When the Cleveland Browns selected quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first pick of the 2018 draft, they initially said he would backup Tyrod Taylor.
That plan lasted until Week 3, when Mayfield went into the lineup after Taylor suffered a concussion against the New York Jets. All Mayfield did that Thursday night was help the Browns end their 19-game winless streak with a 21-17 victory over the Jets.
Mayfield has started the past six games. Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs was Mayfield’s first outing since the Browns fired coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is the team’s interim coach, with Freddie Kitchens calling the plays.
Here’s a quick recap of Manning’s breakdown of Mayfield:
Been there, done that
Manning, who was the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft, knows how Mayfield feels being tossed into the lineup for a struggling team.
“Certainly not an ideal situation for a rookie quarterback, already having a new head coach and new offensive coordinator in the middle of a season,” Manning said. “First pick of the NFL draft, I know those shoes. People expect a lot. They expect you to come in and be this dominant player right away. There’s a reason you’re the first pick of the draft. You’re going to a team that has earned that first pick of the draft — you’re going to be the bad team.”
Manning’s Colts went 3-13 in his rookie season. He took every snap and threw what is still a rookie-record 28 interceptions.
Manning said Mayfield’s approach this rookie season has reminded him of “Brett Favre, for his enthusiasm and love for the game.”
Disregard the audible
Manning used an incompletion from the Browns loss to show how he would call a “dummy audible” or go in the huddle and tell the rest of the offense to “disregard the audible.”
It showed a side of Manning’s game that defenders said made him one of the all-time best. They had to try to determine at the line of scrimmage how much of Manning’s hand movements and cadence actually meant something and how much was just for show.
Talking about the “squirrel route” — the out, up and out — and how he doesn’t know why they call it a squirrel route, Manning showed his propensity to quote the movies he enjoys.
He used a reference to John Belushi’s character in “Animal House:” “Told the pledge in Animal House your nickname is Pinto, he said, ‘Why Pinto?’ and he said, ‘Why not?'”
“So it’s called squirrel. I don’t know why, but why not?”
Manning also stumbled a bit on “anticipatory” and offered, “I’m not even sure it’s a word,” but he made a quality point on how a Mayfield throw to Jarvis Landry required some patience.
The free hand
Manning pointed out Mayfield’s attention to detail with something Manning took great pride in during his career: making the play-action fake and the handoff look the same. Manning pointed out what defenders are looking for and explained why Mayfield’s was such a quality effort.
“I like the effort, and I like the discipline. Don’t be afraid, quarterbacks, to study good play-action quarterbacks,” he said.
I really like this throw
Manning also commended Mayfield’s footwork on a quick slant with a three-step drop out of the shotgun, something Manning remembered from the preseason.
Manning showed a drill for quarterbacks who want to learn how to get to the laces quickly on quick passes to the middle of the field.
About the nightmares
As he pointed out where Mayfield should have put the ball on a play, Manning also showed why, with his own interceptions by the likes of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu, as he made a point about the range of the game’s best safeties.
“I’m going to quit bringing their names up — I won’t be able to sleep tonight,” Manning said. “ … You got to respect these safeties and their ability to cover ground.”
Manning also gave a shout-out to daughter Mosley’s fantasy football team, “The New Sheriff,” because he gave a shout-out to son Marshall’s team last week.
Manning zeroed in on another piece of technique near and dear to his heart: discipline with your hands as a quarterback.
As he gave Mayfield props in the run game earlier with his technique, Manning pointed out the other side of the coin. Mayfield had his hands at his side until he raised them just before the snap. Chiefs outside linebacker Dee Ford used the move as a tell to time the snap, get to Mayfield and knock the ball out.
“They study your pre-snap mannerisms,” Manning said. “ … Let’s be sure we’re doing the same things.”
Lesson on clock management
Spoken like a true quarterback, Manning used a completion by Mayfield in the two-minute drive to show how the receiver should have handed the ball to the umpire instead of leaving it on the ground and how it would have saved valuable time for the offense.
He also expressed his disdain for wasted timeouts, especially timeouts by the defense “because you don’t know the call.”
He went on to say, “I’m just gonna say it. Those are really the offense’s timeouts, OK? I know you have three timeouts a half, but it’s really the offense that has the three timeouts, all right? That’s just the way it is.”
IT HAD BEEN years, and it felt like even longer, since that many people stayed to watch the end of a Cleveland Browns game at FirstEnergy Stadium. Trying to rush to an escalator, or elevator, was pointless. Almost everyone was caught in a slow-moving sea of orange and brown, a wave of thousands of jubilant fans, drunk on cheap beer or hope (or both), standing shoulder to shoulder and gradually inching their way down the labyrinth of ramps that wind their way to the stadium’s exit. Leaving a building long dubbed the “Factory of Sadness” had never been so difficult.
For the first time in 635 days, the Browns had won a football game, defeating the New York Jets 21-17 on a warm September night. A fan base that had been forced to accept misery as a regular part of its existence was now singing and clapping in unison, with such gusto that you could hear the chants echo off the buildings of downtown, and out into the waters of Lake Erie.
“I would say from end whistle to getting to my car took about 90 minutes because of how many people stuck around to the end of the game,” says Scott Sargent, a Northwest Ohio native who co-founded the Cleveland sports blog Waiting For Next Year, and who has been writing about Cleveland sports for more than a decade. “The entire time, people were doing the ‘Baker Mayfield‘ chant. I’ve never seen one player come into a game and instill hope in a franchise the way he did that night.”
Some fans simply wouldn’t leave the stadium. As Mayfield stayed on the field to do an extended interview with the NFL Network, a small group stuck around to continue the chant, occasionally switching it up and treating Mayfield like a deity.
You’re the sav-ior! (clap clap clap-clap-clap) You’re the sav-ior! (clap clap clap-clap-clap)
Mayfield rolled his eyes a bit when presented with a celebratory cake, but he played along. He knew what this win meant to the city. “It’s like one of those ‘Talladega Nights’ moments where I don’t know what to do with my hands,” he joked. “As corny as it sounds, that’s kind of how my whole life has gone. I’ve been a backup, and I’ve had to fight through some things.”
