Ryan Welton

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Cleveland Browns 21, Pittsburgh Steelers 21: Recap + stars + disappointments

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Our first game as official Cleveland Browns was quite the experience, and we didn’t lose!

We tied.

Cleveland battled back from a 21-7 deficit against Pittsburgh to send the game into overtime, but then offenses stalled for both teams. Not helped by a rain that was steady for all four hours of Sunday’s season-opening NFL broadcast, the Browns had a chance to win at the end thanks to a Joe Schobert interception that caused an earthquake along Lake Erie.

And in northwest Oklahoma City.

Kristi and I were out of our chairs on that one, reminiscent of Torrance Marshall’s pick against Texas A&M back in 2000. (Oklahoma Sooners) Schobert’s pick should have sealed a win for Cleveland except for a block-in-the-back penalty on Myles Garrett.

Ugh.

Zane Gonzales’ field goal attempt from 10-12 yards back was blocked.

And the Browns would have to settle for a tie, and so would we, their new football fans in Oklahoma.

The reason so many Oklahomans are now Cleveland Browns supporters? Easy. Baker Reagan Mayfield.

He didn’t play a single down against Pittsburgh, and that’s OK. The weather was 58 degrees and rainy, not ideal conditions for a newbie signal-caller. However, I’ll present this: Tyrod Taylor’s box score.

Taylor went 15 of 40 for 197 yards for a quarterback rating of 51.8.

Just sayin’.

He showed some poise at times, and to be fair, he didn’t make nearly the mistakes that Ben Roethlisberger made. Big Ben went 23 of 41 for 335 yards with three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 60.5.

What Baker Mayfield could have brought was some downfield urgency to Cleveland drives at the end of the first half, fourth quarter and overtime periods. Mayfield was used to working super fast at Oklahoma, and his accuracy is uncanny. I get that he’s new, but I’ll stand on this until my dying day: the Cleveland coaches played this week to “not mess it up” today instead of playing to win.

Kudos to Gregg Williams and the Cleveland defense, and major kudos to new cornerback Denzel Ward. Ward signed a four-year contract worth a little more than $29 million, and I think he’s got the early clubhouse lead on Rookie of the Year honors, finishing the day with six tackles and two interceptions for 26 yards.

Todd Haley’s offense failed to capitalize on momentum, I thought. In the third quarter, running back Carlos Hyde went off, leading the Browns to a touchdown and a 7-7 game. While Taylor finished off the drive with a 20-yard run, Hyde accounted for 34 yards on four carries.

And then the Browns pretty much abandoned the run.

Pittsburgh immediately made it 14-7, and while Cleveland attempted a couple of Hyde runs, Taylor threw incomplete on first down deep to Jarvis Landry. Landry finished the day with seven balls for 106 yards. Hyde lost a couple on second down, and then Taylor was sacked by T.J. Watt, who had a monster game for Pittsburgh.

I don’t believe Watt is J.J.’s brother. I believe he’s a clone. Phenomenal player. Watt finished the day with 11 tackles, including four for loss.

The Steelers opened up a 21-7 lead, and Cleveland worked a little magic to tie it up. After a fumble was recovered and then nearly squandered by Jabrill Peppers at the goal line, Hyde rammed it home from the 1 to make it 21-14 with 7:32 to play.

After a pair of quick series, Taylor did his best work with a two-play drive that culminated in a 17-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon with 1:58 left to play. The first play of that series was a 38-yard pass to Rashard Higgins.

Zero complaints there, and from Haley’s perspective, it was the right play-calling at the right time.

Cleveland got the ball back one last time, but Taylor was intercepted on a deep ball to Gordon.

The story of the day was: nice comeback and plenty of chances for the Browns at the end. If there was a disappointment for me as a new fan who absolutely watched the “Hard Knocks” series on HBO, it was David Njoku. The TE from the University of Miami caught three balls for 13 yards, but it sure seems like he dropped a whole bunch of easy balls. I’d also cite end-of-period game management as a frustration.

