CLEVELAND – Baker Mayfield found Odell Beckham Jr. and maybe some of his missing swagger.
Mayfield threw two touchdown passes, Nick Chubb ran for two points and 124 yards and the Cleveland Browns gave coach Kevin Stefanski his first NFL victory Thursday night by beating the Cincinnati Bengals 35-30 on the NFL’s 100th anniversary.
Mayfield joined Odell Beckham Jr. on a 43-yard pass in the first half when the Browns (1-1) recovered from a terrible performance last week in Baltimore, where they were rough 38-6 by the Ravens and looked most uncomfortable in Stefanski’s debut.
“We are not going to go on the scales,” Stefanski said. “We do not look behind or look ahead.”
Things went much smoother for Mayfield and Cleveland’s offense against the Bengals (0-2) and the overall pick Joe Burrow, who threw three TD passes and showed incredible balance in just his second game.
Burrow’s third TD pass – a 9-yard to Tyler Boyd with 43 seconds left – pulled the Bengals within five, but the Browns recovered the ensuing kick in place and ran out the clock.
Mayfield made it a priority to get the ball early to Beckham, who had just three catches for 22 yards in the opening. Beckham finished with four catches for 74 yards.
Mayfield completed 16 of 23 passes for 219 yards with an interception. But he spreads the ball to eight different receivers, and the Browns collected 215 yards rushing.
“You always want to get the ball in the players’ hands early, so those guys are in it,” Mayfield said. “I thought we took advantage of our gamers’ abilities. I’m surrounded by talent. I want to get the ball in their hands. ”
Chubb and Kareem Hunt were a powerful 1-2 blow to Cleveland. Hunt had a TD catch, ran for one point and rushed for 86 yards.
“They are two talented backs who compliment each other and drive each other,” said Stefanski. “We’ll be looking for ways to get the guys to rock.”
Burrow finished 37 of 61 for 316 yards. He was fired three times and had an unfortunate moment when he tried to call a timeout and let the ball sneak past him. But the reigning Heisman Trophy winner matched Mayfield pass by pass, showing why the Bengals believe he can turn them around.
“The hype is real with Joe,” Mayfield said. “Obviously that team loves him. They follow him and he leads them. ”
Burrow’s attempt was the second most in the history of a rookie. Only Carolina’s Chris Weinke (63) threw more in a game as a rookie.
“Losing is not very fun,” said Burrow, who led LSU to a national title last season. “This is perhaps the only time I have lost two games in a row. It does not feel so good. … Losing is unacceptable to me. ”
Fittingly, the match between Ohio teams came when the NFL officially became a century old. It was September 17, 1920, when an agreement during a meeting in Canton laid the foundation for what became a multi-billion dollar company and America’s most popular sport.
There were 6,000 fans at FirstEnergy Stadium in 68,000 seats for Cleveland’s home opener after the Browns were granted a departure from the state of Ohio to allow greater COVID-19 rules.
Fans were socially distant, masked for the most part and took the necessary energy with them after both teams played in empty arenas in Baltimore and Cincinnati a week ago. Some of the highest bowl came after Beckham’s TD.
Mayfield’s scoring strike to Beckham in the second quarter was the kind of game the Browns saw the pair play more often.
After faking a pass, Mayfield rolled to the left to buy time before raising a perfect throw down the sideline to Beckham, who beat Bengals cornerback William Jackson III to give the Browns a 14-3 lead.
Burrow kept the Bengals in it with a 23-yard TD to CJ Uzomah in the second quarter, but Cincinnati’s defense could not slow down the Browns and Mayfield threw a 6-yard TD pass to a wide-open chase gave Cleveland a 21-10 lead.
The Browns drove it to 28-13 in the third quarter on Chubb’s second TD run, which came after Myles Garrett stripped Burrow near the finish line and Cleveland recovered.