Baker Mayfield jogged from the locker room and strapped his helmet on as the 67,000+ fans at FirstEnergy Stadium roared in approval.
Minutes earlier, the stadium was silent as Mayfield jogged into the locker room. He absorbed a heavy hit to his left non-throwing shoulder from Texans safety Justin Reid after he intercepted Mayfield midway through the second quarter. Mayfield finished the tackle and needed a few seconds before he walked off with trainers.
No one knew to what extent Mayfield was injured and whether he'd be able to return — except for the Browns sideline.
"I knew when he was going in to get checked out that he'd be back eventually," running back Nick Chubb said.
He was right.
Mayfield returned, didn't miss a snap and was perfect as he paced the Browns to a 31-21 win Sunday over the Houston Texans. That isn't hyperbole, either — Mayfield completed all 11 of his passing attempts after returning to the game, which led to him finishing 19-of-21 for 213 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also completed his first nine passes of the game before a miscommunication led to the first incompletion, with the interception occurring on the next play.
Those were the only two passing mistakes Mayfield committed the rest of the game. He said his shoulder felt sore after absorbing the hit, but he didn't leave any room for questioning his future health.
"(The shoulder) kind of popped in and out, but nothing too serious," he said. "It's my left, though. God gave me two."
He didn't leave much room for questioning his strong start to the season, either.
Mayfield has thrown just nine incompletions in 49 attempts to open the season. His confidence and poise in delivering passes to receivers at any level of the field was evident for the second consecutive week, and it's a reason why the Browns were able to stay ahead of the Texans on Sunday and keep pace with the Chiefs last week.
Check out photos of the Browns against the Texans in week two
The Browns receivers room — which lost Jarvis Landry early in the game to a knee injury and was already without Odell Beckham Jr. (knee), who was ruled out earlier in the week — ensured Mayfield didn't have to push his shoulder too much once he returned. His longest completion of the game was a 33-yard touchdown to rookie RB Demetric Felton Jr., who caught a quick screen pass and spun around a few defenders to find the end zone.
Head coach Kevin Stefanski said the Browns tweaked their game plan to lighten Mayfield's load and avoid the possibility of him taking another shot once he returned.
When the call was for a pass, though, Mayfield delivered.
"Baker's an extremely competitive person, as you all know," Stefanski said. "You don't want him to get hurt, but then he was right back out there leading this team. He was really sharp."
The run game helped make Mayfield's job easier, too.
Chubb rushed for 95 yards on 11 carries with one touchdown while Kareem Hunt recorded 51 yards on 13 carries. Chubb, in particular, put the game away with a few punishing runs in the fourth quarter, and none were more important than his 26-yard touchdown run in which he was practically untouched as he sprinted down the right half of the field. Chubb added to his streak of eight consecutive games with a touchdown scored, which is the longest active streak in the NFL.
Whether Mayfield was hurt or fully healthy, it always made sense for the Browns to turn to their two Pro Bowl running backs to finish the game and protect their lead. Mayfield didn't take that luxury for granted.
"Nick had a few runs that got the crowd going," Mayfield said. "Kareem was real close, too. We're really blessed to have the offensive line that we do, and to have those two backs and be able to put one of them in when we're fresh."
Mayfield said the Browns offense still has a few areas to improve before they return to FirstEnergy Stadium next week to play the Chicago Bears. He lamented how the Browns turned the ball over twice — the other turnover occurred on a Donovan Peoples-Jones fumble.
The Browns have committed four turnovers through two games, and Mayfield, who's thrown two interceptions in the first two games, knows they need to be better
"We're hurting ourselves," he said. "We need to learn from these mistakes."
But those mistakes didn't stop the Browns from finding a way to win Sunday.
Mayfield, perfect after suffering an injury scare, was one of the biggest reasons why. He's the Browns' leader, and he wasn't going to let a sore shoulder prevent him from pushing the Browns into the win column for the first time in 2021.
"It doesn't matter if he's sore," Stefanski said. "He wants to be out there. He's constantly coming back, play in and play out, going to fight with his teammates."