Baker Mayfield may or may not have said that he planned to "f***" the Browns up on Sunday
Regardless, he made his best effort to do so with a second-half rally, but came up excruciatingly short as a 58-yard field goal by Browns rookie kicker Cade York sank the Carolina Panthers in a 26-24 Cleveland win.
Facing a Cleveland team absent starting quarterback Deshaun Watson for the season's first 11 games, Carolina got off to a rough start against Mayfield's former Browns. But Mayfield rallied the Panthers to a late 24-23 lead thanks to a pair of second-half touchdowns — one on the ground and another through the air.
The Browns answered a late go-ahead Panthers score by driving 35 yards in 1:05 to set up York's game-winner with 8 seconds remaining.
Tough start, frantic finish for Mayfield
Carolina's first five possessions Sunday ended with four punts and an interception. Its only first down in the span arrived courtesy of a roughing-the-passer call on defensive tackle Taven Bryan. The five possessions resulted in a grand total of 13 yards of Carolina offense.
Mayfield's interception took place when he sailed a pass over the head of intended receiver Shi Smith on third-and 20 early in the third quarter. Instead, it ended up in the hands of safety Grant Delpit.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 11, 2022
The turnover set a likewise stagnant Browns offense up for its first touchdown that Nick Chubb kickstarted with a 35-yard run. Chubb's burst set the tone for Cleveland's offense as he powered the Browns on a 141-yard rushing day.
Mayfield salvaged his first half on Carolina's next possession with a 50-yard pass to tight end Ian Thomas. The play set up the Panthers' first score, a Christian McCaffrey touchdown run. He then found his rhythm in the second half only to see the Browns rally to spoil his debut.
Cleveland built on its lead with a pair of field goals and a 24-yard touchdown run by Kareem Hunt. Seemingly out of the game, Carolina then cut its 20-7 second-half deficit to six points when Mayfield scrambled for a 7-yard TD on third down early in the fourth quarter. The run capped an 11-play 75-yard drive.
Cleveland responded with a field goal to extend its lead back to two possessions at 23-14 with 6:14 remaining.
Carolina's next drive then covered the same ground as its previous, but took considerably less time. On first-and-10 from the Carolina 25, Mayfield launched a 75-yard bomb that Robbie Anderson corralled at the Cleveland 30 and ran untouched into the end zone.
The score cut Carolina's deficit to 23-21. Cleveland's next drive stalled after 19 yards, and the Panthers drove 64 yards in 1:01 to set up Eddy Pineiro's 34-yard go-ahead field goal with 1:13 remaining. It turned out to be too much time.
The Browns picked up 15 yards on the first play of their ensuing drive on a roughing-the-passer penalty after Carolina's Brian Burns hit Jacoby Brissett on an incomplete pass. The Browns then picked up 20 more yards on four plays, which turned out to be just enough to set up York for the game-winning field goal.
For Carolina, the loss marks a disappointing end to the start of the Mayfield era as he sought to hang a loss on the team that picked him first overall in the 2018 draft before jettisoning him this offseason in favor of Watson. Mayfield finished the day completing 16 of 27 passes for 235 yards with a touchdown and an interception while adding a touchdown on the ground.
For Cleveland, the win adds up to relief following a tumultuous offseason centered on the acquisition of Watson amid a multitude of sexual assault and sexual misconduct allegations that ultimately led to his 11-game suspension. Brissett, playing in Watson's stead, completed 18 of 34 passes for a touchdown without turning over the ball.
Cleveland's ground game did the bulk of the work on offense with a 217-yard rushing day. Meanwhile, Myles Garrett tallied two of Cleveland's nine sacks of its former quarterback while the Browns limited McCaffrey to 57 yards from scrimmage.