In that moment, you could forgive Browns fans for being unabashedly hopeful. In Mayfield, they suddenly had a player and a leader with enough charisma and swagger — and possibly skill — to wash away a decade of well-earned cynicism. “To put it into perspective, Baker Mayfield was drafted in every single local fantasy football league that I’m in, and he wasn’t even guaranteed to play a down this year,” Sargent says. “I think that’s indicative of the hope that he personified, that maybe this franchise was finally getting it right.”
All he had to do was keep performing miracles.
SIX WEEKS HAVE come and gone since that moment. The joy that was blossoming in Cleveland that night has, at best, wilted. Even the vendors hawking “Mayfield Mania” and “The Bake Show” T-shirts on Lakeside Avenue outside the stadium have felt the excitement wane. “We probably sold 3,000 T-shirts at $20 a shirt before the Ravens game,” DeAndre Stevens says. “It’s definitely slower since then. He’s the only player we got, but he can’t do it alone. It’s definitely frustrating.”
Lately Mayfield has been wearing the look of a man dropped into a long-running reality show, only to realize, a month in, that his hope to change the vibe would be in vain — that everyone has spent several years plotting against one another. The Browns have lost five of six, and the quarterback’s play since the victory against the Jets has been occasionally exciting, but mostly uneven. A behind-the-scenes power struggle between head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley resulted in both men getting fired. Owner Jimmy Haslam called the move a “rebooting” and insisted it was done to send a message that the franchise would not put up with infighting. General manager John Dorsey was quick to make it clear that the firings were made with Mayfield in mind, the franchise having already burned half a year making its young quarterback learn an offense that will be abandoned by spring.
It’s clear, even after only eight weeks, that Mayfield possesses leadership qualities that are rare, albeit hard to quantify. Any suggestion he was going to be Johnny Manziel 2.0 — another undersized, cocky quarterback from a powerhouse program who freelanced and partied his way out of football after being a first-round Browns draft pick — has proved to be the laziest of comparisons. Unlike Manziel, Mayfield has played primarily within the structure of Cleveland’s offense, throwing the ball in rhythm and through tight windows. (He’s completing 60 percent of his throws, even though the Browns are sixth in the NFL in dropped passes.) When he improvises, it’s generally because protection has broken down. In the locker room, he has earned the respect of the veterans without tempering his bravado, not an easy needle to thread for a young quarterback.
“I’ve been here through a lot of quarterbacks,” says offensive lineman Joel Bitonio, who has been with the Browns since 2014. “He’s the one guy who really does have that ‘it’ factor. It’s hard to explain what that is, exactly. Obviously, he’s a good player. But it starts with his competitiveness. Everything he does, he wants to be the best, but he puts in the work. I love him. No matter what’s going on in the game, he’s always in the huddle like, ‘All right, we’re scoring a touchdown this drive.’ It’s always good to have leaders, but to have your quarterback be that guy, that is special.”
When pressed by reporters early in the season as to why he and Jarvis Landry, Cleveland’s best wide receiver, weren’t connecting more often, Mayfield quickly tried to pin all the blame on his own throws.
“I’ll just be better for him,” Mayfield said. “I wasn’t the accurate quarterback they drafted me to be, plain and simple. I’ll fix that. It doesn’t matter on Jarvis’ end. He’s doing his job. I’ll be better at doing mine.”
Some of the best evidence of Mayfield’s potential, both as a player and leader, came in the Browns’ 45-42 overtime loss to the Raiders on Sept. 30 — Mayfield’s first career start. Miked up by NFL Films, his swagger was on display throughout the game, even during warm-ups, when he handed out a few high-fives to Raiders fans right before the national anthem.
“I have more Raider fans than they do,” Mayfield joked with Browns receiver Rashard Higgins. “I’ve got a damn rocket on my right arm!” he boasted after throwing a 49-yard touchdown to tight end Darren Fells over the middle.
But perhaps more telling was one of his pre-drive pep talks. “All right, listen,” Mayfield growled as the Browns took the field in the second half. “Nobody needs to step up. Just do our job the best we can. That’s all we need. We don’t need anything else. They’re not better than us. Do our f—ing job.”
When Nick Chubb broke through the line late in the fourth quarter for a 41-yard touchdown, giving the Browns a 42-34 lead with 4 minutes, 20 seconds to play, Mayfield sprinted to the end zone so he could hug his teammate, squealing like a teenage girl rushing the stage at an Ariana Grande concert.
“That’s what gets us going,” Browns tight end Orson Charles says. “A lot of people may not agree, but I love it. I don’t want a quarterback that’s timid. I played with Drew Brees, and Brees had a chip on his shoulder too, but he showed it differently. I’ll follow [Mayfield] wherever he wants to go. He can connect with anyone. I love that about him. He’s just like, ‘Hey, can you help us win? Then let’s go.'”
Mayfield’s ability to connect with people, to make them feel a part of something bigger than themselves, has always been one of his natural gifts, dating to his time at Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas. His high school football coach, Hank Carter, often thinks back to a moment during Mayfield’s senior season, when the Lake Travis High marching band qualified for the state semifinals. “There is a tradition in Lake Travis, when an athletic team makes a state level of competition, the community will do a send-off,” Carter says. “The send-off for the band was on a Saturday morning, the day after we’d played a game. As you can imagine, high school boys are not particularly excited about showing up early in the morning to hold signs and cheer on the band. But not only was Baker down in front, he was leading the chants, the same type of chants you’ll see him still doing in huddles today. He made it feel really special for those kids. Most high school kids would think they were too cool for something like that, but Baker saw it as an opportunity to celebrate someone who had supported him.”
WHAT, THOUGH, ARE the limits of charisma and leadership? Can Mayfield’s personality truly make up for limitations in other areas? Brees gets plenty of praise for his leadership, but he’s also better at understanding when receivers are about to break into space than any quarterback to ever play. It’s not leadership or charisma that allows him to fit the ball into tiny windows, on time and under duress. It’s that he’s an athletic freak, maybe as much an NFL unicorn (in his own way) as Michael Vick was during his prime.
