The Cleveland Browns were not the darlings of the NFL offseason this time around. They are no one’s trendy pick to win the AFC North or to be in the playoff mix. Third-year quarterback Baker Mayfield is on his fourth NFL head coach. Trade speculation again is swirling around mercurial wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. One game into their 2020 season, many were ready to give up on them.

But they provided a warning Thursday night: Not so fast.

Mayfield prevailed over Joe Burrow in a compelling matchup of former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks and top overall picks in the NFL draft. Beckham had a few moments in the spotlight. And the Browns got into the win column, riding Mayfield’s two touchdown passes and two rushing touchdowns by tailback Nick Chubb to a 35-30 triumph in Cleveland over Burrow’s Cincinnati Bengals.

“That’s the expectation and standard for us,” Mayfield told the NFL Network after the game, “is to come out here and execute like that.”

Expectations were low for the Browns after their lopsided loss Sunday in Baltimore to open their season. They were major disappointments last season, going 6-10 amid considerable hype surrounding Beckham’s arrival and Mayfield’s expected development. That led to Kevin Stefanski replacing the fired Freddie Kitchens as the franchise’s latest coach.

The ugly defeat to the Ravens stirred a feeling that more of the same was at hand this season.

“The Ravens are a great team ... but we were just disappointed with how we played — our execution, the lack of focus on the details,” Mayfield said. “So we wanted to come out here with a short week ... and do our job, establish the run game, lean on those guys up front. And they did an incredible job.”

The Browns provided some excitement Thursday in a surprisingly captivating game before an announced crowd of 6,000. Mayfield threw an interception but had touchdown passes to Beckham and running back Kareem Hunt in a 16-for-23, 219-yard passing performance. Beckham’s 43-yard touchdown highlighted his four-catch, 74-yard night.

It was Beckham’s 11th straight game with fewer than 100 receiving yards. But it was far better than his three-catch, 22-yard game against the Ravens, in which he was targeted 10 times by Mayfield but the two appeared out of sync.

“I just got the ball out of my hand quicker,” Mayfield said. “We were just on the same page. I think last week, the Ravens are a physical team, grabbing and holding a little bit. It’s just when you’re off a little bit, you can tell. We were clicking tonight, and that’s how it should be. That’s what we expect.”

Chubb, operating behind a revamped offensive line, ran for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Hunt, in addition to his touchdown catch, ran for 86 yards and a touchdown, a one-yarder with just less than four minutes remaining in the game after the Bengals had closed to within 28-23. The Browns totaled 215 rushing yards while giving Stefanski his first victory.

“We got it going,” Beckham told the NFL Network. “We have two running backs who are both number one running backs in the league. And just to be able to get the ball running, it opens up everything else. So you’ve got to chalk it up to the first game. We’ve been working hard. Like I said, the Ravens came out and beat us. But we came out tonight and did what we needed to do.”

The Bengals fell to 0-2 but Burrow, the prized rookie drafted first overall in April, had his first three NFL touchdown passes in a 37-for-61, 316-yard showing. He was harassed by Cleveland pass rushers all night, losing a fumble on a sack by Myles Garrett to set up a Browns touchdown. Burrow’s third touchdown pass, covering nine yards to wide receiver Tyler Boyd with 43 seconds to play, kept the Bengals’ hopes alive. But the Browns recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.

“We lost,” Burrow said in a postgame video conference. “That’s the only thing that matters. We’ve just got to find a way to win games.”

According to the NFL’s research department, Burrow became the first rookie since 1950 to have 60 or more passing attempts in a game without an interception. He impressed NBA star LeBron James, who wrote on Twitter: “Burrow is SPECIAL! He has the ‘IT’ for sure.”

But Burrow was unimpressed with himself.

“Losing isn’t very fun,” he said. “This might be the only time in my sporting career that I’ve lost two games in a row. It doesn’t feel very good. I know guys in there are hurting. We’re going to come back to work tomorrow and try to get this thing right. Losing is unacceptable to me, to everybody in there, to Coach [Zac] Taylor, to everybody in this organization. So we’re just going to have to get it fixed.”

