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Game Day

'Never doubt 6': Rookie QB Baker Mayfield leads Browns to victory in debut

CLEVELAND — Earlier this year at the NFL's scouting combine, Baker Mayfield dripped with confidence as he made his case to be the Browns' quarterback of the future and the draft's first overall pick. 

"I think if anybody's gonna turn that franchise around," he said in March, "it'd be me."

Consider Thursday night a start. 

Mayfield lifted Cleveland in a dramatic 21-17 win over the Jets, ending a winless streak that dates back to December 2016. 

"This is one is up there, being the first NFL game that I have played in. First regular season one that actually counts," Mayfield said postgame. "So it's definitely up there for me. I've had some great memories. But I'm just getting started."

Mayfield, who replaced injured starter Tyrod Taylor late in the second quarter, passed for 201 yards on 17-of-23 throws, igniting a second-half comeback while stirring a raucous crowd at FirstEnergy Stadium in the process. It was a storybook kind of night that seemed to mark the beginning of a new chapter in Cleveland and end of another. Following the franchise's first winless season, Mayfield and a score of new and familiar faces are expected to bring brighter days. 

"That's why we drafted him," head coach Hue Jackson said. "We drafted him for that reason. He has that magnetism. He has it. He's still a young player; got a lot of work to do. Has got to keep working. 

"But, tonight is his night. It was his coming out party. It is just really ironic that it happened that the quarterback on the other side was a rookie, too. Baker did some good things tonight. He truly did."

Indeed, Mayfield outshined his rookie counterpart, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, in a game where he wasn't expected to play. Taylor, named the team's starter March 15, suffered a concussion with 3:01 to play before halftime after being sacked on a third-and-12. He was taken into the team's locker room shortly after and did not return. 

Mayfield, Jackson said, didn't blink. That's been the former Oklahoma star and Heisman Trophy winner's M.O. since Cleveland tabbed him over Darnold and a handful of other talented signal-callers this past spring. They pointed to Mayfield's poise, arm talent, passion and leadership amid a chorus of critics who described him as undersized, among other things. 

"I'm laughing because at one time people said, 'Whoa, we shouldn't have drafted him.' Now, everybody says, 'Dang, he can really throw!'" Jackson said, laughing. 

"You laugh at that. I like that. In general, when we took him, he was too small, he couldn't throw this, couldn't throw that. Now, 'Dang, look at the throws that he makes.' I'm not surprised by any throws that this young man makes. I told you guys, he does things in practice that I just go, 'Oh my gosh.' Timing. Timing is everything. The right time. The right situation. You can't deny the talent. You can't deny what he's able to do. He showed that tonight."

Mayfield provided a much-needed spark to a Browns offense that tallied just 112 yards at halftime. He was patient in the pocket and precise with his passes. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who caught eight of those balls for 103 yards, said Mayfield is as impressive off the field as he is on it. 

"The mentality, the attitude that he has always approached it since he stepped into this building. Never doubted him," Landry said. 

"I don't think there is a coach or a player in this building who has doubted him or felt like we were in a disadvantage when he came onto the field. That's something that you have to love about him. That's why he was the first pick. That is why he was the Heisman Trophy winner. You saw it tonight first hand."

It was the kind of performance the Browns have longed for after decades of instability at the position. Mayfield was lights out against a Jets defense that terrorized Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in a statement game of a season opener two weeks ago. Though Jackson made clear he's not ready to name Mayfield the team's starter from here on out, the showing gave him and Browns fans a heavy dose of hope. 

There was never a doubt 

"Doubt who?" Landry said, equally incredulous and full of joy. 

"Never doubt 6."