Can Mayfield really develop into a poor man’s version of Brees? There are times when he’ll make you a believer. Against the Steelers, he made a handful of Houdini escapes, including one where he somehow avoided getting sandwiched by Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt and pirouetted backward to find open space and zip the ball to Landry. But he struggled when forced to throw from within the pocket, averaging just 5.0 yards per completion. It was after that loss that Jackson and Haley were fired.
“He’s not as accurate as I expected him to be — just a couple of throws that aren’t quite as pinpoint as what you saw at Oklahoma,” one front-office executive says. “But I chalk that up to growing pains and everything he’s got going on around him. It’s clear his teammates respond to him, and early on you saw the eye-opening plays that made them believe he was the guy. I’m interested to see how he handles the coaching changes and whether we see progress the rest of the year, or if he starts to look overwhelmed.”
It seems apparent already that he’s not Patrick Mahomes, the man with whom he shared a pregame hug Sunday before Mahomes roasted the Browns, throwing for 375 yards and three touchdowns in a 37-21 Chiefs victory. And it seems clear Mayfield is not Carson Wentz, who finished third in the NFL MVP vote last season despite missing three games because of a knee injury. The Browns could have had either player in consecutive drafts but chose instead to focus on defense.
Was Mayfield, plus defensive end Myles Garrett (the No. 1 pick in 2017), a better gamble than Mahomes alone? Were the 11 picks they got as a result of their trade with the Eagles better than picking Wentz? At this point, the answer doesn’t matter. The Browns have to make it work, whether or not they develop doubts about Mayfield’s long-term potential. The pressure on the franchise to get it right this time is enormous.
At the very least, the fan base knows Mayfield will be the quarterback in 2019, a rare piece of continuity for a franchise that hasn’t had a quarterback start at least 12 games in back-to-back seasons since Tim Couch did it in 2001 and 2002.
“As a fan, I think you become numb to it after a while, especially when you draft or have guys under center you know aren’t going to be there for the long haul,” Sargent says. “Cody Kessler was not selected to be the quarterback of the future. Mike Holmgren might have sworn by him, but no one paying for tickets, or merchandise, or affording their 3½ hours on Sunday, thought that was going to be the case. When the winningest quarterback in your stadium since the resurrection of the franchise is Ben Roethlisberger, you know your team hasn’t exactly been a stable one at the quarterback position.”
There is a sense, within league circles, that the Browns job is more attractive to potential head coaches than it initially appears, despite the constant dysfunction. Observers are quick to draw parallels between the Browns under Jackson and the Los Angeles Rams in their final season under Jeff Fisher. Jared Goff looked lost as a rookie, but after being paired with Sean McVay, he looks like an MVP candidate. It might be the reason former Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said this week Cleveland’s was the only job he’d consider coming out of retirement to take.
Mayfield, for his part, has been reticent to do anything that might make it look as if he’s eager to get attention, primarily limiting his interactions with the media to his weekly news conference. Approached after the Browns lost in overtime to Tampa Bay and asked if he’d be open to sitting down for an interview, Mayfield was clearly annoyed.
“It’s just a really inappropriate time for you to be asking me about that right now,” Mayfield said, still fuming from the loss as he walked to the team bus.
That strain of competitive rage simmers in everything Mayfield does, and it’s one reason the Browns remain hopeful this is the perfect match: underdog franchise and perpetually aggrieved player. Bitonio couldn’t help but smile during one of the practices in the week leading up to the Browns’ game against Kansas City when, during a “seven shot” drill — where the offense has seven chances to get into the end zone — a shoving match broke out between a pair of burly lineman. As it got more heated, several other players joined the scuffle.
“Most quarterbacks stay out of that stuff, but Baker jumps right into the heart of it,” Bitonio says. “He’s throwing guys off, he’s getting up in guys’ faces. Well, if your quarterback goes into a fight, you can’t let him go in there unsupervised, so now everybody has to jump in. It’s all in good fun. But if he has your back like that, you know you have to have his back on the field.
“Football is such a unique melting pot, because you have 53 guys from completely different backgrounds. When you have a quarterback who connects with everybody? That’s pretty special. He’s been good for us, man. Now we need to protect him, and keep him out there as long as we can.”
It shows the differences in how teams see their rookie classes, where those players fit and how things have unfolded on the injury front.
From game analysis and discussion with personnel evaluators, here’s a look at the top 10 rookies at the midseason mark:
Top 10 (stats are Weeks 1-9 combined)
Stats: 55 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 INT
Previous rank: 1
James was on a bye in Week 8, but he was credited with 11 tackles in the Chargers’ win over the Seattle Seahawks this past weekend. Evaluators continue to point to his instincts and effort, and the video continues to show a high-motor player who offers premium versatility.
Stats: 40 tackles, 1 FF, 2 FR, 3 INTs
Previous rank: 2
Ward played just eight plays on defense this past Sunday before leaving the Browns’ loss to the Chiefs with a hip injury. But the Browns have asked him to perform like a player well beyond his years. He’s had some breakdowns, but he has rebounded from mistakes and lined up, with confidence, against some of the league’s best, including the Steelers’ Antonio Brown in Week 8.
Stats: 252.6 passing yards per game, 10 TDs, 7 INTs
Previous rank: 5
There is a degree of difficulty in all of this. Mayfield has played a rookie’s most demanding position through a change in head coaches as well as offensive coordinators in a football-mad city that hopes he can lift its team from its decades-old football doldrums. Through all that, he has still largely played with composure and an improving awareness.
Stats: 88 tackles, 3 FF, 4 sacks, 2 FR
Previous ranking: 3
The Colts had a Week 9 bye, but in Week 8 Leonard continued his high-output work. His three forced fumbles are among the best in the league – and behind only front-line pass-rushers Von Miller, J.J. Watt, Khalil Mack and Dee Ford, who all have four forced fumbles this season.