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September 17, 2020 at 11:31 PM EDT
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Kareem Hunt runs for touchdown to extend Browns’ lead

By Mark Maske

The Browns put together a drive when they had to have it. Kareem Hunt ran for a one-yard touchdown to cap a 75-yard drive as the Browns ran the ball right over the Cincinnati defense. (Browns 35, Bengals 23 with 3:55 left in the 4th quarter)

September 17, 2020 at 11:24 PM EDT
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Bengals get closer on Joe Burrow’s second touchdown pass

By Mark Maske

The Bengals keep hanging around in this game. They cashed in on the interception thrown by the Browns’ Baker Mayfield, scoring a touchdown on a four-yard pass from Joe Burrow to wide receiver Mike Thomas. Cincinnati converted on fourth and five during the drive. (Browns 28, Bengals 23 with 5:55 left in the 4th quarter)

September 17, 2020 at 11:07 PM EDT
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Mayfield throws interception deep in Bengals territory

By Mark Maske

Baker Mayfield made his first big mistake of the night by throwing an interception to Bengals cornerback William Jackson III, who was beaten in the first half for an Odell Beckham Jr. touchdown catch. The Bengals were called for a personal foul for a hit on Mayfield on the return but retain possession with a chance to draw closer. (Browns 28, Bengals 16 with 11:22 left in the 4th quarter)

September 17, 2020 at 11:01 PM EDT
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Bengals get field goal after touchdown overturned

By Mark Maske

The Bengals aren’t giving up. They appeared to have a touchdown on a four-yard run by Giovani Bernard, but it was overturned on a replay review that ruled Bernard was down inside the 1-yard line. Cincinnati had a first down there but was pushed backward by the Cleveland defense. The Bengals got another first down at the 2-yard line on a defensive holding penalty. But after moving in the wrong direction again, the Bengals were left settling for a 27-yard field goal by kicker Randy Bullock. (Browns 28, Bengals 16 with 20 seconds left in the 3rd quarter)

September 17, 2020 at 10:41 PM EDT
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Nick Chubb runs for touchdown after Myles Garrett forces fumble by Joe Burrow

By Mark Maske

The Browns finally converted on short yardage near the Cincinnati goal line. Tailback Nick Chubb scored on a one-yard run for his second rushing touchdown of the night. The Browns got the ball back at the Cincinnati 1-yard line by recovering a fumble by Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow on a sack by Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett. The Cincinnati defense, pushed back to its end zone again right after completing a goal-line stand with a fourth-down stop of Chubb, forced a first-down incompletion by Baker Mayfield but allowed Chubb’s touchdown on second and goal. (Browns 28, Bengals 13 with 5:45 left in the 3rd quarter)

September 17, 2020 at 10:36 PM EDT
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Bengals defense provides goal-line stand

By Mark Maske

The Bengals defense kept it a one-possession game with a goal-line stand, keeping the Browns out the end zone after they had a first down at the Cincinnati 1-yard line. Tailback Nick Chubb was kept out of the end zone on a fourth-down carry from the 2, down just shy of the goal line even as some Browns players signaled touchdown. Coach Kevin Stefanski left his offense on the field for the fourth-down play after calling a timeout.

The Browns earlier appeared to score on what would have been a 23-yard touchdown run by Chubb. But he was ruled, via an instant replay review, to be down by contact at the 1-yard line, setting up the goal line sequence. The Browns had converted during the drive on fourth and two from the Cincinnati 44. (Browns 21, Bengals 13 with 8:02 left in the 3rd quarter)

September 17, 2020 at 10:08 PM EDT
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Browns take 21-13 lead into halftime in Cleveland

By Mark Maske

Bengals vs. Browns on “Thursday Night Football” does not exactly conjure visions of NFL greatness. But it was a compelling first half in Cleveland as the Bengals’ Joe Burrow and the Browns’ Baker Mayfield square off in a matchup of former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks and top overall picks in the NFL draft.

Burrow threw his first NFL touchdown pass, a 23-yarder to tight end C.J. Uzomah, in his second NFL game, and completed 18 of 28 first-half passes for 169 yards. The Bengals got two field goals by kicker Randy Bullock, including a 43-yarder two seconds before halftime, and trail at the break, 21-13. Burrow ran a very nice two-minute drill after the Browns upped their lead to 21-10 with 1:31 remaining in the half.

Mayfield was even better and managed to get wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. highly involved in the Cleveland offense, as so many have been waiting to see. Mayfield threw two touchdown passes, a 43-yard strike to Beckham and a six-yard toss to running back Kareem Hunt, in an 11-for-14, 167-yard half. His first-half passer rating of 156.0 was not far from a perfect mark of 158.3.

Beckham had three catches for 68 yards. He has not had a 100-yard receiving game since Oct. 13 of last season, going 11 straight games without one.

