Are the Cleveland Browns must-watch television? After season upon season of being televised only in the two markets on the field, is it possible that the Browns—the Cleveland Browns—are worthy of attention?
Sure, they had Hard Knocks. And sure, they have a wide receiver in Jarvis Landry who wasted no time in being on t-shirts throughout the city. Maybe it’s the Baker effect, or maybe it’s just the product of winning two of the last three, but the Browns have entered into territory where not only are they being discussed outside of Cleveland; they’re being discussed as a team that could be flexed into a nationally televised spot later this year. Maybe it’s Browns-Ravens Part Deux. Mabye it’s Mayfield-versus-Mahomes in November? Baker-versus-Cam a few weeks later?
Either way: The point is not only are the Browns finally relevant again, they’re relevant for the right reasons. Heading into this season, it was “har har maybe they win a game this year.” Suddenly, you have a team that’s covered the spread all five weeks, going to blows with three teams many had pegged into the conference championship picture. Sure, they’re .500 after five weeks (because only the Browns can be .500 after an odd number of games played), but we went from a roster who may have been able to luck into something close to a win to one that now expects to win.
For nearly two decades, the Browns were a team that every other fan base circled as a win when the schedule was released. Now, they have a roster of players who no longer accept that mindset. Sure, playing close games can provide just as much misfortune as fortune, but when you have a team that refuses to quit, the latter tends to seep through much more often than not.
Sometimes, being a “tough out” isn’t so bad.
WINNER: Baker Mayfield
The kid has stones. After the first play of a high-leverage drive went for an 11-yard loss, Baker Mayfield casually stepped to the line of scrimmage to call out protection, then dropped back into shotgun formation near the Browns’ goal line. He eventually scrambled for 13 yards, to bring the Browns to 3rd-and-8 inside their own 20-yard line with the game on the line. This situation is unfortunate for a variety of reasons, but strip out time remaining and field position for a moment, and realize that while other teams seemingly excel in 3rd-and-long situations, the Browns, for the last 19 years, had not.
Mayfield couldn’t care less about the last 19 years.
Mayfield took the 3rd-and-8 snap and was immediately flushed back as Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs pushed left tackle Desmond Harrison directly into the quarterback. Mayfield, with the line of scrimmage at the 18, dropped all the way back to the 6-yard line and delivered an absolute strike for a first down to little-known receiver Derrick Willies. Had Willies been tackled after the catch, it would have been first down with 1:55 left on the clock, but the receiver had other ideas. After Balitmore took a timeout, the Browns ran off tackle twice, with Duke Johnson picking up 15 and five yards in consecutive plays. The rest, as you know by now, was a win.
Baker Mayfield’s home debut saw him lead a touchdown drive in the first half and the game-winning drive in overtime. He left his first start at FirstEnergy Stadium with a higher QB rating than Joe Flacco. He completed five passes for more than 20 yards. He won the game. It wasn’t pretty, but since when does that matter?
WINNER: Denzel Ward
I typically try to alternate winners and losers but why be that guy—especially today? Part of building a winning culture is adding winners, and when you draft a kid like Denzel Ward minutes after you draft Baker Mayfield, you draft a player who’s not used to losing at any level.
Ward is a rookie who was asked to go one-on-one with Antonio Brown in his first NFL start. A week later, he went at it with Michael Thomas. On Sunday, he was everywhere he needed to be, not just playing, but making plays. Sure, he missed a couple of tackles, but you take the “bad” if it means playing some of the best coverage the Browns have seen since peak Joe Haden.
Denzel Ward here to haunt everyone’s draft day dreams
— Mike Golic Jr (@MGolicJR57) October 7, 2018
Meanwhile, Bradley Chubb isn’t even the best Chubb.1
WINNER: Jabrill Peppers
Fans (rightfully) shot back this week when Peppers went to the media and said he felt he was being treated unfairly because he went to Michigan. And while there are likely some derelicts out there who care about things like this, most fans have (rightfully) been upset with Peppers because of his lack of tangible production. He had a rookie season to forget and is a part of the league’s worst special teams unit. This past Sunday, however, saw a Peppers who was disruptive throughout the entire contest. Yes, he caught a punt at the 5-yard line (again), but when he was on defense, No. 22 was flying around the field, blowing up blocks, knocking would-be receivers out of plays, and/or forcing incompletions. While the bar was set very low, Peppers had a hell of a contest.
