As Baker Mayfield looked back at what led to one of the best performances of his career Sunday at Nissan Stadium, he remembered where the 2020 season started.
His first thoughts went back to the spring, when the Browns were forced to conduct their offseason through virtual meetings. They had a new head coach, a new offensive playbook and zero team practices to implement new plays before training camp.
For Mayfield, a third-year starter, the unusual offseason felt even less ideal — this season was arguably the most important of his career. He was out to prove himself as a better quarterback than what transpired in a disappointing 2019 campaign, and he used the difficult year as motivation to get better.
"The big thing now," Mayfield said in July before training camp, "is slowing down and to be able to build on that, have that solid foundation and get better at something every day."
The memories of that work, both for himself and the Browns, popped into his head as he answered questions about a historic performance against the Tennessee Titans. Mayfield went 25-of-33 for a season-high 334 yards, four touchdowns and a 147.0 quarterback rating, the second-highest of his career, in the Browns' 41-35 win.
All four touchdowns came in the first half, which made him the first quarterback to accomplish the feat since Patrick Mahomes in Week 2 of 2019 and the first Browns quarterback to do it since Hall of Famer Otto Graham in 1951. The Browns scored 38 points in the first half, which is the most ever scored in a half in franchise history.
Mayfield made a statement: His best football is in front of him, and the hard work from the offseason is paying off.
"I've said it time in and time out," Mayfield said. "Back in the spring, (we laid) our foundation and we laid our goals. We're all on the same page."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Titans
Mayfield only needed 17 minutes to cement Sunday as one of his best performances of the season.
In that time, he completed 12 passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns, his most in a game since he threw five in Week 7 against the Bengals. Mayfield was in sync with his receivers from the first snap, and that showed with his first touchdown to wide receiver Jarvis Landry and third touchdown to rookie receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones, who ran a deep ball from Mayfield into the end zone for 75 yards for the quarterback's longest completion of the season.
His fourth touchdown, a 17-yard pass placed perfectly to Rashard Higgins, was special, too — that cemented the historic half for Mayfield.
But the second touchdown was most noteworthy. The play was made possible by brilliant play-calling, which certainly benefited Mayfield throughout Sunday's offensive explosion.
The touchdown pass went to offensive tackle Kendall Lamm on third-and-1 from Tennessee's 1-yard line. Mayfield faked a handoff to running back Nick Chubb, who leaped over the line of scrimmage to sell the fake to perfection, and then immediately looked at Lamm as he broke past defenders, ran into the end zone and turned around.
Lamm, who caught a pass with the Houston Texans as a rookie in 2015, was all alone. Mayfield floated a soft pass to him for his easiest touchdown of the game.
Chalk the success up to coach Kevin Stefanski, who said he drew up the trick play this week.
"We are going to do whatever it takes to win," he said. "We are looking for the right play at the right time, and then to the players' credit, they are executing at a high level."
Stefanski and Mayfield worked in perfect fluidity throughout Sunday's game. Both expressed admiration for their teamwork and execution, which has been in the works since Stefanski was hired in January. He was always confident he could take Mayfield's play to another level, and he doubled down on his confidence after the Week 9 bye week.
"We can help him for sure in some of the design and some of the play calls," Stefanski said after the bye. "I think he is ready to ascend."
Consider part of that ascension met.
Mayfield was the biggest reason why the Browns were in control. These were the kinds of games Stefanski and Mayfield envisioned when he spoke with Mayfield through a laptop camera for most of the offseason. Both believed in each other, and Stefanski's faith in the entire team instilled confidence in Mayfield, too.
The Browns certainly had the pieces to win lots of football games. Now, they have nine wins in a season for the first time since 2007, and they're not done yet.
"There is a new standard and there is a foundation you have to continue to build on and improve," he said. "That is just the way we need to handle things, and I think we are trending in the right direction."
Mayfield might never feel "done." He still critiques himself in his postgame interviews the same way he's critiqued himself all year. He wants every throw to be perfect, and Sunday was an example of what can happen when he's close to doing just that.
His performance wasn't the result of luck. It happened after months of training on a field in his hometown in Austin, Texas, rather than in Berea, Ohio. It's the result of months of establishing chemistry with teammates through a video screen and endless hours of analyzing each throw in practice.
That's where it all started. After Sunday, Mayfield certainly took another giant leap to prove that those efforts have worked.
"The group of people that we have, we have been building and improving as the season has gone on, so I think we were all confident coming into this," he said. "I'm confident with the group that we have. I believe in this team."