CLEVELAND, Ohio — Baker Mayfield wasn’t aware that the Ravens defense eats rookie quarterbacks for breakfast, and frankly he didn’t care.
“Baker is a different breed,” said running back Carlos Hyde (17 carries, 63 yards). “He ain’t like most rookie quarterbacks.”
Making his first NFL start at home, Mayfield threw for 342 yards on the Ravens’ No. 2-ranked defense and beat them 12-9 in overtime to earn his first career victory. He also snapped the Browns’ 18-game winless streak in the division, dating back to a 33-30 overtime victory over the Raven’s on Oct. 11, 2015.
Heading in, the Ravens were 15-5 against rookie QBs since 2008, and 7-0 against Browns’ first-years. Their stats against rookies would be enough to make most of them quake.
“No, that’s the first I’ve heard of that,” Mayfield said.
With his back almost literally against the wall, Mayfield overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to drop the Ravens to 3-2 and improve the Browns to 2-2-1.
“I haven’t been around him a ton, but there is just something about this young man,” said coach Hue Jackson. “He has a feel to him. He does not blink at situations or opportunities. Something might have went wrong the play before, and it is water off of the duck’s back to him. He is on to the next play. He is ready. ‘Give me the next play and let’s go.”
With 2:57 left in the sudden-death part of overtime and the score tied at 9, Mayfield took over at his 16 with on his third and likely last chance to pull out the victory. On the opening play, receiver Rod Streater lost 11 yards on a double-reverse to put Mayfield in second and 21 from the 5.
“We were thinking, don’t give up a f–g sack for a safety right there,” said Bitonio.
But the Browns have never-say-die Mayfield on their side now, and he didn’t. He scrambled 13 yards to the 18, where he faced a crucial third and 8. To make things even more tense, one of his favorite targets in Rashard Higgins was out of the game with a knee injury. Rolling right to avoid an on-rushing Terrell Suggs, Mayfield hit undrafted rookie receiver Derrick Willies with a short pass to the right, and he raced 39 yards to the Baltimore 43.
Under-used Duke Johnson took over from there, running for 15, 5 and 4 yards to the Baltimore 19. Rookie kicker Greg Joseph lined up for the 37-yard game winner, and safety Tony Jefferson got a piece of it. Still, it knuckled over the crossbar with two seconds left and the Browns had their first OT victory in three chances this season.
“He’s a beast,” Hyde said of Mayfield overcoming second and 21 from his 5. “Easy, he’s a beast.”
Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, who was in the locker room after the game and has said he wished he had a chance to play with Mayfield (25-of-43, 342 yards, 5 sacks, 1 TD, 1 INT, 81.7 rating), believes the Factory is Sadness is now the Factory of Gladness.
“What I think is that the Browns have found their quarterback for the next 15 years that fans can get excited about and show up on Sundays thinking that, no matter who the opponent is, we have a chance to win this because we’ve got a guy in that position that gives us that chance,” he said.
Ravens safety Eric Weddle met up with Mayfield on the field after the game and complimented him.
“I’m happy about where [QB Baker Mayfield]’s career has started and I’m excited to see where it ends up,” said Weddle. “I just had words of encouragement, nothing more than that. I respect this game. I give it my all, and I respect good players. He did a good job. He made some throws that were really good, and he made some other throws that were really bad – that we could have capitalized on.
“As soon as the game was on the line, he made a great throw and the guy made a great catch and run. As good as our defense played, they made one more play than us and that’s unfortunate, but credit to the Browns.”
Mayfield was picked off by Tavon Young on his fourth play of the games and it looked like it might be a long afternoon. But the defense held the Ravens to a field goal and Mayfield wasn’t picked off thereafter, although Anthony Levine dropped one over the middle late in the fourth quarter with the Browns ups 9-6.
“He made some good throws, and he could have easily thrown three or four interceptions today,” said Weddle. “That’s just how the game went. It was a tight game. He moves the ball well. He’s hard to see back there because he’s short, so on some of the throws I couldn’t even see him. It’s a good team. They have a lot of talented players, not just Baker. It’s not out of the realm that this is a really great team.”
Saddled with horrible field position the entire first half, Mayfield started drives at his 9, 5, 3 and 10. But when did finally start a drive beyond the 20, he parlayed it into a 19-yard touchdown pass to Rashard Higgins on a post route that made it 6-3. Joseph missed the extra point. The TD was preceded by two completions over the middle to David Njoku for 19 and 24 yards.
“He just makes plays,” said Bitonio. “He’s calm, he’s collected, no matter what’s happening, a pick, fumble, interception, he’s ready to play the next play. He’s done that all year and we’re hoping he does it for a long, long time here.”
Mayfield gave the Browns a chance to win in regulation, marching the Brown to the Ravens’ 37 with nine seconds remaining. But Joseph’s 55-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right. The Browns got the ball first in OT but went three-and-out. On their second try, they went for it on fourth and 5 but Mayfield’s deep ball to Landry fell incomplete as Brandon Carr collided with Landry. The refs threw no flag, saying the ball was uncatchable.
“They said that the ball was uncatchable, but that was because he was on the ground,” said Mayfield. “The people in the stirpes can make a better call, I think.”
In OT, “I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to look at the kick or not. I turned around last second and saw it was pretty low. It wasn’t a pretty kick, but it went in. This also wasn’t a pretty win, but it counts.”
Throughout the game and on that 39-yard pass to Willies, Mayfield impressed his teammates and Jackson with his ability to slip out of sacks.
“He’s an escape artist,” said Hyde. “He knows that he has to keep the play alive, he knows that his guys will be open down the field. He trusts his guys and he knows he’s always making a play when he does that.”
“He’s hard to get down – I think that you guys all see that – in the pocket,” said Jackson. “He’s not an easy guy to put on the ground.”
Said Landry: “Calm, collected and unfazed. He stepped up big and obviously made plays with his arm, feet, getting out of some sacks and extending drives. For a rookie, he’s doing it.”
Landry agreed that anything’s possible with Mayfield at the helm.
“It’s his attitude and charisma,” he said. “Like I said, he didn’t budge. He didn’t flinch. He continued to find ways to get the ball in people’s hands and let them make plays, and that’s the biggest thing. It shows the amount of trust he has in everybody.Things like that you don’t see every day in a rookie quarterback and making decisions like that.”
Mayfield has now come off the team to beat the Jets, almost beat the Raiders in OT, and knocked off the Ravens.
“Take a lot of pride in that,” he said. “That shows that we’re starting to change the culture around here. That guys early on thinking in the past that when something bad happens, then you kind of get in the tank a little bit, put their head down, but we have a team right now that is starting to believe in themselves and rightfully so. I take a lot of pride in the culture change and being positive, always moving forward and doing your job no matter what the situation is. That was big for us.”