Baker Mayfield takes Browns one step closer to ending playoff drought

Before the 2018 draft, Baker Mayfield boldly claimed that if the Cleveland Browns wanted to finally turn their franchise around, they’d better draft him.

Mayfield is about to make good on that promise.

Sunday night, the third-year quarterback took the Browns another step toward finally ending the NFL’s longest playoff drought, leading them to a 20-6 victory over the New York Giants.

With the win, Cleveland moved to 10-4 and into the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoff picture. The Browns, who face the 1-13 New York Jets next weekend, now have a 90% chance to advance to the postseason, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

Mayfield continued his sizzling second half to the season on Sunday, breaking the Browns' record (minimum 25 attempts) for completion percentage in a game. He connected on 27 of his 32 passes for a completion rate of 84.3% -- besting the previous Cleveland record of 82.9% set by Kelly Holcomb in 2003.

Once again, Mayfield was especially dangerous on play-action, completing all nine of his play-action throws in the first half, including 2-yard touchdown strikes to Jarvis Landry and Austin Hooper.

Dating back to Week 7, Mayfield has tossed 13 touchdown passes with only two interceptions.

And during that stretch, Cleveland has gone 6-2.

Pivotal play: Midway through the second quarter, the Giants had an opportunity to take the lead. But on fourth-and-2 from the Cleveland 5-yard line, Browns safeties Karl Joseph and Sheldrick Redwine -- who both got the starts due to injuries to Ronnie Harrison and Andrew Sendejo -- stuffed running back Wayne Gallman short of a first down. Cleveland then went on a 10-play, 95-yard touchdown drive, capped with Mayfield’s pass to Landry, who flashed “1-3” in honor of injured teammate -- and former Giants wide receiver -- Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 13). That drive ate up almost 5 minutes and left only 21 seconds in the second quarter as the Browns took a commanding 13-3 lead into half.

Promising trend: This past offseason, the Browns pursued several big-name pass-rushers to pair with Myles Garrett, including Jadeveon Clowney. But after striking out, Cleveland reworked Olivier Vernon’s contract, giving him $11 million in the final year of his deal. That move has aged incredibly well, as Vernon has returned to making an impact after an injury-plagued season in 2019. Vernon, who had seven sacks coming into the night, had another notable performance against the Giants, with a quarterback hurry and tackle for loss. As Garrett continues to work his way back to 100% coming off the reserve/COVID-19 list, Vernon has held down the pass rush.

Bold prediction for next week: Cleveland will finally snap the NFL’s longest playoff drought by convincingly defeating the Jets.

Eye-popping NextGen Stat: Mayfield finished 16 percentage points higher than his expected completion percentage, giving him the highest completion percentage over expectation in an NFL game this season. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (15% completion percentage over expectation in Week 14 against the Lions) held the previous season high.