Baker Mayfield silences critics, at least for a week, in Browns’ thrilling comeback win

Baker Mayfield silenced the doubters for a week.  

It could have been so much worse for him had Cleveland lost to in-state rival Cincinnati and fellow No. 1 pick Joe Burrow on Sunday. The Browns could have had their AFC playoff credentials further examined leading up to a Week 8 matchup against the Raiders.

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Mayfield kept the noise down with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones with 11 seconds remaining to give Cleveland a 37-34 victory in Cincinnati. Mayfield finished 22 of 28 for 297 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. 

He answered a potential game-winning drive by Burrow, who finished 35 of 47 for 406 yards and three touchdowns. He shook off a slow start, which included an interception and losing star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a knee injury. He rattled off 21 straight completions at one point.  

That’s a hell of a response after a full week of criticism following the Browns’ 38-7 loss to the Steelers. Cleveland is 5-2, and that’s good enough for a week. Mayfield should be used to this routine by now, though. The scrutiny is heightened when you play in the Rust Belt Bermuda Triangle of NFL misery that consists of Cincinnati, Cleveland and Detroit.  

The Bengals and Lions have No. 1 picks at quarterback, too. Burrow is just getting started with the process, and Cincinnati has better days ahead. Detroit’s Matthew Stafford — who threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Dustin Hockenson on the final play of a 23-22 victory in Atlanta — can relate to the long-term fight for respect. Mayfield has the Browns in the best position among those three franchises this season, but there is extra pressure when you are expected to be the savior.   

Those three franchises and their fan bases live on week-to-week emotional paychecks, and Mayfield cashed in at crunch time at the expense of a bad Bengals defense.  

That does not diminish what Mayfield did in the final drive. He made it work with Peoples-Jones and Rashard Higgins, who caught a 30-yard pass to push the Browns to the Cincinnati 24. After a spike — which was Mayfield’s only incompletion after an 0-for-5 start — he delivered the game-winner.

Mayfield also threw two TDs to Harrison Bryant, one to David Njoku and one to Kareem Hunt. He carried his team, which was already without Nick Chubb and might lose Beckham for a while, too.  

That’s what franchise quarterback are supposed to do. Cleveland could have laid up for the game-tying field goal in that situation. It could have blown this game in overtime. The consequences would have fallen mostly on Mayfield, who is being questioned as the future of the franchise. 

The Browns are 5-2, and Mayfield swept Burrow in a pair of shootouts. Cleveland is blessed with a soft schedule that should produce at least 10 wins and a playoff berth. The remaining nine games:

The next step, of course, will be playing better against the franchises that live with year-to-year NFL prosperity. Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are more established contenders, but that’s a conversation for later in the season. On Sunday, Mayfield delivered. 

This week it’s about the Raiders.

Mayfield can prove it all over again in Week 8.  

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