Baker Mayfield knows how tough it is to compete opposite of Patrick Mahomes when the Chiefs quarterback is at his best.
Their first game together took place in 2016. Mayfield was in the midst of an electric junior season at Oklahoma. Mahomes was one of the top quarterback prospects in what became his final season at Texas Tech. The two studs went head-to-head under the lights on a clear October night at Jones AT&T Stadium, and the result was one of the wildest games in college football history.
The Sooners won 66-59. Mayfield threw for 545 yards and seven touchdowns, an OU record. Mahomes broke the FBS record with 819 total yards of offense and 734 passing yards, and the two sides combined for a mind-blowing 1,708 yards of offense, also an FBS record.
"We had to score every single drive in the second half to win that game," Mayfield said. "It was an unbelievable game and unbelievable atmosphere. Just the back and forth is something that I will not forget."
Mayfield got the best of Mahomes in 2016, but Mahomes captured slight revenge in 2018, when the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Browns in Mayfield's rookie season.
Now, Mayfield is looking to strike back. That won't be an easy task against Mahomes, the 2018 NFL MVP and quarterback of the reigning Super Bowl champs, and he knows it.
"His arm strength is unbelievable," Mayfield said. "Just the different arm angles and things he is able to do – I know people talk about his no-look passes and all of that – but to be able to change his arm angle, you can see why he was such an incredible athlete in baseball and basketball, as well. He's just able to do things that a lot of quarterbacks can't do."
Mayfield can't do anything to slow down Mahomes — that'll be a tall task for Cleveland's defense — but he knows his offense will need to at least match whatever production pours from a Chiefs offense that has been incredibly difficult to stop since Mahomes took the NFL by storm in 2018.
The Browns are certainly capable of doing that. They hushed critics who didn't believe they could carry their efficiency from the regular season over to the playoffs by scoring 48 points against the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense, which ranked third in the NFL, on Sunday night. Mayfield threw for 263 yards and three touchdowns, while the Browns' two-headed rushing duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
The Chiefs defense won't have nearly as many top-caliber playmakers as the Steelers, but they're still a unit full of established talent. The core playmakers are three 2021 Pro Bowlers in safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive tackle Chris Jones and defensive end Frank Clark, and they led the Chiefs to the 10th-ranked defense in the league.
Mayfield, who's thrown 19 touchdowns and one interception since his first-quarter pick Week 7 in Cincinnati, can't afford to regress at all from his hot performance. That likely would mean he's not playing up to the level of Mahomes, who's thrown 17 touchdowns and five interceptions in that span and led the NFL with 316 passing yards per game.
"I would say it's about everybody being on the same page and just doing their job, and that makes everybody's job easier," Mayfield said. "Don't try and do too much. You stick within the plan, do the little details right and stay efficient. The guys up front and the skill guys around me have made my job extremely easy."
Mayfield is confident the offense is up for the challenge. They've scored 40 or more points in four games this season and are coming off back-to-back wins against a top-three NFL defense. They can compete with anyone, and they've proven that in 2020.
Now, they must compete against one of the most prolific offenses in the league and a young quarterback — Mahomes is just 25 years old — who has already established himself as one of the NFL's all-time greats.
Mayfield has known since that October night in Lubbock what it was like to go against Mahomes' best efforts. Who knows if a similar shootout will be in store Sunday in Kansas City, but if the Browns are tasked with matching a series of punches from the Chiefs, Mayfield will be ready.
"He has gotten me so far in the league so I have to see what I can do," Mayfield said. "It's always been fun to keep up with Pat."