The Cleveland Browns have been adrift for 20 years, but Baker Mayfield is suddenly the embodiment of hope for a city desperate to win again.
The last time the Cleveland Browns had anybody resembling a franchise quarterback in Bernie Kosar, George Bush Sr. was roaming around the White House.
This was before the franchise was relocated to Baltimore, before the rise of the personal computer, before the Browns became a long-running, never-ending national punchline.
On Thursday night, it was more of the same for Cleveland and its beleaguered fanbase. The Browns, actually favored for the first time in years, were losing 14-0 to the New York Jets. Former Cleveland running back Isaiah Crowell scored the second touchdown o the night, wiped his butt with the football and threw it at the fans.
Moments later, Tyrod Taylor took another hit in a long line of them. This time, the veteran couldn’t return, and the birth of a star was witnessed by millions.
Baker Mayfield, a man who won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma doing things his way, and being oft-criticized for it, stepped to the fore. Without warning, Mayfield released a torrent of pinpoint passes on the Jets, leading the Browns to their first win since Christmas Eve 2016. When all was said and done, the No. 1 overall pick had thrown for 201 yards on 17-of-23 passing, unlocking both Bud Light and a steady stream of dreams.
Many wanted Cleveland general manager John Dorsey to select Sam Darnold with the top pick, but the man who selected Patrick Mahomes a year ago in Kansas City decided to be bold once more, going for the swashbuckler in the Big XII with a rocket arm and confidence for days.
The results are obviously going to be coming in for years, but the immediate takeaway was unmistakable: Mayfield makes the Browns relevant for the first time in a generation.
If Cleveland had started Mayfield from the jump, it could very well be 3-0 after tying the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener and a 21-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome. Alas, that’s a hypothetical in a league that has no time for anything but cold, hard reality.
Now, the Browns try to accomplish something that hasn’t happened since Weeks 9-10 of the 2014 season… winning consecutive games. That task will be found in Oakland, where the Raiders await Mayfield and his hype as they attempt to get off the proverbial mat after starting 0-3.
Whether Mayfield immediately moves the Browns up in the standings remains to be seen, but they no longer are an easy mark on the schedule. The defense is legitimate led by young stars in Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, while the offense is brimming with talent in David Njoku, Jarvis Landry and Carlos Hyde.
There is much work to be done by the organization and the quarterback who represents it. Not everything is fixed quickly, and the Browns are certainly a long-term build.
Still, for the first time since Kosar slung the ball from funky angles in old Cleveland Municipal, the Browns are a fun watch for their own fans, and not the opponents.
Top 10 worst coaching jobs thus far in 2018
1. Bill O’Brien, Houston Texans
2. Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders
3. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
4. Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
5. Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns
6. Todd Bowles, New York Jets
7. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
8. Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers
9. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
10. Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions
Embarrassing to admit, I believed the Texans would challenge for the Super Bowl this season. Instead, it appears a top-10 pick is on the way thanks to bad coaching, worse blocking and a secondary that made Eli Manning look like Joe Montana in a 27-22 loss to the New York Giants.
Right now, Houston both is and looks like the worst team in the AFC South, with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans tied at 2-1 atop the division, while the Indianapolis Colts have been an impressive 1-2 squad.
Join Matt Verderame and Josh Hill each week as they record a new episode of Stacking The Box on Sunday night. Additionally, the duo is joined by Mark Carman and Ashley Young on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. ET for a Facebook Live show on FanSided’s page.
Andy Dalton threw four interceptions for the Cincinnati Bengals in a loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon. Dalton had only thrown four picks twice before in his 116-game career (including playoffs), both times against the Baltimore Ravens.
Info learned this week
1. Jimmy Garoppolo might be done for season
The San Francisco 49ers lost on Sunday to the Kansas City Chiefs, but that’s a mere footnote to Jimmy Garoppolo’s fate. The Niners fear that Garoppolo tore his left ACL on a scramble in the fourth quarter, an injury that would effectively end both his and the team’s season.
San Francisco paid Garoppolo handsomely in the offseason, inking him to a then-record $137 million deal. Unfortunately, 49ers fans may have to wait until September to see him again after the non-contact injury.