Stats: 30 tackles, 8 sacks, 1 FF, 1 PD
Previous ranking: 9
Chubb leads the Broncos’ pass-rushers in snaps played and has been on the field over 75 percent of the defense’s total plays thus far this season. He has 6.5 sacks in his last four games and is becoming an increasingly bigger problem for offenses trying to do whatever they can to keep Von Miller away from their quarterbacks.
Stats: 60 tackles, 3 INTs, 4 PD
Previous ranking: 8
The Bengals were on a bye this past Sunday, but Bates had his first career pick-six in Cincinnati’s Week 8 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He leads the Bengals in tackles and is tied with Shaun Williams for the team lead in interceptions.
Stats: 519 yards rushing, 497 yards receiving, 7 total TDs
Previous ranking: 4
Barkley is a bit of a victim of the Giants’ offensive struggles overall, but his 1,016 yards from scrimmage still put him behind only Todd Gurley and James Connor. He also has more receiving yards than the likes of the Saints’ Alvin Kamara and the Chiefs’ Kareem Hunt among running backs.
Stats: Colts have three consecutive games with no sacks allowed
Previous ranking: NR
A week-to-week look at his game video has shown both power and savvy. He’s been one of the best of a big group of rookie linemen around the league who were tossed into the lineup right from the start of the regular season. Nelson has been smooth moving in and out of double teams as he consistently makes the right move.
The Broncos have had to lean on Lindsay more since fellow rookie Royce Freeman suffered an ankle injury and missed the past two games. Lindsay is one of only two backs in the league — the Chargers’ Melvin Gordon is the other — with at least 100 carries who is averaging more than 5.0 yards per carry.
Stats: 62 tackles, 2 PD
Previous ranking: NR
Vander Esch had left the Cowboys’ Week 7 loss to the Redskins with a thigh injury, but he was able to recover enough in the team’s Week 8 bye to tie Jaylon Smith for the team lead of nine tackles in the loss to the Titans on Monday night. His production with just three starts this season shows his ability to have impact with the snaps when he is on the field.
CLEVELAND — As another season disintegrates, receiver Jarvis Landry stood in the Cleveland Browns locker room and found no positives in a 37-21 defeat.
“We lost,” Landry said after the Browns fell to Kansas City. “What steps did we take?”
Down the hallway in an interview room, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield had a slightly different take.
“Offensively I think there was a lot more good in this game than we had in the past,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield was not shrugging off a loss. There also is no dissension between quarterback and receiver. But those two statements do accurately reflect where the Cleveland Browns are in a 2-6-1 season.
Landry is in his fifth season; he came to the Browns expecting to be part of an immediate turnaround. He’s watched his team lose four in a row, and he’s lived through the oh-so-Browns experience of a coach firing — except his came along with the offensive coordinator getting fired on the same day, eight games into the season.
“Did we win?” Landry said when asked about improvements by the offense.
“Then it doesn’t matter,” he said.
For Mayfield, a rookie quarterback counted on to be the future, every play matters, even if it’s in a one-sided loss. And every game matters because it’s a chance for growth. In throwing for two touchdowns and 297 yards, Mayfield said he thought “there was a lot to build on.”
“But there’s obviously so much more room for improvement,” he added.
For positives, Mayfield pointed at left tackle Greg Robinson starting his first game in Cleveland and “playing well.” He said the offense had two touchdowns and a field goal in the first half. He said the approach by new coordinator Freddie Kitchens was to focus on what the offense does well.
That put Duke Johnson back in the gameplan — at long last — and led to Johnson scoring two touchdowns. It allowed Mayfield to come three shy of 300 yards passing and it allowed Nick Chubb to run for 85 yards.
These may be reaches in a game when the Chiefs scored touchdowns on five of their first six possessions and controlled the game from the outset. But in Browns World, when a season start to fall apart it falls apart in a hurry. And this one is crumbling.
So the outlook becomes any positive in a storm.
“You have to find those positives,” Mayfield said. “You have to build on it to where eventually the positives outweigh the negatives and you are not dealing with losses, you are dealing with wins. And then you are trying to eliminate the negative stuff.
“Right now we are at a point where we need to keep getting better at what we are good at and go from there.”
With their franchise quarterback — a player that fired coach Hue Jackson said last week can be a “sensational” player — anything positive matters, even if they come against one of the league’s worst pass defenses.
The 297 yards were the most for him in a game since he had 342 in the overtime win over Baltimore on Oct. 7. The 42 attempts were the fourth time this season he’s topped 40. The 69 percent completion rate was the best in a game he’s started, the 95.0 rating, the second best.
For his rookie season, on a losing team, he has 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a rating of 81.5 (with 265 attempts).
The significance: Only two Browns quarterbacks since 1999 have had a higher passer rating in a season when they threw at least 250 passes — Josh McCown in 2015 (93.3 with 292 attempts) and Derek Anderson in 2007 (82.5 with 527 attempts). Make the minimum passes 100 and Mayfield’s passer rating would rank sixth.
Take the numbers for what they are. The Browns have not exactly trotted out standouts at the position since 1999; 30 different players have started. And Mayfield’s rating is just slightly better than Johnny Manziel and behind Cody Kessler.
But in a season where wins will be tough to find, what matters is Mayfield stays upright, mentally healthy and reasonably effective — and that he learns.
The home fans deserve better, but that’s what the Browns are down to in yet another season heading toward a miserable finish.
The upper lip will stay firmly strong, but if Mayfield comes out of this season established, confident and healthy, the Browns can at least point to that as something accomplished in a long and dreary 2018.
The two sides combined for an FBS-record 1,708 yards of offense. Mahomes set FBS records with 819 yards of total offense and 734 passing yards.
Mayfield broke an OU record with seven touchdown passes.
And together, Mahomes and Mayfield combined for 1,279 passing yards — the most ever in a college football game.
Looking back, Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury and OU coach Lincoln Riley, who was then the Sooners’ offensive coordinator, had the same single word to describe the game.
“That night, those two did it as good as you could ever do it in college,” said Kingsbury, whose Red Raiders coincidentally host the Sooners again this weekend in a key Big 12 matchup. “I’ve never seen two guys do it better on the same field.
