ATLANTA — Baker Mayfield didn't feel the need to press head coach Kevin Stefanski for any playing time Sunday in the Browns' third and final game of the preseason.
Mayfield, entering his fourth year at quarterback in Cleveland, already felt comfortable with the starters likely to play around him in Week 1 in Kansas City. He took plenty of reps behind the offensive line, a group that retained all five starters for 2021. Mayfield proved at several moments in training camp that he was still at ease with Stefanski's playbook — his confidence was evident in how he commanded the huddle and delivered crisp throws each practice.
But as the Browns took the field for the first time at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Mayfield was with them. The Browns wanted to give him two drives to continue to settle in and work out any kinks in the limited amount of snaps he'd take.
"Baker's such a competitor," Stefanski said. "He just loves it out there and he wanted to compete against another team."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Falcons in week three of the preseason
It only lasted a quarter, but Mayfield affirmed he's ready for the regular season.
He finished 6-of-10 for 113 yards and one touchdown, a perfectly placed 22-yard pass to the left pylon for receiver KhaDarel Hodge, to help the Browns win 19-10 and complete a perfect 3-0 preseason. Mayfield showed a similar poise and connection that lifted the offense in the second half of last season, and he did it without top running back Nick Chubb and receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry with him.
"I was excited," Mayfield said. "Anytime I get to play football, I'm excited."
Before Sunday, Mayfield — as well as the rest of the probable offensive starters — had yet to play in a game. Their reps were confined to the practice fields at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus, where the offense found a quick groove early and performed particularly well throughout two days of joint practices with the New York Giants.
In an offense with proven veterans at nearly every position, preseason snaps were hardly a necessity.
But then Stefanski announced Friday that Mayfield would start. He wanted his quarterback to get some good, quick work and provide the Browns with a little more tape and experience before the team begins one of its most anticipated seasons in decades.
"The thinking is making a decision based on every single player and what we feel like they need to get," Stefanski said Friday. "It was not really speaking with them to see how they felt. It was more just making sure they understood what the plan was."
The plan didn't start perfectly. Mayfield completed just two passes, one of which went for a 35-yard reception to TE Austin Hooper, before the Browns failed to convert on fourth down from Atlanta's 9.
But that wasn't the end of the night for the starters, a group that included RB Kareem Hunt and all of the top players on the offensive line except for C JC Tretter. The Browns brought the same group out again for their second drive, and Mayfield was perfect, throwing 4-for-4 with 70 passing yards, the last 22 of which came after Mayfield read one-on-one coverage from the defense and hit Hodge in stride as he pivoted to open space in the end zone.
That sequence was more like it.
Mayfield's night was done. After the game, he said he was comfortable with where the offense was as the Browns closed the book on the preseason and the long hours of training camp and turned their full attention toward the Chiefs.
By then, Mayfield will likely have a full brass of starters around him, but he didn't need extended playing time in the preseason to know he'll click with them.
He's known that since Day 1.
"I know our guys are ready," he said. "They're itching to go."