CLEVELAND — The beer-fueled bash spilled into the streets around FirstEnergy Stadium as delirious Browns fans walked — some staggered — while chanting for their new hero, the streak buster.
“Ba-ker May-field,” they screamed.
They’ve named their new starting quarterback. Coach Hue Jackson isn’t quite there yet.
Jackson said he isn’t ready to “officially” identify his starter for next week’s game in Oakland, but all signs point to Mayfield taking over in Cleveland following his dazzling NFL debut on Thursday night.
The No. 1 pick in this year’s draft replaced concussed starter Tyrod Taylor late in the first half and led the Browns (1-1-1) on four scoring drives as they erased a two-touchdown deficit to beat the New York Jets 21-17 and end Cleveland’s 19-game winless streak — the NFL’s second longest since 1970.
Jackson seems to only be delaying the inevitable: Mayfield’s the guy.
And if Jackson doesn’t’ pick the celebrated and uber-confident rookie, he won’t have to jump in Lake Erie again. Browns fans will throw him in. This one’s a no-brainer.
Jackson, who gave his players the weekend off, wants to watch more tape and speak with his staff and general manager John Dorsey before making a decision that Mayfield has already made for him.
Although Jackson wouldn’t publicly say Mayfield is his new starter, he gave strong indication he’s leaning that way by telling reporters on a conference call, “I think that you guys all feel good about where things are headed.”
It’s Baker time.
Out of respect for Taylor, who is in concussion protocol with his third head injury in 13 months, Jackson wants to tell his two quarterbacks his decision in person on Monday before sharing it with the world.
Cleveland’s plan was to bring Mayfield along slowly and groom him under Taylor, who guided Buffalo to the playoffs last season. But Taylor’s injury along with his struggles in three starts has altered the Browns’ strategy.
Taylor has completed 41 of 84 passes for 462 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, adding 125 yards rushing on 16 carries.
But even before he was knocked from Thursday’s game, Cleveland’s offence was going nowhere as Taylor was 4 of 14 for 19 yards and was sacked three times. Jackson sidestepped addressing whether he was going to pull Taylor at halftime, but it had to be running through his mind because anyone watching the game was thinking the same thing.
Mayfield’s first regular-season game as a pro couldn’t have gone much better. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 201 yards and was sacked once in just a little more than one half. His stats could have been more impressive if not for a drop by sure-handed receiver Jarvis Landry, and rookie Antonio Callaway letting a long throw down the sideline slip through his hands.
“He made some tremendous throws,” Jackson said. “Obviously, he was able to move the team. Played with some rhythm. Got the ball into the playmakers’ hands and gave them chances to make plays. There are some things that he has to clean up, obviously. We can’t have the ball out on the ground. There are some progression things that we will work through.
“Overall for his first game out under the lights in that environment in that situation, he handled all of that extremely well and played well.”
Most impressively, Mayfield did it on a short work week and without taking any snaps in practice with Cleveland’s first-team offence. In fact, the 2-point conversion try he caught in the third quarter came on the first time he had ever run the play.
But just as he did while winning the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma, Mayfield elevated everyone around him, and in turn electrified 60,000 fans and a national TV audience.
Mayfield took it all in stride, displaying humility that some wondered if he had after some questionable on-field antics while he starred for the Sooners. This game ranked with any of his wins.
“This one is definitely up there, being the first NFL game that I have played in,” he said. “First regular-season one that actually counts. It is definitely up there for me. I have had some great memories, but I am just getting started.”
NOTES: Other than Taylor, LB James Burgess (knee) was the only other notable injury against the Jets. Burgess started for LB Christian Kirksey, who missed his second straight game with an ankle injury. … Jackson said he’s not worried about giving his players so much freedom over the weekend. “We can’t follow them around. We can’t baby them,” he said. “At the same time, we know who the guys are who we have to have an idea of where they are and what they have been doing. They have been good about letting us know, and we will definitely stay in contact with the majority of the guys.”