“They were both on fire.”
Other compelling storylines only added to the drama.
Mayfield, who had transferred from Texas Tech and had actually hosted Mahomes on his official recruiting visit, was back in Lubbock for the first time as Oklahoma’s quarterback.
Mahomes was battling through a sprain to his throwing shoulder and fracture to his left wrist.
But neither injuries nor the Oklahoma defense could slow Mahomes, who finished with 88 passing attempts. And despite the hostile Tech crowd, Mayfield would not be stopped either, with 545 yards through the air.
“I definitely felt we were watching two guys that would be playing on Sunday,” said Bob Stoops, then Oklahoma’s coach. “Absolutely.”
As the schools prepare to meet each other again, ESPN recounted that epic Mahomes-Mayfield shootout through more than 20 interviews of people who were there to witness it.
Mayfield’s return to Lubbock
Lincoln Riley: Our kids were really fired up for the game, not just Baker. It was a fun atmosphere, a hostile crowd. All the history of Baker, all the history with our staff, I mean our players talked about that through the week. So we were motivated.
Jessica Coody, Sooner Sports TV: Walking to the stadium, all the fraternity houses had these signs, all these negative comments toward Baker. I was thinking, do you people understand when you make him mad, he plays better? Then when you get in there, it’s all these “Traitor” T-shirts.
Chris Plank, OU radio sideline reporter: I’ll never forget the pregame energy. You had a group of fans who just so badly wanted to give it to somebody. They were ready to let him have it.
Chris Level, Tech sideline reporter: He was public enemy No. 1. Baker had played up to that, embraced the heel role. There were signs everywhere. As much as you were going to go cheer for Tech, you were going to cheer against Mayfield. The students were chanting, “F— you, Baker.”
Mayfield: That was my “Welcome back to Lubbock” moment.
Toby Rowland, OU play-by-play voice: There was a lot of venom. There was a lot of excitement on Baker’s part. He knew how he was going to be greeted and he loved walking into the lion’s den.
Stoops: The only talk I ever had with Baker leading up to the game was just don’t try and make this personal or don’t make too much of this. You’re too good of a player.
Riley: He wants the crowd to chant at him. He feeds off of that. He fed off it in the right way, stayed focused, stayed locked in.
Mayfield (in 2016): That’s exactly how I thought it was going to be and I enjoyed it.
Keke Coutee, Tech receiver: I knew the game was going to be a barn burner, because Baker had a lot to prove leaving Tech. Then Pat was such a competitor. Guy’s a baller.
Drew Krueger, Tech trainer: Pat injured the shoulder against Kansas [three weeks before]. It was a significant shoulder separation. Those are very painful for any type of movement, not to mention throwing the football. He played against Kansas State, and then on the last play, he fell on it again. So it was real sore and we were all kind of unsure what to expect.
Kingsbury: He had been limited in practice. They had to numb his shoulder before the game, and then he broke his [non-throwing] wrist in the first half. Nobody knew it. He just kept playing and ended up having to get surgery after the season, before the combine and bowl prep.
Krueger: He just asked us to tape it up.
Brian Jensen, Tech play-by-play voice: [Level] kept telling us you could see it in his face, the pain he was in. He was fighting through it all.
Level: Just a total warrior.
Obo Okoronkwo, OU linebacker: Patrick had the juice the whole game. He didn’t get tired. Like, he never looked tired the whole game.
Kingsbury: He was so locked into the zone, and they had the same thing going on.
Mahomes: They had a ton of talent. We had a ton of talent.
Rick Trice, Tech statistician: We’re used to having a lot of offensive numbers here, but we were not prepared for the way that game would play out.
Kingsbury: I think there was anticipation there could be some fireworks. … Look at some of players you had in that game. You look at Baker and Joe Mixon, Dede Westbrook lighting it up. Plus the big tight end [Andrews] that’s at Baltimore. And then we had Pat and Keke Coutee on our side going up and down the field, spectacular players. And then two quarterbacks, Baker obviously with the history here. He was on a mission, and then Pat was on a mission of not letting him get one here.
Riley: Most of our stuff was on schedule. Mahomes was a little different. … making so many unconventional plays, so many plays off script, coming out of rushes, big scrambles, throwing going sideways. He just made some unbelievable plays. And that kept them in it. You knew you were watching something pretty special with the way those two guys were playing.
Stoops: I vividly remember us a couple of times having our hands on Patrick, really feeling that hey, we finally got a sack. A chance to turn it for us. And he would pull out of it somehow, escape the sack and fight his way out of it.
Okoronkwo: We had him in our hands at least 10 times and he just kept slipping out of there, like he was greased up or something. There were a lot of times I was pursuing him where I thought I was going to get him and I didn’t. We couldn’t stop him.
Teddy Lehman, OU color analyst: Mahomes’ performance was maybe more impressive than Baker’s in a sense, because he was scrambling for his life. And I hadn’t seen another player we’ve played that was throwing guys open. He would scramble and just throw it to a spot and his receivers would make adjustments to come back to the ball.
Mahomes proves unstoppable
In addition to the quarterbacks, multiple players in this game would put up monster numbers. The Red Raiders would nearly have three different receivers go over 100 yards in Coutee (172), Jonathan Giles (167) and Cameron Batson (99). The Sooners, meanwhile, would become the first team in FBS history to boast a 500-yard passer, a 200-yard receiver (Westbrook) and a 200-yard rusher (Mixon), who would become the first player in OU history to finish with 200 yards rushing and 100 receiving in the same game.
Riley: Joe Mixon had a touchdown run called back for a holding penalty. It still, to this day, might be the best run I’ve ever seen in college football. He just kind of wiggled his way, reversed field, ended up breaking several tackles. He caught a ball one-handed up the right sideline for a touchdown. He was fabulous that night, one of the best individual running back performances I’ve ever seen.
Jensen: The guy that really killed us was Mixon. Granted, Mayfield threw well, he had seven touchdown passes, but Mixon would be wide open, break a tackle and be gone.
