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Baker Mayfield confident 'savvy group' of Browns WRs will answer the bell

Baker Mayfield hasn't lost any confidence in the Browns receivers despite the big blow they suffered Sunday in Cincinnati.

Cleveland learned Monday top receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who exited the Week 7 contest in the first quarter with a knee injury, is out for the season. Beckham has boosted the offense in a number of ways so far this season, and the absence of his athletic abilities will leave a hole that will be tough to replace in the Browns' offensive schemes.

But the Browns still found a way to beat the Bengals on Sunday without Beckham: by using all three of their available, active receivers to make big plays and rally for a thrilling win. The Browns might not have a receiver with quite the same experience as Beckham or fellow WR Jarvis Landry, who's also playing through a broken rib, but that doesn't mean Mayfield — who threw five touchdowns Sunday en route to winning AFC Offensive Player of the Week — will hesitate to throw any of them the football.

"You don't want to lose guys. That's not fun," Mayfield said Wednesday in a Zoom call with local reporters. "But we believe in the guys that we have. That's why they're here. We're going to expect them to step up and do what they're capable of. Nothing more, nothing less."

The current brass of receivers consists of Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Taywan Taylor and KhaDarel Hodge, who missed the previous three games with a hamstring injury. Landry is a seven-year veteran and will likely carry an even heavier workload in the passing game, while the remaining four receivers all figure to contribute in a variety of ways to carry what's left from Beckham's absence.

The Browns were forced to do that in a hurry Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, and it led to one of the most exciting finishes of the season. Tight end Harrison Bryant, who saw an increase in targets as starting tight end Austin Hooper sat out due to an appendectomy procedure from Friday, caught two touchdown passes and provided Mayfield with a reliable short-field target. 

Tight end David Njoku also caught his second touchdown of the season and looked strong in his third week back from a knee injury that sidelined him for three weeks. He and the other tight ends could also see an increase in targets in coming weeks.

Higgins and Peoples-Jones made their impacts in the second half. The Browns needed them to step up to compete with the Bengals' high-flying offense, which had scored points on each of its five drives since the start of the second quarter. But when the ball was thrown their way, they caught it. The duo combined for a perfect nine receptions on nine targets for 166 yards and a touchdown, which came from Peoples-Jones on the final offensive play of the game with 15 seconds left. 

Each receiver made dazzling catches on that drive, which certainly gave Mayfield even more confidence that his group of receivers can still produce despite Beckham's absence.

"We believe we have a great team," Mayfield said. "That's why we're going to ask those guys to step in and have multiple guys fill that void. We trust those guys to make the one-on-one plays when they're there."

One of the biggest challenges the offense must face is the new looks that opposing defenses might give them without Beckham on the field. Some defenses might devote more of their game strategy to stopping the run, which was one of the Browns' biggest strengths in their four-game win streak earlier this season. It could be harder to find deep passes, too — safeties tended to gravitate toward Beckham's side of the field to limit deep-pass potential, but now defenses could be more balanced in their coverage.

"I think it is about just understanding the looks we are getting and going through our offense based on the looks and efficiently working through that," Mayfield said.

No matter how a defense approaches them, Mayfield is confident he'll connect with any of the receivers who will carry a heavier role to fill the gap from Beckham's injury. They already proved Sunday they can still be efficient. Now, they'll look to continue to grow through the rest of the season. 

"This is a savvy group that we have here," Mayfield said. "We are going to do whatever it takes to win. However that comes and however we adapt and adjust, this is a group that is willing and able to adjust to basically anything. In a year of uncertainty and tons of adjustments, we are capable of doing that. Even though it is not what you want, we just have to do it."

After an 0-for-5 start, Mayfield went 21-for-22 for 297 yards and five touchdowns with the lone incompletion coming on a clock-stopping spike on the Browns' game-winning touchdown drive. His completion streak of 21 blew away the Browns' franchise record, which was previously shared by Bernie Kosar and Kelly Holcomb, and his touchdowns were the most in a game by a Cleveland signal-caller in 13 years.

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