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News & Notes: Baker Mayfield, Rashard Higgins continue to ride unflappable connection

The duo shined in Tennessee, and their celebration looked even sweeter

If you ask Rashard Higgins what the smoothest part of Baker Mayfield’s four-touchdown performance Sunday in Jacksonville was, he wouldn't answer with anything that had to do with Mayfield throwing the football.

All of his passes were certainly crisp, but the most picturesque moment of the afternoon came in the seconds after Mayfield tossed his fourth touchdown to Higgins to make history as the first Browns quarterback to throw four touchdown passes in the first half since Otto Graham in 1951.

Higgins broke out his signature red carpet celebration after the catch. Just before he straightened his tie and picked up his suitcase, Mayfield sprinted and performed a perfect 360-degree slide to get in position to take his imaginary pictures. 

"That was pretty impressive, I'm not even going to lie," Higgins said. "It might be the most athletic thing I've ever seen him do. That was pretty nice."

The slide was just one of the several highlights Mayfield and Higgins made Sunday — Higgins led Browns receivers with 95 yards on six receptions and strung together several key catches that helped the Browns score 38 first-half points, their most ever in franchise history.

The performance was just another to add to the list of games that showcase how special the chemistry has been between Mayfield and Higgins ever since they teamed up in 2018. That connection was needed ever since Higgins was tabbed to fill some of the void left from Odell Beckham Jr.'s season-ending injury, and he certainly covered all expectations again Sunday.

"What me and Baker have is special," Higgins said. "We've put the work in, day in and day out. He puts me in a position to win."

The red carpet is always ready to be rolled out for Higgins, and Mayfield is always ready to join the photo gallery.

"I had my credentials on and was able to take some good photos," Mayfield joked. "Flawless."

'A Completely Different Team'

There's no doubt among the Browns that they've made considerable strides since their Week 1 game against the Baltimore Ravens.

That result, a 38-6 loss to the AFC North rival, exposed several areas of work the Browns needed to address to meet their goals this season. The passing game was poor. The run game never truly took off. The defense struggled to make stops against what was considered one of the most dangerous offenses in the league.

Now, just about all of those trends have flipped. The Browns are surging ahead with one of the most efficient offenses in the NFL, while the defense currently is tied for third in the NFL with 20 takeaways.

"We are a completely different team than we were early on – obviously, for the better," Mayfield said. "We have learned a lot about ourselves scheme-wise, personnel-wise and what we need to be able to do to have that success."

The Browns made a statement last week in their win over the Titans that their improvements were built to last. Now, if they can extend their winning streak to five games on a Monday night primetime stage, there will be even more evidence that those improvements have turned the Browns into one of the most threatening teams in the AFC.

"The next step for us is consistency," Mayfield said. "Whoever we are playing, we have to be able to go out and do our job. It doesn't matter who, where or when it is, we have to be able to do our job."

Week by Week

Sure, the Browns might be a much improved football team since Week 1, but their focus and approach for each week hasn't changed.

As players and coaches field questions about what it means to be on a winning Cleveland football team, several players have maintained the attitude of keeping their focus on whatever is ahead the week.

If the playoffs do come, then that'll make the feeling of success even sweeter. They're not getting too far ahead, and they'll be ready to celebrate when the work is finally done. 

"There's a lot of excitement — I'll say that," Higgins said. "But there's still this feeling in the locker room that, yeah we've won, but we haven't accomplished anything yet."

Injury Updates

Cornerback Denzel Ward and wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge were not at practice Thursday, but both continue to get closer to making a return.

"No real update other than they are both progressing," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "They remain day to day."

Stefanski, however, didn't rule out Ward, who has missed the last two games with a calf injury, for Monday night's game.

"I would not call it a long shot," he said. "I think we are going to see what he can do today with the guys off to the side and see what he can do tomorrow. I am hopeful, but I can't peg it with a percentage."

Right guard Wyatt Teller remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list, but Stefanski added he could return by the end of the week, too.

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