CINCINNATI, Ohio — With the national media calling for his job and his back against the wall, Baker Mayfield — playing with a cracked rib — rebounded in a huge way during the Browns’ 37-34 victory over the Bengals on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Mayfield, who threw an interception on the first pass of the game for the second straight week, stormed back to throw five touchdown passes, all in the final three quarters, to improve the Browns to 5-2. The Bengals fell to 1-5-1.
The Browns started the game-winning drive on their own 25-yard line, trailing 34-31 with 1:06 to play and no timeouts. Mayfield hit rookie receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones down the middle for 13 yards. Then he hit Rashard Higgins for 8 yards, and Higgins for 30 yards to get Cleveland to the Cincinnati 24-yard line.
After a Mayfield spike to stop the clock and a Bengals timeout, Mayfield, under an intense rush in the pocket, then threw to the right side of the end zone, where Peoples-Jones hauled in an improbable catch for the touchdown. The play put the Browns ahead 37-34 with 11 seconds to play.
Kicker Cody Parkey missed the extra-point kick, and the Browns survived a Burrow Hail Mary pass to lock up the win.
“Obviously a great win for the team,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said after the game. “It’s important to build off these types of wins …. You have to go win the game on a 2-minute drive. ..That’s what good teams do.
“You’re going to play in these types of games every year. …I told the team last night, ‘You might have to go win it on the last play of the game.’ … To see them operate situationally, it was very impressive.”
The Browns lost Odell Beckham Jr. to a knee injury when he tried to make the tackle on the interception return on Mayfield’s pick. The extent of the injury was unknown during the game.
It was incredible quarterback duel between Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow and Mayfield, who always seems to play his best when the whole world is against him.
Burrow threw a TD pass to Giovanni Bernard with 1:06 left to make it 34-31, and Mayfield took over at his 25 with no timeouts left. He then engineered a five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a 24-yard TD pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Rashard Higgins came up big, catching six passes for 110 yards, including the great 30-yarder on the game-winning drive.
After his horrible 0-5 start, Mayfield completed 21 straight passes — followed by the spike to stop the clock and the game-winning TD pass — to set a Browns record. He finished the game 22 of 28 passing for 297 yards. His passer rating was 135.6.
Stefanski was asked if he was concerned about Mayfield after the slow start.
“He’s such a competitor. He just doesn’t give up,” Stefanski said. “He didn’t back down. Every time I looked at him, he had that steely look in his eyes…That’s the story of Baker, there’s nothing coming his way that he hasn’t seen before. I’m really proud of the way he responded.”
Burrow played a spectacular game, completing 35-of-47 attempts for 406 yards with 3 TDs and one interception for a 112.5 passer rating. He lost his starting left tackle and his starting center during the game, but he battled back time and again. He was also without his starting running back in Joe Mixon.
Mayfield, who’s playing with a cracked rib, a source confirmed for cleveland.com, threw an interception on his first pass of the game of the game for the second straight week. It was his fifth interception in six quarters.
It came less than a minute after Burrow threw a pick from the Browns’ 2-yard line to spoil an amazing opening drive. Browns cornerback Denzel Ward tipped Burrow’s pass over the middle and B.J. Goodson picked it off.
Mayfield took over at the Cleveland 4, and threw the pick on the second play of the drive, his first pass of the game, intended for Beckham down the right sideline.
The problem was, Beckham wasn’t looking for the ball and the two weren’t on the same page — at all. Bengals cornerback Darius Phillips picked it off, and Beckham suffered a game-ending knee injury trying to run Phillips down on his 27-yard return and make the tackle.
Beckham grabbed the knee while going to the ground, and then limped badly to the locker room. He was questionable to return, but ruled out by the second quarter.
That left the Browns with only three healthy receivers in the game in Jarvis Landry, Higgins and Peoples-Jones.
After Mayfield’s pick, Burrow took over at the Browns’ 24 and needed only three plays to cash in, on a 1-yard sneak with 6:47 left in the first quarter.
But Myles Garrett strip-sacked Burrow with three minutes left in the first, and Ronnie Harrison recovered. Cody Parkey made good on it with a 43-yard field goal with 1:21 left in the first to cut the deficit to 7-3. Garrett set a Browns record with a sack in six consecutive games, and it’s the longest active streak in the NFL.
The Bengals kicked a 37-yard field goal to go up 10-3, but the Browns rallied with a great 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended in a 3-yard Mayfield TD pass to Harrison Bryant for a 10-10 tie. Mayfield went 5-for-5 on the drive for 49 yards, including a 28-yard strike to Landry on the first play.
Burrow then produced a sensational drive of his own at the end of the first half — with his starting left tackle in Jonah Hill (neck) and his starting center in Trey Hopkins (concussion) both out of the game.
But Mayfield was without Nick Chubb, Beckham and Wyatt Teller.
Burrow drove 75 yards in 10 plays, hitting Tyler Boyd with an 11-yard TD pass in traffic at the goal-line to make it 17-10 Bengals with 15 seconds left in the half. The great play came just after Burrow was sacked for a 5-yard loss by Garrett, who leads the NFL with nine.
Mayfield came out with tremendous resolve in the second half, and threw a 6-yard TD pass to Bryant on the opening drive of the half. The drive began with a 35-yard pass to a wide open Bryant. He also caught a 12-yarder on the drive. At that point, Mayfield had thrown 10 straight for 114 yards after his horrible start.
Ward, who had one of his best games of the season, came up big on the Bengals’ next drive, breaking up a huge pass to A.J. Green in the back right of end zone on third down to force the Bengals to settle for a field goal and a 20-17 lead with 2:51 left in the third.
Mayfield took over again and found David Njoku singled up in the end zone for a 16-yard TD pass that put the Browns up 24-20 for their first lead of the game with 13:13 remaining. The drive featured a pair of 21-yard passed to Higgins.
But Burrow stormed back with another great drive, a 12-play 80-yard march that ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins, who broke the tackle attempts of B.J. Goodson and Sheldrick Redwine at about the 8. It put the Bengals back on top 27-24.
Mayfield threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game, an 8-yarder to Kareem Hunt, with 4:53 left in the game, to make it 31-27 Browns.
The Browns will host the Raiders Sunday at 1 p.m.
This post was updated at 6:14 p.m. to reflect that Mayfield’s record-setting string of consecutive completions reached 21.
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