracked rib suffered in the fourth quarter of an Oct. 11 32-23 win over the Colts.
“He is gutting it out. He is a tough, tough kid,” Stefanski said. “I think all of you guys know that about him. That does not surprise me that he is able to push through. It is not easy. He works hard at it. He grinds through it. Again, that tells you the type of person we are dealing with here.”
Sunday’s rematch between Heisman trophy winners and No. 1 overall picks lived up to the hype, and then some, as the two went back and forth in the fourth quarter throwing haymakers in the form of touchdowns.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for him,” Mayfield said. “From the games that I watched him play in college and seeing him in person, he is an incredible leader, He elevates his team. You can see it now. I think he is going to be very successful for a long time. It is always fun to watch a guy like that take over. It is fun to watch. Joe is a great player and a great leader, and I told him that.”
Mayfield’s heroics were enough to overcome a tremendous performance from Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow who completed 35 of 47 passes for 406 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
The Bengals and Browns exchanged lead-changing touchdowns five times in the fourth quarter with Mayfield delivering the knockout punch after Burrow gave the Bengals their last lead on a three-yard TD to Giovani Bernard with 1:06 on the clock and the score 34-31 Cincinnati.
“Case [Keenum] and I were talking. We said they left us too much time,” Mayfield said. “We got on the field, and everyone was talking about how we had to get to the 30 for a field goal. I told the guys, ‘Screw that. We are going to win. No need to settle for that. Just go do our job.’
“Those guys made unbelievable plays. Obviously, Higgy [Rashard Higgins] on the contested catch going up the high-pointing the ball. Donovan [Peoples-Jones] going up to the line of scrimmage and have a vertical seam called. Number 23 [Bengals cornerback Darius Phillips] got me earlier in the game and I had to get him back.”
After the opening quarter, Mayfield didn’t throw another incomplete pass until he had to clock it with 16 seconds remaining in the fourth and the Browns at the Cincinnati 24.
Then came the game winner to Peoples-Jones and the celebration was on.