EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns have their first 10-win season in a while, and they're on the verge of ending the NFL's longest playoff drought.
They're thinking much bigger than all that after a dominant 20-6 win over the New York Giants on Sunday night.
“As long as we take care of our business,” the Browns quarterback said, "we’ll be where we want to be.”
Mayfield led two 95-yard touchdown drives and was sharp all night, helping the Browns (10-4) bounce back from a 47-42 loss to Baltimore last Monday night.
The victory got the Browns closer to clinching their first playoff spot since 2002, the NFL’s longest drought. They also matched their highest win total (10-6 in 2007) since their 1999 expansion rebirth. An 11th victory next Sunday, against the 1-13 New York Jets, and a combination of losses by others could clinch a post-season berth.
“It’s something that until I got into the league my rookie year that I didn’t know how hard it was to win in the league," said Mayfield, who's in his third season. "It’s something to be proud of, but the best part is that everybody in there is like, ‘Yeah, 10 wins but we’re on to the next one.’ Notch on the belt and move on. We’re not done yet.
"And that’s the best part of this team.”
Mayfield has been terrific lately, and it was more of the same in this one as he finished 27 of 32 for 297 yards with scoring passes to Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper. Mayfield's 84.3% completion percentage set a Cleveland record, according to ESPN Stats & Info, topping Kelly Holcomb's 82.9% in 2003.
“I thought Baker was outstanding tonight,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He was dialed in. It’s really what I expect from him and what he expects from himself. It’s how he practices, but I really thought he was sharp.”
Nick Chubb had a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that put it out of reach for the sluggish Giants and made the Browns the first team this season to have two 95-yard TD drives in a game.
Cleveland also dealt a serious blow to the the playoff hopes of the Giants (5-9), who were without injured quarterback Daniel Jones. Colt McCoy, who started 21 games for the Browns from 2010-13, couldn't get much going against his former team.
Tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens, fired after last season as Cleveland's head coach, ran the offence with co-ordinator Jason Garrett out after testing positive for the coronavirus. New York was aggressive early but put up just six points against a defence that gave up 80 points in the past two games.
“Field goals weren’t going to win this game," Giants coach Joe Judge said.
McCoy was 19 of 31 for 221 yards for the Giants, who are tied with Dallas a game behind Washington for first place in the NFC East.
New York's opening drive stalled at the 8 after McCoy's throw to Evan Engram fell incomplete in the end zone. The Giants brought out the field goal unit, but quickly shifted into a fake — with holder Riley Dixon throwing high and incomplete to centre Nick Gates, turning over the ball on downs.
It could've worked, too: Kicker Graham Gano was wide open in the end zone.
The Browns also went for it on fourth down on their first drive, but also couldn't get on the scoreboard. On fourth-and-2 from the Giants 43, Mayfield's pass was batted down at the line by Dexter Lawrence.
New York opted against any trickery on fourth down on its next possession as Gano kicked a 37-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
The Browns came right back with a scoring drive capped by Mayfield's 2-yard pass to a wide-open Hooper in the back of the end zone early in the second quarter.
New York had a chance to cut into the lead, went on fourth-and-1 from the 5, and Wayne Gallman was stuffed for no gain.
“Look, I’m not afraid to call things aggressively,” Judge said. “I’m not afraid. I think we have a good scheme in the kicking game to call a fake. I’m not afraid to run the ball fourth-and-1.”
Cleveland took full advantage, with Mayfield leading the Browns on the first 95-yard drive that was capped by a 2-yard pass to a leaping Landry with 21 seconds left in the half.
Landry flashed a “1” and “3? in the back of the end zone to pay homage to his close friend and teammate Odell Beckham Jr., the former Giants wide receiver who sustained a season-ending knee injury earlier this year with Cleveland. Landry, who then jawed with cornerback Isaac Yiadom, was called for taunting. That pushed the Browns back 15 yards on the extra point and Cody Parkey hit the right upright as Cleveland went into the locker room up 13-3.
The Browns put this one away on Chubb's 1-yard TD with 12:53 left. Chubb had a 6-yard TD run wiped out by a clipping call on Jack Conklin, but got back into the end zone — and this one counted —- a few plays later to cap Cleveland's second 95-yard TD drive.
Browns: RG Chris Hubbard hurt a knee on Cleveland's second offensive play after he started in place of the injured Wyatt Teller. He didn't return. ... DT Sheldon Richardson also didn't come back after he injured his neck in the third quarter. Stefanski said X-rays were negative.
Giants: Top cornerback James Bradberry was out after being placed on the COVID-19 list on Thursday. He had close contact with an individual who tested positive for the coronavirus.
Browns: return to the Meadowlands next Sunday to face the 1-13 New York Jets, who got their first win by beating the Los Angeles Rams.
Giants: at Baltimore next Sunday to take on Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.
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Dennis Waszak Jr., The Associated Press