CHARLOTTE, NC — Baker Mayfield walked into the Browns game supposedly saying he wanted “(expletive)” his old team and peddling T-shirts that he was “off leash.”
Myles Garrett admitted he didn’t respond to a kind farewell text from Mayfield and that their relationship was complicated.
Mayfield turned dangerous in the second half and nearly beat his old team by scoring 17 points on the board in the fourth quarter, to put the Panthers up 24-23, including a field goal with 1:13 left that gave Carolina its first lead of the game. .
But Jacoby Brissett, who struggled for most of the game, marched the Browns down the field and handed it to rookie kicker Cade York, who, with ice in his veins, netted a 58-yard field goal with eight seconds left for the 26-24 win. Those 70-yard field goals in pregame warmups were no mirages.
“I made a joke (on the night of my rookie dinner) about bringing myself to the 40 (yard line),” York said. “Trust is just doing it.
“I don’t really celebrate kicks, but that one was a bit different.”
Brissett, who fired a hard call on the opener, hit Donovan Peoples-Jones with a 14-yard clutch pass that kept the drive alive.
“I didn’t want to go for 50 yards early in this game,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “I just wanted him to see the ball go through the uprights. But then we knew that if we needed him, we were going to call on him.
It was the Browns’ first win in a first game since 2004. They are now 2-21-1 in first games since 1999.
Nick Chubb rushed for 141 yards and Kareem Hunt scored two touchdowns. The defense stifled Mayfield in the first half.
The game had as much drama as the events that preceded it.
Mayfield hit receiver Robbie Anderson — the same Anderson who initially said he didn’t want Mayfield in Carolina with a 75-yard touchdown pass on the Browns’ second missed coverage of the day. That pushed the Browns to 23-21 with 6:02 left in the game.
The first sloppy coverage was on a 50-yard strike off tight end Ian Thomas in the second quarter that led to a 1-yard TD from Christian McCaffrey that took Carolina up 14-7.
Mayfield, who had five assists, also brought the Panthers within 20-14 on a 7-yard run to open middle with 12:51 left in the game. He whipped the ball against the end zone wall brilliantly.
Christian McCaffrey owned the Browns on that drive, recovering a fumble snap from Mayfield and snarling 28 yards, forcing missed tackles along the way. He tacked on series of 9 and 5 before the TD of Mayfield.
The Browns missed a chance to extend their lead after Mayfield’s big TD pass, hitting just one first down and a punt of their 44. Jacoby Brissett, who struggled all game, missed Donovan Peoples-Jones on a short left pass on the third and -9.
It was a bold and dangerous performance from Mayfield against the team that waived him in favor of Deshaun Watson, who is serving an 11-game suspension under the Personal Conduct Policy. He finished completing 16 of 27 passes for 235 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Brissett was 18 for 34 for 147 yards and a touchdown.
Myles Garrett, working against rookie left tackle Ickey Ekwonu, came out strong in the second half with back-to-back sacks on Mayfield to blast a drive and force the Panthers to kick from their 24.
On the next drive, Garrett hit Mayfield’s arm for the Browns’ fifth at-bat of the game.
But Christian McCaffrey owned the Browns on that drive. He picked up a fumbled snap from Mayfield and rumbled 28 yards out, forcing missed tackles along the way. He tacked on series of 9 and 5 before the TD of Mayfield.
The Browns led 17-7 at halftime on two touchdowns from Kareem Hunt, one on reception and one on the ground, and a 26-yard field goal from Cade York.
The Panthers, smothered most of the half by the Browns defense, hit a TD, a 1-yard jump into the end zone, after some poorly made coverage by the Browns.
Hunt’s touchdowns came via a 1-yard catch and a 24-yard run, after which he flexed his biceps at the crowd, dotted with plenty of orange jerseys.
Hunt heads into the season miffed at not getting a contract extension, but promises to play with his vintage Tazmanian devil intensity. He largely managed to give the Browns a 14-0 advantage with 4:46 left in the half, then did it again on their final practice of the half after McCaffrey’s touchdown to set up York’s kick. .
Hunt caught a 24-yard screen and got a big block from Wyatt Teller, who drew a 15-yard flag against safety Xavier Woods for an illegal low block to move the Browns to the Panthers 24. Two great runs from Nick Chubb move the Browns to the 9, and after a smart play from Kevin Stefanski that forced the Panthers to burn a timeout, York nailed the short field goal.
Mayfield completed 10 of 19 attempts for 101 yards — 50 on blown coverage — en route to a 46.2 rating, and Brissett completed 8 of 18 attempts for 75 yards and 1 TD en route to a 75.0 rating. .
The Browns defense knew they would have to dominate during Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension, and they delivered on their promises — except for tight end Ian Thomas’ expensive, blown second-quarter coverage — left all alone to spin down the field – which led to McCaffrey’s TD with 1:57 remaining at halftime.
But the Browns made up for it somewhat with the basket with 21 seconds left at halftime.
The first-half defensive dominance began on Mayfield’s first pass of the game when Jadeveon Clowney smashed it and snowballed from there. By the end of the first half, the Browns had completed four passes, sacked Mayfield twice, and eliminated him once, by safety Grant Delpit on a pass down the middle that went straight to him.
Clowney followed with his second slap pass later in the quarter, then rookies Alex Wright and Perrion Winfrey joined the swat team on back-to-back plays in the second quarter. Consecutive at-bats were followed by a Grant Delpit interception – on a ball to the left side thrown right towards him – to set up Hunt’s 1-yard TD catch.
It was the kind of expected performance from a miffed defense that Mayfield would have said when he said he planned to “screw” the Browns.
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