Baker Mayfield needed this one. So did the Cleveland Browns.
After a tumultuous week of Odell Beckham Jr. drama on the heels of a humdrum 4-4 start, the Browns got right in a big way against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Facing the prospect of falling into a deeper last-place division hole, the Browns responded with a decisive 41-16 win over their in-state rivals to keep pace in a crowded AFC North.
They did so with a perfect first half from Mayfield, who completed 7 of 8 passes for 121 yards with a 60-yard touchdown strike to Donovan Peoples-Jones that extended Cleveland's lead to 21-7. Mayfield didn't maintain that perfect 158.3 passer rating in the second half but he was close. And a playmaking Browns defense ensured that he didn't have to.
Browns defense shuts down Burrow
Cleveland held Joe Burrow out of the end zone after the Bengals quarterback had tallied at least two touchdown passes in every game this season. Denzel Ward ruined his best chance early, picking Burrow off near the goal line in the first quarter before returning it 99 yards for the game's first touchdown. It was the first of two Burrow interceptions.
NFL sack leader Myles Garrett extended his lead to 12, securing 1.5 of Cleveland's five sacks Sunday. Cornerback Troy Hill tallied three of his own.
Breakout Bengals rookie receiver Ja'Marr Chase made a pair of big mistakes, getting beat by Ward on the early pick 6 and later fumbling on a turnover that allowed the Browns to extend their lead to 24-7.
Mayfield gets the job done
Mayfield ended up completing 14 of 21 passes for 218 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. The Bengals scored 41 points after failing to score more than 17 in three straight weeks. It was more than enough to muffle the noise over Beckham's discontent and eventual release after last week's trade deadline passed.
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) November 7, 2021
"I trust the guys in this locker room," Mayfield told reporters after the game. "I've said it over and over again, and I truly mean it. When adversity hits, nobody flinched.
"It was a long week. I'd be lying if I said otherwise. Proud of these guys and how they were able to focus and do their jobs. We've got a good group. We really do."
It's still unclear why Mayfield and Beckham never clicked in their two-plus seasons together. How much Beckham still has in the tank will be on display wherever he lands next.
Sunday's result in Cincinnati won't do anything to silence the narrative that the Browns are somehow better off without the three-time Pro Bowl receiver. It also keeps 5-4 Cleveland in the mix to win the AFC North, which the 6-2 Baltimore Ravens lead after an overtime win over the Minnesota Vikings.