BY CHRIS MASCARO, The Sports Xchange
(Follow Chis and more on this game on https://footballmaven.io/jets/ )
It was the matchup everyone wanted to see -- Sam Darnold vs. Baker Mayfield, the future of football in New York and Cleveland.
And it didn't disappoint ... at least for Browns fans.
Bud Lights for everyone in Cleveland. Don't expect the party to end anytime soon.
Mayfield was brilliant making his NFL debut in relief of an injured Tyrod Taylor, leading the Browns to a 21-17 victory, their first since Christmas Eve 2016. The top pick of the 2018 draft, despite not throwing a touchdown pass, outdueled the No. 3 pick, leading Cleveland (1-1-1) to scores on four of his five drives. He finished 17-of-23 passing for 210 yards.
At 11:34 p.m. ET, the Bud Light beer fridges located in bars all around downtown Cleveland unlocked and long-suffering Browns fans, waiting 635 days for this, finally got some victory suds. The Browns, who were on a 1-35-1 streak, sealed the win when Terrance Mitchell intercepted Darnold's last-ditch attempt with 11 seconds left.
"It's unacceptable the way I played tonight," said Darnold, who finished 15-for-31 for 169 yards with two more interceptions (he leads the league with five). "But I gotta take it like a man."
Running back Carlos Hyde, celebrating his 28th birthday and with his child expected at any moment, scored two touchdowns, including the winning score from a yard out with 2:04 left.
The Jets lost despite a 14-0 head start on Mayfield, and Darnold played his worst game as a pro. On the Jets' penultimate drive, Jermaine Kearse made an excellent catch for 12 yards to convert a fourth-and-10. But on the next play, Darnold was picked off over the middle by Browns linebacker Joe Schobert.
The Jets (1-2) will lick their wounds before heading to Jacksonville in 10 days after playing their first three games in 12 days.
"We will have a good football team," said coach Todd Bowles, who acknowledged his defense was "gassed" in the second half. "I don't want to lose to anybody, so the fact we lost to (the Browns) is no different than losing to New England, or anybody else. I don't like to lose games, period, and they don't either."
Mayfield led the Browns on a 15-play, 75-yard drive, capped by Hyde's second touchdown, to give the Browns their only lead of the night. Mayfield was 6-of-8 for 60 yards on the drive.
His 29-yard laser to Landry with Doug Middleton in tight coverage -- the longest play for either team -- set up Hyde's first TD run with 42 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 14-12. The Browns got to retry the two-point conversion after offsetting penalties (the Jets' infraction being a Morris Claiborne hold) and converted on a "Philly Philly"-type play, on which Duke Johnson took a direct snap and pitched it to lefty wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who threw a pass to a wide-open Mayfield in the corner of the end zone.
"It was more the coverage than the play," Bowles said about his defense's lack of execution on the conversion. "We were on different pages, and the coverages were blown."
The play was reminiscent of one in the 2018 Rose Bowl, Mayfield's final collegiate game, when he caught a pass in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
Mayfield, the 23-year-old rookie out of Oklahoma, excited the sellout crowd of 67,431 at FirstEnergy Stadium, who vigorously booed Taylor and chanted for Mayfield in the first half. The rookie entered for the Browns' last drive of the first half after Taylor entered concussion protocol because of hitting his head on the ground following Avery Williamson's sack.
Mayfield completed passes to Jarvis Landry and David Njoku for 31 yards, eclipsing Taylor's passing output on the six previous drives in only two plays. The drive ended with new Browns kicker Greg Joseph hitting a 45-yard field goal to make it 14-3 with 27 seconds left in the half.
Another high 2018 draft pick set up Cleveland's second score as the No. 4 pick, cornerback Denzel Ward, stripped Robby Anderson and recovered on the Jets' 8-yard line. But the Browns couldn't move the ball a yard, so they settled for Joseph's 27-yard field goal to make it 14-6.
Joseph has only been with the team a few days after Zane Gonzalez missed two of his four field goals in New Orleans on Sunday, including a 52-yarder that would've tied the game with eight seconds left, and both his extra points.
In a bit of irony, one of the guys around for much of Cleveland's losing the last few years did the most to nearly keep the Browns out of the win column. Isaiah Crowell, who spent this first four years in Cleveland before coming to the Jets in the offseason, scored the first two touchdowns to give New York a 14-0 lead.
After Kevin Pierre-Louis blocked a punt to give the Jets the ball on the Browns' 28-yard line, Crowell waltzed in from 7 yards out to make it 7-0 on the first play of the second quarter. The key play on the drive was Darnold's 16-yard pass to Quincy Enunwa on third-and-1.
Following a three-and-out, the Jets had their longest drive of the night, going 63 yards on 10 plays, capped by Crowell's 2-yard touchdown to make it 14-0 with 7:54 left in the second quarter. Darnold again covered a third down with a 16-yard connection with Enunwa.
But on their last eight drives of the game, the Jets turned the ball over three times and managed only three points on Jason Myers' 28-yard field goal that made it 17-14 with 8:56 left in the game.
Said Bowles: "We should be (upset) up until we play the game next weekend in Jacksonville."