For the first 15 minutes Sunday, Baker Mayfield didn't complete a pass.
For the next three quarters, he couldn't miss.
How Mayfield finished Sunday's game in Cincinnati is why the Browns were able to bounce back in a big way and with all of the late-game drama NFL fans love.
After an 0-for-5 start, Mayfield literally didn't miss the rest of the way, completing a franchise-record 21 straight passes — and the Browns needed every last one of them. The streak ended with an intentional spike, and Mayfield's next and final throw went to rookie Donovan Peoples-Jones with 11 seconds to play, a game-winning 24-yard touchdown pass to send Cleveland home with a 37-34 victory on a wild afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium.
Mayfield's game-winning pass, his fifth touchdown throw of the game, capped a seamless five-play, 75-yard drive that began with the Browns trailing by a field goal, no timeouts and 1:06 to play.
"Throughout this week, I was reminded by some very key people and very important people in my life that I have support from them no matter what. That was extremely vital throughout the day," Mayfield said. "Knowing that we were going to out the second half of play for O also goes with that. Keeping the faith and keeping the belief is extremely important. I have made it this far because I had people supporting me along the way, no matter the circumstances."
Mayfield finished 22-of-28 for 297 yards and five touchdowns, as he out-dueled Bengals star rookie Joe Burrow by just enough at the end. Burrow finished with 406 yards and three touchdowns and had the Browns on the ropes with a go-ahead touchdown pass to Giovani Bernard with 1:06 to play.
"Guys were trading body blows and then went for the knockout punch there," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "To see those two young quarterbacks doing that, we have a ton of respect for their team and have a ton of respect for their quarterback based on our first game. We knew what type of challenges he would present."
Mayfield, though, had the last word.
"We got on the field, and everyone was talking about how we had to get to the 30 for a field goal," Mayfield said. "I told the guys, 'Screw that. We are going to win."
Mayfield opened the final possession with a 13-yard pass to Peoples-Jones and an 8-yarder to Rashard Higgins. With 40 seconds to play, Mayfield lofted a 30-yard pass to Higgins to put the Browns at Cincinnati's 24 with 16 seconds left. After a spike to stop the clock, Mayfield went in the same direction down the right sideline to Peoples-Jones, who snagged the pass and dragged both feet to secure the first touchdown pass of his NFL career.
"Those guys made unbelievable plays," Mayfield said. "Obviously, Higgy on the contested catch going up the high-pointing the ball. Donovan going up to the line of scrimmage and have a vertical seam called. No. 23 (Bengals CB Darius Phillips) got me earlier in the game and I had to get him back."
Higgins led all Browns receivers with six catches for 110 yards. Rookie tight end Harrison Bryant caught two touchdowns and Jarvis Landry added 48 yards on five catches while also delivering another clutch pass of his own. Peoples-Jones, who didn't have a catch entering Sunday's game, caught three big passes in the second half for 56 yards.
Cincinnati's Tyler Boyd led all receivers with 11 catches, 101 yards and a touchdown. A.J. Green added seven catches for 82 yards.
The Browns and Bengals combined for 864 yards, 11 third-down conversions and just one punt.
"It is not a fun outfit to have to play in that type of game, and they just keep coming at you," Stefanski said. "Credit to them, but again, a great team win."
The win moved the Browns to 5-2. Cincinnati fell to 1-5-1.
"Obviously, a great win for the team," Stefanski said. "It is important to build off of these type of wins. It is important that we make sure that we are continuing to do the things that help you win in this league. I think we have a lot of examples of us doing that.
"You are going to have to go win the game and a two-minute drive. That is what happens in this NFL. That is what good teams do."
Mayfield built off the momentum he established in the second quarter with a strong start to the second half. He fired a long pass to Bryant on the first play of the third quarter and capped a scoring drive with a 6-yard dart to Bryant for a game-tying touchdown.
Bryant, a fourth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic, was filling the void left by Pro Bowler Austin Hooper, who underwent an appendectomy Friday.
