Baker Mayfield upended Browns' carefully laid out plan

BEREA, Ohio -- This wasn’t the plan.

Baker Mayfield was not supposed to be starting by the fourth week of the Cleveland Browns' season. He was supposed to be incubating, learning behind Tyrod Taylor.

But the way things played out, the move from Taylor to Mayfield happened naturally, organically. Which made the Browns' decision to start Mayfield the least consequential quarterback change the team has made in years.

Basically, Mayfield made the move easy, which took away any and all controversy -- or doubt -- about the move.

“He did make it easier by the performance, by the win and by the way he conducted himself,” Cleveland coach Hue Jackson said. “There is no question about that.”

In Jackson’s tenure alone, there have been several quarterback switches, prompted by injury and performance. From Robert Griffin III to Josh McCown to Cody Kessler to Griffin in 2016. From DeShone Kizer to Kevin Hogan to Kizer in 2017. In the offseason, the Browns switched to Taylor -- and now it's Mayfield's turn.

Jackson has been upbeat about all his past quarterbacks. Griffin made the “earth move” in his workout. On Kessler, Jackson said “trust me.” Kizer was going to be a dynamic guy who opened up the downfield passing game. Jackson meant what he said, and everything he said came from a glass half-full viewpoint.

This one feels different.

“It does,” Jackson said. “This was a guy that we picked together that [general manager] John [Dorsey], myself, the personnel department and the coaching staff -- that we went all-in on unanimously and said, ‘This is the guy for the future.’”

Taylor’s struggles Thursday in the first half against the New York Jets were shocking, especially coming off a game when he played well at the New Orleans Saints and talked growth the following week. The Jets were able to free up pass-rushers, and Taylor was hesitant throwing. The difference between Mayfield getting rid of the ball and Taylor holding it in that game was stark.

Jackson wouldn't address the "what if," but Taylor's struggles were so painfully blatant, Jackson might have had to make the switch to Mayfield at halftime. Taylor's concussion made any discussion about that possibility moot.

In the aggregate, Taylor had 33 possessions that were not simply running out the clock at the end of halves. He was at the helm for five touchdowns, two field goals, three missed field goals (two that could have tied or won games), two interceptions and 21 punts (10 three-and-outs). Which changed the best-laid plans.

“This is sooner than what I thought it would happen, because I thought that we would have played much better earlier on offense,” Jackson said. “We did not. There was a stark difference in how we performed when [Mayfield] got in there. That is the nature of this business. That is the way that it works. It is an earned business.

“The young man went in there and he earned the right to be the starter.”

Mayfield had six possessions that were not kneel-downs to end the half and game and led scoring drives on four -- two touchdowns, two field goals and two punts (one three-and-out).

The Browns insist that they did not doubt when Mayfield took over.

“Never a doubt with six” was the way wideout Jarvis Landry put it. Which is easy to say once he has played and played well. But Mayfield played against the starters Thursday the same way he played against backups in preseason.

Mayfield's progression has been steady. He started OTAs as a third-teamer and was backup by the time minicamp arrived. He practiced well and played solid through preseason. The one thing he had not done before Thursday was play with starters against starters. He handled that step adeptly.

The next step: Start and succeed when the opposing team has a week to prepare. Though the flip side is that Mayfield has the same amount of time to study and recognize the opponent.

“I am not surprised by what he did in the game,” Jackson said. “I think a lot of other people are. I do not think that his teammates are. I do not think that the coaches are. I think that we knew, once he got his opportunity, he would go in there and nail it.

“That is what he did.”