The Browns passed on Sam Darnold in April. Now the rookie quarterback stands between them and victory in a pivotal game in September.
General Manager John Dorsey selected Baker Mayfield first overall on April 26 over the other top-rated quarterbacks in the class, including Darnold, who had been labeled the favorite to become the No. 1 pick by the vast majority of draft analysts. The New York Jets wound up with Darnold at No. 3, a spot after the New York Giants took running back Saquon Barkley.
"I think [the Jets] got a good one, but we feel we have a really good one, too," Browns coach Hue Jackson said.
The Browns, with quarterback Tyrod Taylor playing and Mayfield waiting his turn on the bench, will face the Jets, with Darnold starting his third NFL regular-season game, at 8:20 p.m. in a nationally televised "Thursday Night Football" game at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"It's going to be a real big tone-setter for our organization," linebacker James Burgess said.
Darnold told New York media he thought the Browns could pick him but he's not seeking revenge this week because they didn't.
"We have an idea of who we are playing. There is no doubt," Jackson said, referencing the time the Browns spent getting to know Darnold during the pre-draft process. "He's a tough, competitive young man. He's not going to shy away from anything. ... He doesn’t get rattled much. We'll use all of the information we have to our advantage."
After tying the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-21 in the opener Sept. 9 at home and losing 21-18 to the New Orleans Saints in heartbreaking fashion Sunday on the road, the pressure is on Jackson, Taylor and the Browns to end a 19-game winless streak in a game they're favored to win by three points and show this year will be different than the past two, when the team triumphed just once in 32 tries.
"We think we're headed in the right direction as an organization and as a football team, but the only thing that can validate that is winning," Jackson said.
How the Browns (0-1-1) fare against Darnold will determine, to a great extent, whether they beat the Jets (1-1). He has completed 41-of-62 passes (66.1 percent) for 532 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions for a rating of 88.9, thrashing the Detroit Lions 48-17 in the opener Sept. 10 on the road and losing 20-12 to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at home.
Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and his men are confident after strong outings against future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. They insist they're not taking Darnold lightly but know what needs to be done.
"Get pressure in his face, make him make quick decisions, try to trick him with coverage or try to make him force throws in where he shouldn't force throws in," linebacker Joe Schobert said. "If we're able to do that, I think we'll be all right."
In theory, it should be easier to confuse Darnold than Roethlisberger or Brees.
"We've just got to throw a lot of different schemes at him, make him think," defensive end Chris Smith said. "[Young] guys like him like to hold the ball too long, and that's one thing that's great for D-linemen."
After ranking last in the NFL with 13 takeaways in 2017, the Browns lead the league with eight through two games. Taylor and the offense have scored just 10 points off turnovers, though, so the Browns, on both sides of the ball, must capitalize on any mistakes Darnold makes.
"We've just got to keep him frustrated and confuse his eyes and hopefully he can throw us some [interceptions]," Burgess said.
The defense also needs to guard against being burned by Darnold's uncanny ability to throw on the run.
"We know we have to cover longer than normal and that he's not scrambling to run," Burgess said. "He's scrambling to make a big pass downfield."
• The Browns' trade of wide receiver Josh Gordon to the New England Patriots was officially finalized Wednesday, a person familiar with the deal confirmed. Gordon then practiced with the Patriots despite showing up late to Browns headquarters Saturday morning and complaining about a hamstring issue. Earlier Wednesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said the trade hadn't been finalized.
• Browns rookie receiver Antonio Callaway had been scheduled to appear in Strongsville Mayor’s Court on Thursday morning, but his arraignment stemming from possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license citations was delayed for a third time. His new court date is set for 8 a.m. Oct. 4.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.