After five games, however, the rebuilding of the Browns has been put on fast-forward, thanks to Mayfield.
The Browns evened their record at 2-2-1 Sunday with a 12-9 triumph at home over the Baltimore Ravens, courtesy of kicker Greg Joseph’s 37-yard field goal with two seconds left in overtime.
It was a low, ugly kick to end an eyesore of a game. The Browns and Ravens apparently didn’t get the memo that this NFL season is all about offense, as they combined for only one touchdown.
The NFL nearly had its third tie game of the season. The Browns nearly were left lamenting another possible officiating gaffe, as a would-be penalty on the Ravens’ Brandon Carr against Cleveland wide receiver Jarvis Landry went uncalled in overtime.
But the Browns made certain that none of that mattered. Joseph, after missing a 55-yarder at the end of regulation, delivered in overtime, and the Browns are a .500 team. They are, with Mayfield, at team of possibilities.
Mayfield was decent but not great Sunday, connecting on 25 of 43 passes for 342 yards. He threw a touchdown pass. But he also threw an interception and was sacked five times, and had a fine-but-not-overwhelming passer rating of 81.7.
He has made two starts since coming off the bench, in relief of Taylor, to beat the New York Jets and give the Browns their first victory since the 2016 season. The Browns could have, and probably should have, won Mayfield’s first NFL start in Oakland, with a couple of officiating blunders (one acknowledged by the league and one not) playing a role in that. They did win start No. 2 Sunday.
That means that the Browns have come a long, long way since the 1-31 misery of the previous two seasons. It means that Dorsey made the right choice when he went with Mayfield — not Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Josh Rosen, the other quarterbacks picked in the top 10 — with the top overall selection in the NFL draft.
The Browns are a competent, competitive team. They trail the first-place Cincinnati Bengals, who are 4-1, and the Ravens, who are 3-2, in the AFC North. But they’re tied with the Steelers at 2-2-1. A .500 season no longer seems outrageous. Playoff contention? That might be asking too much. But you never know.
In the NFL, it’s all about getting the quarterback. And the Browns have their guy.
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