Level: We still talk about this game quite a bit. For OU, it was the Joe Mixon/Dede Westbrook show.
Jah’Shawn Johnson, Tech safety: Those skill guys they had were tremendous. Baker did a great job buying time and putting it on the money all night.
Four minutes in, it looked as if OU was on its way to a rout. Giles fumbled the ball away on Tech’s first possession, and Mayfield hit Westbrook for the Sooners’ second touchdown. Then Mahomes faced third-and-long from deep in his own territory.
Riley: Baker probably wanted to win that game as much or more than any we ever played here. I knew he was really, really locked in. He threw two early touchdown passes that I think kind of settled him in.
Mayfield (in 2016): I let them know very quickly we were not going to flinch.
Jensen: Pat had a third-and-10 from his own 16. And here comes Pat with a pass to Cameron Batson [for 31 yards]. Just suddenly you could see it in his demeanor, the team’s demeanor — “OK, here we go.”
Level: Kliff decided to say screw it, we’re just not going to run the ball.
Riley: It was frustrating because we got to a number of third downs and could not get them off the field, and Mahomes was such a big reason why.
Mayfield, remembering the game this week: They were 20-of-25 on third downs.
Jensen: Every time Pat would put a drive together, they’d get a gut punch a couple of plays later from Oklahoma. Oklahoma scored so fast on their drives, they weren’t really even drives. And then Pat would have to put together something to come back. It was just ridiculous that he kept coming up with another play.
Riley: We hit so many big plays offensively that our play numbers weren’t just incredibly high.
Kingsbury: We had the lead and they hit a long pass right before halftime to take it back. I knew it was going to take 60 points to win this thing.
Johnson: It was very frustrating. All we needed was one stop, the way our offense was rolling. But they weren’t going to be stopped.
Orlando Brown Jr.: I don’t mean to talk bad about Tech, but they didn’t have a lot of talent defensively. Our mentality was score as much as we can.
A classic unfolds
Both offenses were hot in the first half. In the second, they were completely unstoppable. After Tech punted to open the third quarter, the two teams scored touchdowns on every drive the rest of the game for a total of 10.
Mayfield (that night): I told some of the guys at halftime, “If you’re scared and you don’t want to score every drive, then stay in here.”
Riley: I honestly think people couldn’t really believe what they were seeing.
Trice: In the third quarter, I started really keeping track of the total offense for both teams and looking at it constantly and actually updating the media relations department because I felt we were probably creeping up on NCAA records.
Kingsbury: I’ve never seen anything like it. Pat was phenomenal, and [Mayfield was] on the other side. I don’t know if the ball touched the ground for them the entire night.
Johnson: Those guys were going at it, making plays left and right. It wasn’t pleasant for the defenses.
Andrews: Our fullback Dimitri Flowers ran an out route and turned it up. Baker started scrambling around and found him in the back of the end zone [for a 34-yard touchdown late in the third quarter]. It was such an incredible catch. One of those things that you don’t see very often.
Lehman: A crowd gets into a game whenever the defense is trying to get a big stop. But there were basically never any. So there were never these moments where the crowd got really loud. It was the weirdest thing.
Creighton DeKalb, OU band (drums): The “Boomer Sooner” count actually wasn’t abnormally high. We play Boomer between plays to encourage the team. But the offense scored so fast, we really only got to play it after touchdowns.
Lehman: There was a lot of standing around waiting for kickoffs to happen.
Level: It was like pingpong. I don’t know if Oklahoma was ever in danger of losing that game. But Pat kept slinging it. He would not go away.
Trice: You knew in the second half that if either team made a hiccup, had a turnover, had to punt, whatever, it was going to cost them the game.
Andrews: Greatest game I’ve ever been a part of. Two great, prolific offenses going after it. Everybody knew that we were going to score. The whole time the feeling was the last team with the ball was going to win.
The records start falling
Turned out, that would be the case. But not before an array of spectacular fourth-quarter plays — some of which the Red Raiders had to devise from scratch.
Kingsbury: You just run out of plays. When you’re calling that many plays — and that many pass plays — you’re drawing stuff up in the dirt and trying to get people open at the end of it.
Mahomes: With Coach King, we always had plays left in the tank.
Kingsbury: I just remember asking Pat on the sideline, “Hey, would this work because I don’t have much left on the sheet? So what do you think?” And he usually had good answers. We’d come up with something, and no matter what we called that night, he was gonna make it work.
Stoops: Coach Riley came up to me at a certain point — I want to say early in the fourth quarter — and asked me did I want him to burn the clock. I said, “Listen man, we need to score. We’re not making enough plays [on defense], and [Mahomes] is hot and we got Baker.” They weren’t stopping us, so I said, “Look, you just do what you got to do to score and don’t worry about the clock.”
Kingsbury: Pat threw a pass falling off his back foot. The ball probably went 60 yards to Keke with a rusher barreling down right in his face. I didn’t think he’d ever get it there, and he hit him in stride. One of the more impressive throws I’ve ever seen.
Mayfield: He does stuff that you can’t even think of being possible.
Jensen: “Can you believe he just did that?” I must have said that a thousand times in his career, but during this game in particular.
Coutee: It went quick, but at that point I thought we were actually going to win.
Stoops: Wild. Wild the entire day.
Jensen: My voice was terrible. It was raspy and weak and I was drinking everything I could get my hands on in the booth. Water and Diet Cokes. I stuck in ice, doing everything I could do just to keep it going.
Mahomes: I think baseball had me prepared from being a pitcher. I didn’t know I had thrown that many times. I remember one of my buddies [receiver Hunter Rittimann] came up to me before the last drive and was like, “You have 77 pass attempts right now,” and I was like, “Man, that’s a lot of passes.”
Chad Harberson, Tech push-up guy, tasked with doing one to match the Red Raiders’ score after each touchdown or field goal: It was insane. We were dead there at the end. Those guys holding up the pushup board, they were exhausted. We were dreading that next set we would’ve had to do if Tech had tied it up at the end. But it would’ve been well worth it.