WINNERS: Derrick Willies and Rashard Higgins
When was the last time the Browns could say they had a “next man up” mentality? While Willies could easily be this year’s Frisman Jackson, it was great to see the kid make the most of his opportunities.
Higgins turned his four targets into three receptions, 66 yards, and a score. A hell of a bounce-back from the incorrect route that turned into an early interception. Bonus points for the red carpet rollout for “Hollywood.”
They really rolled out the red carpet for Hollywood after his TD ✨ pic.twitter.com/0hYKdlxLCa
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) October 8, 2018
LOSER: Officials, yet again
I’m not sure what was more egregious: The late-game intentional grounding that didn’t get called on Joe Flacco, or this, a play that is bound to get the “um, yeah sorry we got that one wrong” treatment later this week:
Totally clean defense. pic.twitter.com/hgdhHRzliL
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) October 7, 2018
BONUS LOSER: Joe Flacco
Given the penalty disparity and complete lack of calls to go the Browns’ way, it take some serious eyebrows to be pissed about the one call that went against you.
Joe Flacco: Key penalty on Ravens in OT was "kind of bogus" https://t.co/ZLc3s4Ii7e
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) October 8, 2018
WINNER: Gregg Williams
Sure, he brought the house on a play that was ripe to get picked apart by a screen late in the game, but even the staunchest of Twitter trolls need to recognize that Williams’ defense held the Baltimore Ravens to nine points. This is the same Ravens team that scored 47, 23, 27, and 26 points, respectively, through the first four weeks of the season. After allowing a few big runs early, the team buckled down. After getting tore up a week earlier, the secondary was near perfect. Maybe Baltimore left it all on the field against Pittsburgh a week earlier, but credit to Gregg (or “Gregggg” which is apparently a thing…) for taking advantage of whatever situation was in front of him.
LOSER: Desmond Harrison
While Harrison has strung together a few decent games, Terrell Suggs proved to be too much for the Browns’ new left tackle. The Joey Bosa-less Chargers should prove to be a bit easier to handle in Week 6.
And finally, the fans:
Winners: Mayfield, Gregg Williams, Willies, Denzel Ward, EJ Gaines, Hard Huttin’ Iabrill Peppers, OT Greg Joseph
Losers: Regular time Greg Joseph, John Harbaugh, Refs (again), first half Todd Haley, Flacco and Bal O, stupid challenge flags
— Tim Martins (@timothyamartins) October 7, 2018
Also, Winner: color rush uniform. Can we petition the league to wear these every week?
— Tim Martins (@timothyamartins) October 8, 2018
Winner: Cleveland Browns
Loser: Baltimore ravens
Think that covers it today!!!!
— #TheJake (@TheJAKEpod) October 8, 2018
Winner: TO margin. Takeaways like the Browns have had are a mark of a good team
Loser: Special Teams except for Britton Colquitt, who is a stud
— Matt Kuchar Stan Account (@jshmeezy6) October 7, 2018
Higgins. Ward and mayfield are obvious
— Jesse Bowden (@mhousej21) October 7, 2018
Winners Gregg Williams-Denzel Ward-Baker Mayfield- Britton Colquitt-ME
LOSERS: Refs-Chris Fedor-Kinda Greg Joseph-Rod Streater
— Bayless is Fedor Fedor is Bayless (@racjac23) October 7, 2018
Winner: Greg Joseph Loser: Greg Joseph
— Frank Ryan (@sports7765) October 7, 2018
WINNERS: Baker. The entire defense but Denzel Ward in particular. LOSERS: Special teams, so shaky again. The refs for trying to screw us for the second week in a row. Harbaugh, but what Harbaugh isn’t a loser?
— David Boehringer (@dboehringer) October 7, 2018
Winner the entire defense. Loser Amos and his St Unit & the refs.
— Justin (@JTK1985) October 7, 2018
Winners: DBs, Greg Joseph
Losers: Offense stalling, Greg Joseph
— Patrick Mayo (@AquaGlide12) October 7, 2018