Keys to Victory

Keys to Victory: What we're watching against the Chargers

1. Always have a chance: Beyond Baker Mayfield’s arm talent, his poise in the pocket or the way he rallies his teammates around him, the Browns have been taken aback by the rookie quarterback’s unflappability in the face of adversity. Mayfield passed for a career-high 342 yards and led a late drive in overtime that set up a game-winning field goal with 2 seconds to go in the extra period. 

“Everything wasn’t as perfect. There are areas he has to continue to improve, but he can make plays. Even with a lot of the negativity that was going on at different times for different reasons, I never felt like we did not have a chance to make a play,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. 

“His attitude is tremendous. He’s into the game on the sideline in between and during timeouts, whatever it is. There’s never a time where you’re looking into his eye and feeling like we don’t have a chance.”

Mayfield, who improved to 1-1 as a starter and rallied Cleveland to a Week 3 victory over the Jets, will try to keep the good vibes flowing this weekend against the Chargers at home. 

2. Stay grounded: Off to their best start since 2014 and undefeated (2-0-1) at home, the Browns are gaining popularity and national praise behind Mayfield and a defense that leads the NFL with 15 takeaways. Even Snoop Dogg visited practice earlier this week. Jackson said it’s his job to keep the team grounded and, after all, they’ve only won two games. 

“We haven’t done anything, we haven’t qualified for anything. We have won two football games,” Jackson said, laughing. 

“We’ve played five last time I checked. We’ve done nothing. Even when we do something, we will have done nothing. We have a lot of work to do here. We are going to keep this team grounded and work in how we go about our business. That is what Cleveland is about – people that work hard earn what they get and get what they earn and keep finding ways to do it every day.”

Cleveland has neither won a road game nor dominated an opponent — its five games have been decided by three overtimes and an average of 2.6 points. 

“We haven’t played well enough to be like ‘Man, we are unstoppable,” veteran guard Joel Bitonio said. “You look back, and we scored 12 points. That usually doesn’t win you games in the NFL. Then the week before, we have three or four turnovers (against Oakland) where it’s like, ‘Man, we could’ve really blew these guys out,’ but we had some turnovers and lost.”

3. Next man up: Already thin at wide receiver, the Browns knew they’d be without Rashard Higgins (sprained MCL) for a few weeks and then lost his replacement, undrafted rookie Derrick Willies on Friday. 

Willies, whose 39-yard catch from Mayfield in overtime set up Sunday’s game-winning field goal, was ruled out indefinitely after suffering a fractured collarbone in practice. 

In addition to Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry, Jackson said the Browns will have to lean on rookie Damion Ratley, veteran journeyman Rod Streater and even running back Duke Johnson in the pass game. 

4. No ordinary Joe: The Browns will pay homage to Joe Thomas as the former left tackle and future Hall of Famer returns for something of a homecoming Thomas, the 10-time Pro Bowler who retired this past spring, will be honored during Sunday’s game for his impact both on and off the field. Cleveland will enshrine the number “10,363” — Thomas’ improbably consecutive snap streak — into the team’s Ring of Honor and celebrate an 11-year career that spanned highs, lows and everything in between. 

“I think what he has done, the way he played, the way that he conducted himself with class within this organization, the way he conducted himself out in the community and all of the good things that he did for this football team will never be forgotten,” Jackson said. “Joe Thomas is a class person and a great, great football player.”

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