After cutting OU’s lead to 66-59 with 1:38 to go on a 3-yard touchdown pass to Batson, Mahomes wouldn’t touch the ball again.
Riley: The last play of the game, other than when we kneeled it, we had a third-and-short, had to get a first down. We were up seven, had to get a first down or we’d give them the ball back and certainly didn’t want to do that.
Andrews: It was complete exhaustion. There were so many plays, so many catches, so many everything.
Riley: You’re just kinda like, “Wow, that was a marathon.”
Trice: The craziest thing about the game is that both teams had exactly the same number of yards . I don’t even know how that happens.
Kingsbury: I was actually walking to the locker room and SportsCenter was already playing it. I saw the yardage and the numbers and I’m like, “Wow.” To have both those guys play the way they did. … We’ll never see it again, I don’t think.
Riley: For so many years [as a Tech assistant under Mike Leach], I walked up the other tunnel after the game. The first time being on that side of it was kind of an eerie feeling. I was just finally taking it all in, what really just happened, being able to be a part of those two offenses and their historic performances.
The legend of Mayfield and Mahomes begins
Covering the game that night at Jones Stadium for ESPN, I was in the visitors tunnel afterward. Mayfield stopped by to casually rehash the game, asking what records Mahomes had broken. Like most everyone else, he too had been blown away with Mahomes’ performance.
Jensen: It was the game that really stamped in our mind how great Mahomes was and was gonna be. There were so many times he could have faltered in that game and he never did. I’ll never forget how impressive he was in that game.
Coutee: What he was able to do that night was remarkable.
Krueger: He is probably the toughest athlete I’ve gotten a chance to work with that closely. I think we were just amazed at what he was doing after all his injuries, because he really rose his level of play after a couple of bad weeks dealing with the shoulder. He was unstoppable.
Kingsbury: He was going to try and will that game no matter what. I wish we could’ve won the game for him because he deserved that.
Mahomes: It was a game where there were a lot of talented people on the field, one of those Big 12 shootouts. I wish we would have won, but it was just awesome to be a part of it.
Riley: I’ve always had a lot of confidence in Baker and his ability. I always thought he would have a chance to be an excellent pro. I left that night feeling the same way about Mahomes.
Plank: Everyone that left that stadium that night, even if they were the most die-hard haters of Baker Mayfield, couldn’t help but come away impressed with what they witnessed.
Johnson: That’s why Baker went No. 1. He protects the ball very well and gets the ball to his playmakers. That’s why Pat went top 10 as well. He extends plays with his feet and can make any throw.
Mayfield: Talent-wise, I thought he should’ve been [a No. 1 pick, too, in 2016]. I love Myles [Garrett, Mayfield’s Cleveland teammate, a defensive end out of Texas A&M who was actually the No. 1 pick that year]. Coming from the Texas Tech system, there are always your skeptics about people doubting the fact that all he did was sit back there and throw the ball. He threw it 88 times in our game, but when it comes down to it, throwing the ball is throwing the ball, and he is really good at it.
The aftermath: Exhaustion, appreciation
Immediately afterward, part of the focus nationally was on the defenses, instead of the incredible offenses. But as Mahomes and Mayfield have gone on to NFL stardom, the 2016 OU-Tech game has come to be appreciated for what it truly was — a quarterbacking classic.
Rowland: When I was calling it, I was thinking in my head, “We’re seeing the most amazing college football game of all time. These two teams are just trading haymakers.” Then as soon as you get on social media, the outcry of anger that people who watched it, they didn’t feel that way. They were mad because the defense was so poor.
Lehman: I’ve never seen a locker room where it honestly looked like half of the guys won the Super Bowl and half of the guys, like, lost to Rutgers.
Okoronkwo: It felt like we lost. Yeah, we won the game, but we gave up  yards. It was quiet, we didn’t say nothing on the bus ride home. We were ashamed. Everybody was laughing at us. I looked at my Twitter, and I just deleted the app off there because all our fans were disgusted with us.
Riley: It wouldn’t have mattered that night really what defense was out there. I think a lot of people that saw the numbers and the score after the game and didn’t watch it missed out. It was a great college football game.
Kingsbury: It was just the perfect storm for that type of offensive output. I remember afterward thinking that I was really fortunate to be able to work with both those guys at one point because it was the highest level of quarterback play I’ve ever seen in college going at each other. A surreal experience for me.
Mayfield: Weird things happen in Lubbock, Texas, on Saturday nights.
Riley: I’ve seen a lot of good offensive performances over the years, and the way those two quarterbacks played that night, they’d score on anybody. The people there that saw it, they ought to consider themselves lucky. Because chances are, they’ll never see anything like it again.
ESPN’s Lindsey Thiry, Jamison Hensley, Sarah Barshop and Adam Teicher contributed to this report.
BEREA, Ohio — Baker Mayfield is well aware he may be relied upon as the guy to pull the Cleveland Browns through the aftermath of their midseason coaching change.
“Bring it on,” the rookie quarterback said Wednesday.
How the Browns deal with the adversity they face following the firing of coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley will reveal the team’s character, Mayfield said.
“With all the distractions, we will see what kind of men we have in this room. Not what kind of team that we have but what kind of men can handle a distraction the right way, can come together and focus on doing their job and doing it at a high level against a great team [the Kansas City Chiefs] come Sunday,” Mayfield said.
Gregg Williams will take over as the Browns’ interim coach, and Freddie Kitchens will be the interim offensive coordinator. Mayfield called the sudden changes his “welcome-to-the-business moment.”
“For me, it is definitely something new,” he said. “It caught me off guard, but [we] have to roll with the punches. Whatever happens, happens. We have to stick together as a team. We have to use this as something to make us come together. Obviously, it could be a huge distraction or it could be something that could bring this locker room even closer.”
Like many Browns quarterbacks before him, Mayfield has had a tumultuous rookie season. He did not start the first three games, then relieved Tyrod Taylor in Week 3 and led the Browns to a 21-17 win over the Jets, marking their first victory since December 2016.
