Baker Mayfield took the snap from Buffalo’s 7-yard line and looked to his left. With the pocket beginning to collapse, Mayfield shuffled backward and felt the pressure.
He didn’t appear to have a passing option, and he couldn’t take a sack. The Browns faced a 16-12 deficit with minutes left and needed to erase their fourth-quarter struggles with a touchdown.
Mayfield turned his head to his right and floated the pass off his back foot. It landed in the hands of Rashard Higgins, who managed to run behind Bills cornerback Levi Wallace and create plenty of separation to easily corral the touchdown.
That play capped off a huge 10-play, 82-yard drive that propelled the Browns to a 19-16 win over the Bills on Sunday for their first victory of the season at FirstEnergy Stadium.
“These guys, they never wavered. They never blinked. They continued to fight,” head coach Freddie Kitchens said. “There was never a doubt in anybody’s feelings that we could not drive down the field and go score a touchdown.”
The Browns, though, have struggled to make good on such sequences all season. It didn’t happen in primetime Week 3 against the Rams. They couldn’t convert on their final drive Week 6 against the Seahawks. Last week against the Broncos, the offense slipped late again.
A repeat of those finishes likely would’ve put a cap on the Browns season when it pertained to playoff aspirations. Instead, Mayfield and the offense went to work and built their most important drive of the season.
The Browns wouldn’t have moved downfield without having two explosive running backs at their disposal. First, it was Kareem Hunt, who made his Browns debut Sunday and caught a short pass from Mayfield on third-and-7 from Cleveland’s 35. It was a play that would have never happened had officials not overturned the previous play, which was initially called a fumble returned for a Bills touchdown but was changed to an incomplete pass.
Then, it was Nick Chubb, who barreled through Buffalo defenders for a 21-yard rush and moved the Browns into Bills territory.
Two plays later, Freddie Kitchens turned to his quarterback. Mayfield saw Jarvis Landry running one-on-one against Wallace and heaved the ball toward Landry’s back shoulder.
Check out photos of the Browns in action against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday
Landry looked to his right as he searched for the ball, then flipped his head to his left and desperately stretched out his hands to make a Willie Mays-style grab at Buffalo’s 7-yard line.
"Obviously, we trust our guys to make plays, so I put it out there outside to catch it,” Mayfield said. “(Landry) is going to, and if not, nobody else will. He made an unbelievable catch."
In previous games, this is where the Browns had lost it. The Browns were stuffed on eight consecutive plays from inside Buffalo’s 2 in the first quarter and couldn’t afford another disastrous sequence again.
But this drive felt different. The Browns had already made too many big plays to stop there.
Kitchens called for the pass. He needed Mayfield to convert. He also needed Higgins, who had made only three receptions this season and missed four games with an injury, to get open.
Higgins caught it, and the offense celebrated the return of the “Hollywood” celebration and, finally, a clutch fourth-quarter drive.
“Red carpet was open,” Mayfield said with a smile. “Having a tight victory against a great team is something that we needed, especially at home.”
The Browns needed to win any way possible. Kitchens and Mayfield both said there’s still plenty of room for improvement, but now the Browns have their foot in the door for a potential climb up the AFC wild card race.
That’s only because the Browns found an ingredient they’ve missed all season: fourth-quarter touchdowns.
“I think we showed that we can come out within a critical game when it is a tight situation and be able to make the plays we needed to,” Mayfield said. “Moving forward, we know that we can do that.”