Baker Mayfield issued a challenge to fans after the Browns win over Carolina two weeks ago: fill the seats and bring more energy. And in Sunday’s 26-18 win over Cincinnati, the fans responded.
They chanted his first name throughout fourth quarter, his full name on their way out of FirstEnergy Stadium. Several called to him as he exited the locker room.
In return, Mayfield threw for 287 passing yards and three touchdowns. That’s the partnership Mayfield envisions: He provides the excitable moments, the fans provide the excitement.
“It's a team game,” Mayfield said to the fans during his on-field postgame interview. “And you were a part of it.”
That means the 60,000-plus people in attendance Sunday contributed to, among other milestones, the Browns’ first three-game winning streak since 2014, their first sweep of Cincinnati since 2002, the end of a seven-year streak of finishing in last place and their best home record (5-2-1) since 2007.
The Browns won’t play in January — that much was finalized when Tennessee won Saturday. So the five wins they’ve accrued over their past six games will have little impact on the NFL landscape in 2018. This stretch may, however, contribute to what players and coaches believe will become a wholesale turnaround of a previously struggling franchise.
Among the first steps in that process? Transforming their home stadium into an antagonistic setting for opposing teams.
“People need to fear coming to Cleveland,” Mayfield said. “They need to fear coming and playing around at the lake with an exciting crowd, a lot of noise and a team that is protecting their own turf. That is how it needs to be.”
Mayfield’s challenge to fans provided a glance at what future home crowds might look like. Williams said Sunday’s atmosphere reminded him of his days as an opposing coach during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Mayfield called it a fun atmosphere and said that “nobody can say otherwise.” Jarvis Landry called the crowd “phenomenal” and said the players fed off its energy.
But of course, the fans drew their energy from Mayfield, much like his teammates have done all season. The players proved how much their rookie quarterback means to them in the fourth quarter, when Carlos Dunlap pushed Mayfield out of bounds after Mayfield scrambled for a first down. Landry sprinted over and confronted Dunlap, eventually leading to a team-wide scrum that referees were forced to break up.
“It’s nothing that’s personal, but that's our quarterback — my brother, pretty much,” Landry said of confronting Dunlap.
Multiple players mentioned family and brotherhood in relation to the Dunlap push. Landry said the team’s close bond has been forged through adversity. The players have been through plenty of that this season, and it’s brought them closer together.
Browns fans have watched different versions of the same adverse storyline play out for two decades, except most versions didn’t involve a charismatic and talented quarterback who fostered belief among teammates or flipped the team’s fortunes.
They have that now, though, which is why they responded so positively to Mayfield’s call-out two weeks ago. And if the Browns continue to feed off him the way they did Sunday, the bond the city feels with its new quarterback will only grow closer.
“You go through the good times and the bad times together,” Mayfield said of the player-fan relationship. “There’s been a lot more good than bad as of recent. It’s fun. I expect that relationship to continue to grow. I relate to Cleveland. The work ethic, the stuff that you have to earn it around here, that is what the Browns are all about. It is going to be a good relationship for a long time.”