No, we newbie Oklahoma fans of the Dawg Pound have nothing to complain about. We haven’t suffered like you guys in northeast Ohio, but I wish you would have seen us when Schobert intercepted that ball in OT. We damn near brought the house down.

And you’d best believe we’ll do it again for Cleveland-New Orleans next week.

Go Browns!

Featured photo by Erik Drost

 

Baker Mayfield’s Cleveland Browns debut was about what I expected

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It’s tough being a Cleveland Browns fan.

I’ve been one for only one game, so maybe it’s not so tough. The Brownies are 1-0 on the young preseason thanks to a good first drive by Tyrod Taylor and two super solid quarters from No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield, resulting in a 20-10 win over the New York football Giants.

For the record, I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan by birth, but I’ve wandered like Jimmy Swaggart over the years. I’m currently following the Los Angeles Rams because I like their uniforms, the Jacksonville Jaguars because of their unis and the fact that they nearly dethroned the Patriots last year.

And the Browns.

Because Baker.

Because I’m a Sooner, and that dude was the greatest Sooner of them all.

Was he a better quarterback than Sam Bradford? Don’t know about that.

Was he a better passer than Jason White? Don’t know about that.

But Oklahoma fans had prayed and prayed for somebody with a transformational spirit about him, somebody whose energy was as contagious as Tim Tebow’s — and we got him in Baker Mayfield. I’d guess that 95% of all Cleveland Browns fans are in Ohio (where Baker’s flag is already planted, ha ha).

The other five are in Oklahoma. Seriously. There’s Browns gear in every sports store in the Sooner State.

What makes Baker a hell of an NFL prospect was on display tonight. The dude can place the pig where nobody else but you can catch it, and he can do it in a way that doesn’t risk your body and that leads you into the clear.

Mayfield’s first touchdown pass came with 6:43 to go in the half, a 10-yard strike to David Njoku, who caught two touchdowns against the Giants. The tight end from the U was all about the scores Thursday night, finishing with 46 yards on two receptions, both scores. However, it was Mayfield’s pass into triple coverage that attracted all the attention.

He put it where only Njoku could have gotten it.

It was the same deal when Mayfield fired an across-the-middle strike to Antonio Callaway for a 54-yard touchdown with 13:37 left in the game to give the Browns their final margin of victory, 20-10.

Sure, Baker showed off his legs a couple times on crucial third downs, but he didn’t look like Cam Newton running the ball.

And it’s hard to tell the extent to which Baker has the ear of the rest of the club. At Oklahoma, Mayfield had a way of getting everybody around him on board with the plan, and those guys would have taken a bullet for him.

That very well could happen in Cleveland.

Having watched HBO’s first episode of “Hard Knocks,” I’m not 100 percent sure Hue Jackson is the type of coach who’s going to turn around an organization like Cleveland. He’s not rah-rah enough. I recall watching the Cardinals’ season on “Hard Knocks” and thinking, “Bruce Arians is a guy who can affect change.”

We’ll see.

What’s particularly exciting for Browns fans and even me, a first-time Cleveland Browns rooter, is that if they could get Josh Gordon back (and keep him off drugs) and if they could somehow lure Dez Bryant to the shores of Lake Erie, Cleveland would be set up quite nicely at the receiving corps.

Njoku is solid, and Jarvis Landry is already fantastic.

I’m sure Tyrod Taylor is a talented dude, and he seems to be a terrific guy.

But Baker Mayfield demonstrated throughout his college career an uncanny ability to place a football precisely where it needs to go. And then he turns around and does it for two scores in his NFL debut, albeit preseason.

What will eventually separate Mayfield from his competition, however, is that he’s a transformational leader. People flock to him. They want to play with him, play for him and will get on board (eventually) with whatever he wants to do on the field.

Even though it was just a preseason game, tonight’s effort against the Giants was a fantastic start to the NFL career of Baker Reagan Mayfield.

I’m not crazy. I don’t have him booked for Canton already.

But of all the people on planet Earth, Mayfield is probably the last dude I’d bet against.

Cleveland should be very excited to have this guy on their team.

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