The Washington Post

Mayfield, Carolina fall just short against Cleveland

- BY MARK MASKE

BROWNS 26,

PANTHERS 24

CHARLOTTE — The Cleveland Browns without Baker Mayfield were better than Mayfield without the Browns, at least on the opening Sunday of the NFL season. And just barely.

It was decidedly inelegant football on a mostly cloudy afternoon at Bank of America Stadium. But it ultimately was captivatin­g, and it served the Browns’ purposes as they prevailed in the opening-day grudge match with their former quarterbac­k. Cleveland came undone in the fourth quarter but managed to beat Mayfield’s Carolina Panthers, 26-24, on a 58-yard field goal by rookie kicker Cade York with eight seconds to play.

“I’d have loved to have bragging rights against those guys,” Mayfield said. “But we didn’t finish.”

With Jacoby Brissett at quarterbac­k in place of Mayfield’s intended successor, Deshaun Watson, the Browns did not always resemble a smoothly functionin­g championsh­ip contender. They fell behind in the late stages of the game even after leading 14-0 in the first half, 20-7 early in the fourth quarter and 23-14 with just more than six minutes left. But they did what was needed.

Kareem Hunt had a touchdown catch and a touchdown run. Fellow tailback Nick Chubb had 141 of the Browns’ 217 rushing yards. York provided four field goals. Brissett passed for only 147 yards but didn’t commit a turnover.

Cleveland’s defense was in control for most of the game, limiting Mayfield to 235 passing yards in a 16-for-27 performanc­e. Mayfield fumbled four times, although he recovered all four. He threw an intercepti­on and took four sacks, two of them by standout Browns pass rusher Myles Garrett.

The Panthers pulled to within 20-14 with just under 13 minutes remaining on a seven-yard touchdown run by Mayfield, which he celebrated by throwing the football forcefully into the padded wall behind the end zone. After the Browns replied with a field goal drive, Mayfield promptly threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Robbie Anderson.

The Panthers forced a Browns punt and drove for a 34-yard field goal with 1:13 to play to move in front 24-23. But the Browns benefited from a roughing-the-passer call on the Panthers and moved into position for York’s long kick. That came after Panthers Coach Matt Rhule yelled and gestured from the sideline at the officials, seeking an intentiona­l grounding penalty on a third-down spike by Brissett.

“Just a lot of things there at the end that didn’t go our way,” Rhule said afterward.

The Browns opened their season without Watson, who is serving his 11-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy based on allegation­s of sexual misconduct made by women in more than two dozen civil lawsuits. Watson is not eligible to play for the Browns until a Dec. 4 game in Houston against his former team, the Texans.

“Cade came through,” Browns Coach Kevin Stefanski said of his kicker. “We knew he was going to come through for us at some point. Here it is in Game 1, and the kid just knocks it down the middle. . . . I did remind them in there this counts as one. It’s one game.”

Mayfield spent four seasons with the Browns after they picked him first in the 2018 NFL draft. He led them to the playoffs in the 2020 season but suffered through a disappoint­ing, injury-plagued 2021. He issued what amounted to a public farewell to Cleveland and Browns fans in March amid the team’s pursuit of a trade for Watson. Mayfield requested a trade, and the Browns finally accommodat­ed him with a July deal to Carolina.

Mayfield avoided inflammato­ry statements in the buildup to this Week 1 meeting, which the NFL scheduled long before he was traded to the Panthers. He said this wasn’t a revenge game.

Plenty of Browns fans were in Charlotte for the game. A good number of Mayfield jerseys could be spotted in the stands, both Browns and Panthers versions. The crowd greeted Mayfield loudly in pregame introducti­ons, with a few boos mixed among the cheers. He interacted warmly with his former Browns teammates when the captains met at midfield for the coin toss before the opening kickoff.

“Everybody made this out to be the Super Bowl,” Mayfield said. “But despite what everybody is going to make this, there’s 16 more games. The Super Bowl is not until February. It’s the beginning of September. . . . We’re going to flush this. We’re going to learn, and we’re going to be better.”

The Panthers left the field to some boos after a first half in which they trailed 17-7. Mayfield had very little time to acclimate himself to his new team after the trade, and it showed. He threw a second-quarter intercepti­on to Browns safety Grant Delpit. That led to a one-yard touchdown pass from Brissett to Hunt.

“To me, it comes down to us not starting fast,” Mayfield said. “And it started with me.”

Hunt, who reportedly asked to be traded before the season, added a 24-yard touchdown run to extend the Browns’ lead to 14-0. Mayfield’s 50-yard completion to tight end Ian Thomas set up a one-yard touchdown run by tailback Christian Mccaffrey less than two minutes before halftime. But the Browns responded with a 26-yard field goal by York with 21 seconds to go.

York added a third-quarter field goal to stretch the lead to 20-7 before Mayfield and the Panthers made things interestin­g in the fourth quarter.

“I think he, like the rest of our offense, just kind of settled down,” Rhule said.

 ?? Jared C. TILTON/GETTY IMAGES ?? Kareem Hunt, who reportedly asked to be traded before the season, finished with two touchdowns.
Jared C. TILTON/GETTY IMAGES Kareem Hunt, who reportedly asked to be traded before the season, finished with two touchdowns.

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