Tailback Nick Chubb ran for 52 yards and a touchdown for Cleveland. (Browns 21, Bengals 13 at halftime)

September 17, 2020 at 9:48 PM EDT
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Baker Mayfield’s second touchdown pass increases Browns’ lead

By Mark Maske

The Browns are having a big first half on offense and added to their lead with Baker Mayfield’s second touchdown pass of the night, a simple six-yard toss to running back Kareem Hunt. The Bengals left Hunt uncovered as he came out of the backfield on the right side of the field, and Mayfield found him to finish a 12-play drive. The Bengals used some timeouts on defense and now have some time remaining for Joe Burrow to try to reply. (Browns 21, Bengals 10 with 1:31 left in the 1st half)

September 17, 2020 at 9:20 PM EDT
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Joe Burrow gets Bengals closer with first NFL touchdown pass

By Mark Maske

Joe Burrow’s first NFL touchdown pass drew the Bengals closer and provided a quick response to Baker Mayfield’s touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. Burrow zipped a gorgeous throw to tight end C.J. Uzomah, who lined up on the left side of the formation and got open downfield near the sideline, for a 23-yard score. (Browns 14, Bengals 10 with 9 minutes left in the 2nd quarter)

September 17, 2020 at 9:14 PM EDT
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Mayfield-to-Beckham touchdown ups Browns’ lead

By Mark Maske

With everyone waiting for Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham Jr. to get in sync, they teamed for a 43-yard touchdown to increase the Browns’ lead. Beckham beat Bengals cornerback William Jackson III with a double move, faking to the sideline and then cutting up the field. Mayfield, moving to his left, made an on-target throw. Beckham made the grab and tumbled into the end zone. Beckham has gone 11 straight games without a 100-yard receiving performance and is coming off a season opener in which he had only three catches for 22 yards on 10 targets in a loss in Baltimore. (Browns 14, Bengals 3 with 11:54 left in the 2nd quarter)

September 17, 2020 at 9:06 PM EDT
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Joe Burrow falls on fumble after timeout gaffe

By Mark Maske

The Bengals’ second possession was more Bengals-like than the first. They had to punt after a third-down gaffe in which the ball was snapped just as Joe Burrow, who was in shotgun formation, turned to signal for a timeout. The timeout was not granted and Burrow, quickly realizing what was happening, had to scurry to fall on the loose football. (Browns 7, Bengals 3 with 13:38 left in the 2nd quarter)

September 17, 2020 at 8:55 PM EDT
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Browns take lead on Nick Chubb touchdown run

By Mark Maske

The Browns answered the Bengals’ good opening drive with one of their own, and cashed in with a touchdown on an 11-yard run by tailback Nick Chubb. Beleaguered quarterback Baker Mayfield completed all four of his passes on the drive and ran for a first down on a third-and-seven scramble that allowed the Browns to overcome an illegal blindside block.

“He’s got a little swagger to him tonight, something you haven’t seen from him in a while,” analyst Troy Aikman said of Mayfield on the NFL Network broadcast. (Browns 7, Bengals 3 with 1:48 left in the 1st quarter)

September 17, 2020 at 8:43 PM EDT
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Joe Burrow’s good start leads to early field goal for Bengals

By Mark Maske

The Bengals crafted a nice opening drive but had to settle for a 38-yard field goal by kicker Randy Bullock. Joe Burrow scrambled for a first down on a third-and-five play, and completed a pass along the left sideline to wide receiver Tyler Boyd to convert on fourth and four from the Cleveland 33-yard line. The Bengals reached the Browns 9-yard line before Burrow was sacked on third down by Cleveland’s Adrian Clayborn. Bullock converted his first field goal attempt since Sunday’s late miss from 31 yards that kept the Bengals from going to overtime against the Chargers. (Bengals 3, Browns 0 with 7:13 left in the 1st quarter)

September 17, 2020 at 8:31 PM EDT
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Browns forced to use early replay challenge

By Mark Maske

The Browns were forced to use an instant replay challenge on the game’s first offensive play. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green made a diving catch along the sideline of a deep pass by prized rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. Green clearly failed to get his feet in bounds for a legal catch. The officials inexplicably called it a catch, forcing Browns Coach Kevin Stefanski to use a challenge to get the erroneous call reversed to incomplete.

“I think the officials are late to the party,” analyst Troy Aikman said on the NFL Network broadcast. (Bengals 0, Browns 0 with 14:49 left in the 1st quarter)