An overtime victory over Baltimore in Week 5 lifted the Browns to 2-2-1, but the bottom dropped out soon after, as they lost three in a row — including a 33-18 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday that cost Jackson and Haley their jobs for what owner Jimmy Haslam said was “internal discord.”
“For me, it being the first time I have experienced something like that midseason, was surprising on all fronts,” Mayfield said. “Specifically, it does not really matter if it was one or both. It was just surprising to me. I have never gone through anything like that.”
Mayfield said Williams’ first message to the team was “to stick together.”
“It is what it is, but we have to push forward,” Mayfield said. “We have a game this week, and that is the important part. We can either use it as an excuse to throw in the towel or to rise up and come together as a team.”
The league had said Friday that Whitehead should have been penalized for striking Mayfield in the side of the helmet during Sunday’s 26-23 overtime win for Tampa Bay.
Mayfield was sliding at the end of a 35-yard scramble when he got hit by Whitehead, who was initially penalized before the officials conferred and decided to pick up the flag — and one against Mayfield for taunting.
First-year referee Shawn Hochuli made the situation worse by incorrectly announcing Mayfield “was still a runner and therefore is allowed to be hit in the head.”
Whitehead can appeal to have the fine reduced since it nearly equals an entire game check. Any player can have a fine reduced if it is for more than 25 percent of his weekly pay.
New York Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson was not fined by the NFL for throwing a ball at an official, which had been called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Information from ESPN’s Jenna Laine and Rich Cimini and The Associated Press was used in this report.
Whitehead could have been flagged for one of two infractions: unnecessary roughness for a hit to the head of a sliding player or unsportsmanlike conduct for using his helmet to hit a player, the source said.
The NFL is not commenting on the hit. Fines are typically announced on Fridays. If the league fines Whitehead, it will be public affirmation that the play should have been penalized.
The hit occurred in the Bucs’ 26-23 overtime win on Sunday. Mayfield slid at the end of a 35-yard run on second-and-26 in the fourth quarter. Shortly after Mayfield’s knee hit the ground, Whitehead’s helmet hit the side of Mayfield’s head.
Whitehead lowered his head to make the hit and used the crown of his helmet. Both are textbook examples of what the league does not want and are included in the descriptions of hits that could lead to a player being ejected.
Officials initially flagged the play, but after a conference, referee Shawn Hochuli announced that the flag would be picked up.
“The quarterback was still a runner and therefore is allowed to be hit in the head,” Hochuli said to the crowd. “He had not yet begun to slide.”
Mayfield was ruled down at the Tampa Bay 41-yard line with 7:47 left and the Browns trailing 23-16. A 15-yard penalty would have moved the Browns to the 26. The Browns moved to the Bucs’ 1 on the drive but failed to score on a fourth-down quarterback sneak.
When Mayfield started to slide is a judgment call; hits to the head are not. Sliding players are protected by league rule from hits to the head. The league knows the penalty should have been called, according to a source.
“There’s a lot of stuff being put out on protecting the quarterback,” Mayfield said after the game. “Doesn’t seem like the Browns are getting a lot of calls, but they can review it, and they can say I was a runner, but I started my slide. That’s helmet-to-helmet contact.”
Browns coach Hue Jackson said after the game that he did not understand why the flag was picked up. Other players complained. On Monday, Jackson said the team would ask the league for clarification.
“That was disappointing,” Jackson said. “That is all that I can say.”
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens have had tremendous success against rookie quarterbacks.
But the Ravens don’t see Baker Mayfield as your average rookie quarterback.
Heading into Sunday’s game at Cleveland, Baltimore defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale gave a lofty compliment to this year’s No. 1 overall pick.
“I already told the defense this, I think Baker Mayfield is this generation’s Brett Favre or John Elway, if you will,” Martindale said Thursday. “This guy knows where he wants to go with the ball, and he’s very accurate. He’s got a quick release, and he’s really playing well.”
Why would Martindale compare a quarterback with two games of experience to two of Hall of Fame quarterbacks?
“The kid’s confidence and swag,” Martindale said. “When he comes out there, he thinks he’s standing on top of the mountain. He’s making plays to show he’s standing on top of the mountain.”
In two games, Mayfield has passed for 496 yards, throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions (81.2 passer rating).
On Sunday, Mayfield will face the Ravens and the NFL’s No. 2 defense, which has a history of dominating young passers. Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 15-5 against rookie quarterbacks.
“Baker Mayfield is pretty advanced,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s not, I don’t think, a rookie in the true sense. He seems like he has a really good feel for the game.”
The Browns led 28-14 in the third quarter and 42-34 with just more than a minute left. It was a game the Browns felt they should have won.
“Absolutely,” Mayfield said. “When you make that many mistakes, though, it’s not gonna happen.”
Mayfield was given four turnovers in his first NFL start – two interceptions and two fumbles lost.
One interception, though, came on a bad break by receiver Antonio Callaway, the other when Mayfield flung a deep pass in the final seconds desperately trying to avoid overtime.
He fumbled once when sacked, and a second time when he and JC Tretter mixed up the snap.
Mayfield did throw touchdowns passes on perfect throws to Darren Fells for 49 yards and on a two-yard fade to Jarvis Landry. He set up another in the fourth quarter with a 59-yard strike to Antonio Callaway.
But he lamented his errors.
“I’m the quarterback of this team,” he said. “It’s on me.”
The Browns lost despite their highest scoring output since the second week of the 2007 season – a game Derek Anderson was named starter and scored 51 points.
This loss also came after it appeared the Browns had secured the win by running for a first down with 1:41 left. But officials reviewed the call and determined Carlos Hyde was short, which forced a punt that led to Carr’s game-tying drive.
“It had to be a heck of a review to turn that over on third down and short,” Mayfield said. “But any time you put it in somebody else’s hands, it’s not always gonna turn out your way.”
In his first start, Mayfield was 21-for-41 for 295 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He missed his third touchdown pass by 1 yard as Callaway was just pushed out of bounds at the end of the 59-yard play. That would have made Mayfield the first quarterback taken first overall to throw three touchdown passes in his first NFL start.