It's commonly said in both locker rooms and sports bars alike that a football game is often decided by six key plays.
We agree, and we're here to recap those six plays that changed the outcome of the Browns' 30-10 win over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.
1. Baker Mayfield's precise touchdown pass to Rashard Higgins
For the first time in 2019, we rolled out the red carpet along Lake Erie.
Baker Mayfield played exactly one series, and it didn't last longer than two and a half minutes. That might have disappointed those in attendance, but Mayfield made the most of it, completing 5-of-6 passes and covering 89 yards in just 2:13. The capper: a beautiful, 24-yard touchdown pass down the seam, over the hands of an outstretched defender and into the grasp of Rashard Higgins, who caught the ball and bounced off another defender in the end zone.
The play finished off a drive with a pace that was reminiscent of the University of Oregon's glory days and was difficult for those with a little offseason rust to keep up with. Mayfield was efficient and decisive, especially on his connection with his familiar target.
"I thought it was a good drive. We did not have a third down. We were working our 2-minute offense and I thought that was what they were supposed to do," head coach Freddie Kitchens said afterward. "They are supposed to get completions, big chunk plays. When we hand the ball off, we are supposed to block for (Running back) Nick (Chubb). I thought we did a good job, outside, inside, everywhere. It was a really nice first drive."
When Higgins scored and trotted to the back of the end zone to celebrate, Mayfield sprinted down to play photographer. It seems the two are picking up right where they left off.
2. Mack Wilson's pick-six
Rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins had started to build himself some momentum, and Washington's offense was getting out of first gear when Mack Wilson topped his incredible week of play by floating back and intercepting Haskins.
The pick was just the start.
Wilson raced past the Washington offense toward the end zone, stiff-arming Haskins as he fell over the goal line in a heap for the pick-six, less than a week after he made a similarly stunning play in practice.
The interception brought new life to a Browns team that had collectively hit a lull after a fast start and helped them take a lead into halftime.
3. Dontrell Hilliard's goal line fumble
On fourth-and-goal from the Washington 1, late in the first quarter, the Browns had a chance to regain the lead and also earn a mental victory. Kitchens elected to test his offense's mettle, going for it instead of settling for a field goal attempt.
Dontrell Hilliard, who received plenty of run Thursday, took the handoff right and appeared headed toward a touchdown when he was tackled and stripped of the football. Washington recovered, earning a turnover on downs and keeping the score at 7-7.
The Browns forced a punt on the ensuing possession but didn't find the end zone again until Wilson's pick-six. Had Hilliard scored, that might've helped the Browns pile on early (instead of late).
“He did, and we are going to get better at that," Kitchens said of Hilliard's fumble. "I would not push the panic button on Dontrell just yet.”
4. Wilson's second interception
If we had to decide which of Wilson's interceptions was better, it would be a tough call. Sure, his first produced points, but his second was more acrobatic.
In the midst of a healthy amount of playing time in his first game action, Wilson dropped back in pass coverage and drifted toward the left hash before pouncing on his prey, reading the eyes of quarterback Josh Woodrum and leaping backward to intercept his pass down the seam. He didn't advance the ball further, but he'd made his statement in his first game in FirstEnergy Stadium.
"It was not going good for him early in camp but he kept his head down and kept working one day at a time and one rep at a time and before you know it, he starts making plays," Kitchens said of Wilson after the win. "He is in better positions, his eyes are in better places and spots and he is getting other guys lined up. His communication is starting to get better with that group. Once you know how to get there and where to get there, the rest is just making plays.”
The turnover didn't produce points, but it stopped a Washington drive in its tracks and further boosted Wilson's mounting momentum. If they didn't know, fans are now well aware of who Mack Wilson is.
5. Greg Joseph's 43-yard FG
It was only three points, but it pushed Cleveland's lead to 10 and helped create a decent cushion heading into halftime. It also gave Joseph a bit of in-game evidence to back his case for the starting kicker job.
With little wind to speak of and all of the pressure provided by a camp-long kicking battle, Joseph calmly drilled the 43-yarder as if he'd been kicking in the NFL for a decade or longer. In fact, it looked more like something that would've come off the foot of Phil Dawson, who retired as a Brown last week.
Joseph later missed an inconsequential point-after try, bringing that momentum down a bit. But that 43-yarder should carry a little weight when it comes time to review resumes.
6. Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi's 86-yard punt return touchdown
The feel-good moment of the night in the entire National Football League came as a surprise.
In what had become a sleepy fourth quarter, little-known returner Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi -- a diminutive speedster who fibbed his way into a tryout and slept on a patch of grass outside a Miami gym for nearly a week before earning a contract with the Browns -- trotted back to field a punt from Washington's Tress Way.
Sheehy-Guiseppi fielded the punt and sprinted through the coverage, weaving in and out of defenders before cutting around his last blocker and outrunning the remaining opponents for an 86-yard punt return that was so shocking and exhilarating, his entire team ran on the field to celebrate with him.
As more than 80 fellow Browns sprinted out to the end zone in front of the Dawg Pound, Sheehy-Guiseppi pumped his fist in jubilation before he was nearly clotheslined by a teammate. The remaining fans in attendance were equally as euphoric, especially those who knew of and understood Sheehy-Guiseppi's path to the NFL.
The punt return put the Browns ahead 30-10 and officially sealed the victory on a perfect night along Lake Erie, capped by a dream fulfilled for one longshot who hadn't returned a punt in a game in three years.
Not a bad way to start the preseason.