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Browns Finally Get Their Moment With Baker Mayfield Under Center

Sports Illustrated logo Sports Illustrated 9/21/2018 Conor Orr

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Hue Jackson once told those close to him that he felt the “earth move beneath my feet” during a private workout with Robert Griffin III back in 2016.

One has to wonder, amid Cleveland’s stunning comeback win over the Jets led by a freewheeling, fastball-throwing Baker Mayfield on Thursday Night Football, if Jackson felt the earth split to its core this time, releasing thousands of Cleveland football-hating demons in the process. If he felt his fortunes finally changing after more than 600 days on this planet without logging a victory. If he felt hell starting to freeze over. 

BOX SCORE: BROWNS 21, JETS 17

Here was a night for the Browns. Quite possibly for the first time in 24 years, it felt like they did something right, like a savior had arrived; like a true exorcism, and not some free agency-generated Band-Aid that did just enough to keep fans from jumping over a cliff. 

After coming in for Tyrod Taylor who suffered a concussion just before halftime, Mayfield went 17-of-23 for 201 yards (100.8 rating). The Browns, at that point trailing 14-0, went on to outscore the Jets 21-3 the rest of the way. Three different running backs rushed for more than four yards a carry. Carlos Hyde scored twice on his 28th birthday, while also awaiting the birth of his child.

It might not last. Maybe this was just a chance for a bunch of bars in Cleveland to empty out those promotional Bud Light fridges before the beer starts to spoil (even if no one would know the difference). Maybe this was just the NFL gods apologizing for an especially macabre opening to the season where they tied the Steelers despite forcing seven turnovers then lost to the Saints on the foot of an emotionally rattled kicker.

But didn’t it feel like the beginning of something? Evil forces destroyed this franchise once before, so their true rebirth deserves the type of poetic flare we saw on Thursday. Mayfield was outperforating an above-average Jets defense. He was hitting receivers in stride, or in those special, out-of-the-way windows where only they can catch it. The offense bloomed for the first time in the Jackson era and this expensive, highly-drafted collection of skill position players finally started operating at full capacity. This wasn’t Johnny Manziel wobbling blindfolded through a defense and chucking a once-in-a-lifetime game-winner.

This was calculated. This looked formidable.

After watching Patrick Mahomes rip out the NFL’s wires and scramble the system over the first two weeks of the NFL season, and Sam Darnold whoop the Lions on Monday Night Football in the opening week, there is hope that once the current upper-tier of quarterbacks vanish into retirement, there will be a group remaining to push the game forward.

The Browns, against all odds, may have one of those quarterbacks.   

At the least, the team has the type of player that caused delirious fans to stick around after the game, clogging the concourse and the overpass near the stadium. They had a name to chant without a hint of sarcasm or irony.

This is a fan base that would have gladly accepted one good night given their recent history and all the various disasters that have pockmarked the franchise. It is a group of people taught to savor moments in lieu of championships, or even just appreciate brief windows of time where the team operates like a functional entity and not some brakeless semi-truck barreling into a landfill.

Just imagine what will happen if one good night turns into two.  

Related slideshow: Best of the NFL season (provided by photo services)

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