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During pregame warm-ups, when the public address system blared the Phil Collins’ song “In the Air Tonight” – and it got the well-known drum solo – there was Mayfield in the end zone playing the air drums.
A reporter who covers the team noted he had never seen him so loose before a game.
Mayfield laughed, said who couldn’t feel the beat with that song, and then got serious.
“As the experience continues, the comfortability grows — there’s nothing else to it,” said the Heisman Trophy winner of a year ago who was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft last spring. “As I see more looks, more things, I get to be more comfortable and I just go out and do my job.”
And against Cincinnati he did it better than any time this season, completing 19 of 26 passes for 258 yards and four touchdowns to lead Cleveland to a 35-20 romp over the hapless Bengals.
It was the Browns’ first road victory in three years. They had lost 25 straight away from Cleveland Stadium, one shy of the NFL record held by the Detroit Lions.
Two of Sunday’s touchdown plays came thanks to spectacular, highlight-reel catches.
Tight end David Njoku caught a short pass and leaped toward the end zone only to be caught by Bengals safety Jessie Bates, who cradled him in his arms, but never dropped him. With the help of Browns players pushing him forward, Njoku body surfed his way into the end zone for the 6-yard score.
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Even more improbable was the 14-yard TD catch Chubb made as he caught the ball behind the helmet of the Bengals Brandon Wilson, who was covering him in the end zone. While airborne, he then lifted the ball over Wilson’s head and cradled it to his midsection as he landed on his back for the TD
For Mayfield, Sunday’s outing was even better than the week before when he out-dueled Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan – the NFL’s MVP in 2016 – and completed 13 of 17 passes for three TDs to lead Cleveland to a 28-16 victory.
With the win over the Bengals, Mayfield becomes the first Browns quarterback to lead the team to back-to-back victories since Brian Hoyer did it in 2014.
Sunday’s game showed the Browns – now 4-6-1 after going 1-31 the previous two seasons – are a team on the rise.
Meanwhile, the Bengals – thanks, in part, to a crush of injuries to key players – are a team sinking like a rock. After starting the season 4-1, they have lost five of their last six games.
Before Sunday’s game, though, some Bengals players tried to paint the match-up in tones of the past. Cincinnati had won seven straight from Cleveland and some players acted as if No. 8 was a forgone conclusion.
“We’re just tired of being disrespected and before the game some of their guys were like, ‘Why are you all talking? You play for the Browns!’” said Cleveland defensive back Denzel Ward. “I said ‘What does that even mean? We’re an NFL team. We don’t have the worst record in the league and we’re a tough team to beat.’”
The Bengals found that out quickly and trailed 28-0 until late in the second quarter.
Before the game Browns safety Damarious Randall was quoted saying if the Bengals didn’t have receiver A.J. Green on Sunday (and they did not, he’s still injured) they would get their (butts) beaten.
While Bengals players took exception to that, Randall backed up his boast in emphatic fashion.
After intercepting an Andy Dalton pass on the sideline right in front of the Bengals bench, he found himself almost face to face with Hue Jackson, who had been the Browns head coach until he was fired three games ago. Now he’s back on the Bengals staff as a special assistant to Marvin Lewis.
Randall took the ball he’d just intercepted and handed it to Jackson, who patted him on the helmet.
While several Browns players still have a special affection for Jackson, it was obvious that Mayfield does not.
He had the briefest of exchanges with Jackson before the game and after.
“I didn’t feel like talking,” he said afterward.
Asked why, he shrugged: “He left Cleveland and goes to Cincinnati. He’s somebody who was in our dressing room asking us to play for him and then he goes to a different team we play twice a year.
“Everybody has their spin on it, but that’s what I feel.”
Afterward he said more than once how the team now has someone calling plays they believe in.
Mayfield has never been one to mince words – that was often the case when he was winning at Oklahoma – and that unbowed attitude serves him well when it’s properly harnessed.
Make no doubt about it, he’s the biggest reason this team has been revived. He’s fearless. He has a personality players gravitate too and he’s shown he can lead the Browns to places they haven’t been in a long time.
CINCINNATI, OH - NOVEMBER 25: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns and Breshad Perriman #19 celebrate a touchdown during the first quarter of the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on November 25, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
Credit: John Grieshop
Credit: John Grieshop
“We’ve got a quarterback who knows how to fight,” Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi said recently.
Browns interim head coach Gregg Williams said Mayfield is improving each week: “He’s taking the next step. It’s a gradual process.”
Gradual? After two shining performances against Atlanta and Cincinnati?
“Yes, gradual,” he said. “He has room to improve. Rookies haven’t made it yet.”
And yet Mayfield did show a grasp of the big picture this weekend, especially Saturday night as Chubb snored away.
“I just let him sleep,” he grinned
And he made up for it in the game.