1. It was never going be easy, but now Browns can build off sweet relief
Myles Garrett laid back in his chair in front of his locker less than an hour after his first NFL victory finally came to fruition. The ear-to-ear smile remained between every question.
Asked to sum up his emotions following the Browns’ 21-17 victory, the Browns’ second-year pass rusher paused. His mind wandered between the present and future.
“It feels (darn) good,” Garrett said as Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy” blared from his phone. “I know the next one will feel even sweeter.”
That sort of answer was commonplace in a Browns locker room that has some players who have been a part of every single loss dating back to 2016, some players who had never experienced an NFL win before Thursday’s because they were drafted in 2017, a number of new faces who had just endured the team’s two, nail-biting, non-wins to start the 2018 season and one player, kicker Greg Joseph, who was making his Browns debut.
It was a mix of excitement, relief and optimism. The Browns got their first win out of the way. Now, they want more.
“This is why we play the game,” said third-year linebacker Joe Schobert, whose fourth-quarter interception jump-started celebrations all around Cleveland. “As a competitor, you want to win. Obviously, we’ve done stuff in the preseason and have been successful. We felt we would translate that to the regular season and things didn’t quite go how we wanted, but we knew we were right on the cusp.”
When the Browns picked up their first and only win in 2016 -- a wild, Week 16 victory over the Chargers -- the scene in the post-game locker room was emotional. Tears flowed.
On Thursday night, there was, perhaps, more excitement than your usual Week 3 win in the NFL, but there wasn’t any need for tissues. The Browns want the feeling they experienced to become routine.
“I was in there crying like a baby hugging Joe Thomas (in 2016),” coach Hue Jackson said. “There are no tears tonight because I am telling you we are going to win more games. We just have to keep working, keep getting better.”
The Cleveland Browns play the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium.
2. The Baker Effect
NFL debuts don’t get much better than Baker Mayfield’s, and the Browns needed every single highlight-reel moment he provided to work their way back from a 14-0 deficit.
Mayfield provided an immediate jolt, first bringing the sold-out FirstEnergy Stadium crowd to its feet simply by joining the huddle and then hyping them up even more by completing three consecutive throws on a two-minute drill near the end of the second quarter.
The Browns settled for a field goal on the possession but entered the locker room with a feeling they’d found their edge.
“We had a whole half to play and some change in the second quarter,” said Mayfield, who took over at quarterback when Tyrod Taylor went down with a concussion. “Just wanted to chip away. All points are good points at that point. You have to battle back and have to chip away at that point. There was a sense of urgency absolutely of being the aggressive team and putting them on their heels. At the same time, we were not trying to push too hard.”
It took two drives that ended with field goals before Mayfield and the Browns offense really got rolling. What followed won’t be forgotten anytime soon, as the former No. 1 pick led back-to-back touchdown drives that ultimately put Cleveland ahead for good. Mayfield involved five different receivers -- Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway, Duke Johnson, David Njoku and Rashard Higgins -- by dropping back and firing the ball in a hurry. When he couldn’t make immediate throws, Mayfield bought time within the pocket and outside of it.
The end result: 17-of-23 for 201 yards, a quarterback rating of 100.1 and one massive victory for the franchise that believed in him with the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
“It is just a testament to how he has worked since the day he stepped into this building and not having that backup mentality,” Landry said. “He was so ready for this moment. He was prepared for this moment. He grabbed it by the horns.”
3. Game ball to Gregg Williams for Cleveland defense’s start to the season
21, 21, 17. In today’s high-scoring, big-play, modern NFL, the Browns defense has played winning football in all three games to start the 2018 season.
On Thursday, the group had a rocky start, allowing back-to-back touchdown drives in the second quarter, but seemed to get better as the game unfolded. The unit created three turnovers -- one fumble, two interceptions -- and limited the Jets to a field goal in the second half, allowing the Mayfield-led offense to chip away at a 14-point deficit it would ultimately overcome.
“We’re just doing what we said we were going to do at the start of the year,” Schobert said. “We’re getting after the ball, we’re getting takeaways and we’re trying to limit opposing offenses to fewer yards, fewer points. What we worked on and preached the whole offseason we’re starting to do.”
One of the game balls Jackson distributed after the game went to second-year defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
“Teams are going to find a way to exploit you and do things that they can to make plays, and then Gregg is going to figure it out,” Jackson said. “That is one thing about him. He told me ‘Hue, this is what is going on. I am going to get that shored up.’ He did, and that is what it is all about. What Gregg does week in and week out has been outstanding, and I am proud of what he has done and I am proud of what our defense is doing.”