"Me and David (Njoku) knew that we had to come in, step up and make plays," Bryant said. "Coming into the game, we knew that there would be opportunities. We just wanted to take full advantage of those opportunities. We did that today."
Trailing by a field goal, Mayfield kept rolling in the fourth quarter. Mayfield fired back-to-back passes to Higgins for a combined 40 yards and then, on his 15th straight completion, found TE David Njoku with a pinpoint, 16-yard touchdown pass to give Cleveland its first lead with 13:13 to play.
The lead wouldn't hold long, though, as Burrow drove the Bengals right down the field to put Cincinnati on top by 3. A potential interception dropped by Terrance Mitchell loomed large as Burrow fired his third touchdown pass of the game to Tee Higgins to put the Bengals ahead, 27-24.
The Browns came right back on the arms of both Mayfield and Landry. A trick-play pass from Landry to Peoples-Jones for 25 yards got Cleveland rolling, and Mayfield put the Browns back up by four when he capped the quick scoring drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Hunt with 4:57 to play.
The Bengals and Burrow struck back with another touchdown on a clock-draining drive that would have been the final answer if not for Mayfield's late-game heroics.
"Just in those situations, you speak very matter of factly to each other," Stefanski said. "We talked about the situation – how many timeouts we had, which was none; how far we had to go; some passes we had coming up and just giving him some reminders on the drive. He was ready to operate."
The Browns' start to the game couldn't have gone any worse.
Mayfield's long pass attempt — his first of the game — to Beckham was short, and Cincinnati's Darius Phillips came away with the interception. As he tried to chase down Phillips from behind, Beckham was tripped up and suffered a knee injury that would keep him out of the rest of the game. C JC Tretter was also injured on the play, but he returned on the following series and didn't miss a snap.
"I went to go check on him, and he was in a lot of pain," G Joel Bitonio said. "I thought it was done for, but he finds a way to make it back onto the field. That is just what he does. He is tough, and he is prideful. He cares about his teammates, and he thinks being on the field is the best thing for his team. It is going to take a lot to get that guy off the field. It is impressive stuff, and it inspires me. I was ready to roll with him once he came back out."
Though the offense struggled to get going, the defense allowed Cleveland to hang within striking distance. The Bengals' opening drive was stuffed deep in Browns territory when Denzel Ward deflected a Burrow pass, and B.J. Goodson intercepted it in the end zone. Later in the quarter, Garrett strip-sacked Burrow, and Ronnie Harrison Jr. fell on it — a play that would set up a Cody Parkey field goal. The strip-sack was Garrett's fourth on the season.
"They held the ball at lot in the first quarter, and we just had not got on track yet," Bitonio said. "There was a real focus on just getting the next drive going, getting going and moving in the right direction. Once we got those first drives going, at halftime, I think we had 10 points, but we felt like we could score when we got the ball back. We figured out a way to get moving and to get the ball going. It is just resilience. (Head) Coach (Kevin Stefanski) talks about it every day. It is a team win every week.
"The offense steps up sometimes, and sometimes the defense steps up or special teams steps up. We found a way to get a win."
Mayfield didn't complete a pass in the first quarter but came back firing in the second. He completed five straight passes on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Bryant and tied up the score, 10-10, midway through the second quarter.
"He is such a competitor. He does not give up," Stefanski said. "That first throw, we wanted to take a shot there. They made a nice play, a credit to them. He did not back down, and every time I looked at him on the sideline, he had that steely look in his eyes. He was not going back down. I think that is the story of Baker. There is nothing coming his way that he has not seen before. Really proud of how he responded."
The Browns are back in action next Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium when they host the Las Vegas Raiders.
"I think this game could have given this offense confidence to realize we can believe and trust in everybody," Mayfield said. "We always have a chance if we believe in that. It was the most important game to date because it was the next one. Right now, we are going to enjoy it. We are 5-2. We have a great opponent coming into our house before the bye week next week."