If Garoppolo is indeed done, the Los Angeles Rams are free and clear in the NFC West. Los Angeles was already the best team in the division but with an injured Garoppolo and the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals as the only other competition, the Rams can start printing the banner.
2. Vikings get blown out by shocking Bills
What the hell happened in Minnesota on Sunday? The Buffalo Bills were 17-point underdogs going into the contest but raced out to a 27-0 halftime lead, one that they would never relinquish. Josh Allen earned his first career win, hitting on 15-of-22 for 196 yards and a touchdown without a turnover.
Buffalo should soak this in, while the Vikings should be both furious and incredulous. Minnesota turned the ball over three times, allowing Buffalo to get out to an insurmountable lead. The Vikings also couldn’t block, with Kirk Cousins sacked four times while being pressured repeatedly.
The loss also robs the Vikings of a hold on first place in the NFC North. The Green Bay Packers lost to the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, putting both Green Bay and Minnesota at a middling 1-1-1.
3. Jaguars show why they’re vulnerable
The Jacksonville Jaguars hammered the New England Patriots last week, and got credit in this space for it. Well, on Sunday, the lost to the punchless Tennessee Titans at home on Sunday, and they’re going to be crushed for it.
Much like another AFC contender — Kansas City — the Jaguars are elite on one side the ball and atrocious on the other. Jacksonville held Tennessee in check all game, allowing 233 offensive yards and nine points. Unfortunately for Jalen Ramsey and Co. the Jaguars managed one fewer yard and three less points, resulting in an ugly divisional loss.
If the Jaguars are going to be a legitimate Super Bowl threat, Blake Bortles has to be consistent, something he has never proven to be.
4. Saints, Falcons play thriller down south
The best game of the weekend took place deep in the heart of the south, with the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints going blow for blow in an epic clash. When the dust settled, the Saints emerged with a key road win, earning a 43-37 victory due in large part to Drew Brees’ pair of rushing scores.
New Orleans has largely been underwhelming this year, but now is a half-game out of the NFC South. Conversely, Atlanta has been injury-ravaged, losing Deion Jones, Keanu Neal, Takk McKinley and Ricardo Allen off its defense to varying degrees. The Falcons have ample work ahead of them to get back into the mix, despite only being 1.5 games off the pace.
5. Wentz returns in Eagles win over Colts
The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t paint a masterpiece in the rain against the Colts, but they found a way to win in a 20-16 slugfest. Carson Wentz finally made his return to the lineup after tearing his ACL in December, throwing for 255 yards and a touchdown on 37 attempts.
Wentz looked rusty at times, but he found his groove late as the Eagles rallied to improve their record to 2-1. With the NFC East looking very mediocre, Philadelphia and the coaching staff can continue easing him into the season with little pressure coming from the others.
From 1970-85, the Miami Dolphins beat the New England Patriots in 15 straight games at the Orange Bowl before clashing in the ’85 AFC Championship Game.
Incredibly, New England beat Dan Marino and Co., 31-14 to advance to Super Bowl XX where they lost to the famed Chicago Bears and their “46” defense.
The Los Angeles Rams are the best team in football, something driven home by their 35-23 win over the Los Angeles Chargers over the weekend. Head coach Sean McVay has an offensive scheme only rivaled by Andy Reid, along with the league’s best running back and a severely underrated offensive line.
However, all is suddenly not well. Both Aqib Talib (ankle) and Marcus Peters (calf) were forced to leave the victory, with Peters not able to put any weight on the hampered leg. If either or both are out for extended periods of time, it could spell major trouble for a defense that, when healthy, has world-class personnel.
Both Talib and Peters won’t have much time to recover without missing time, as the Rams take on the Vikings come Thursday night. Minnesota will already be steaming after that dumpster fire it put on tape against the Bills, making that spot all the more difficult.
Still, provided Talib and Peters can return relatively soon, the Rams are in prime position. At 3-0, they are already almost assured of winning the West, allowing them to compete with the other division winners for a bye week. Not a bad position to be in before the end of September.