CLEVELAND — Baker Mayfield stormed onto the field and planted his flag on the Browns in front of a national television audience in prime time.
It's his team in the afterglow of Thursday night's 21-17 win over the New York Jets, even though coach Hue Jackson delayed the inevitable in his postgame news conference by declining to name the No. 1 overall draft pick the starting quarterback.
He finished 17-of-23 passing for 201 yards with a rating of 100.1 and took one sack as the Browns ended their 19-game winless streak with their first victory since Dec. 24, 2016.
"It's just a testament to how he has worked since the day he stepped into this building and not having that backup mentality," wide receiver Jarvis Landry said. "He was so ready for this moment. He was prepared for this moment. He grabbed it by the horns."
He also brought joy to a depressed fan base and electricity to FirstEnergy Stadium as it hosted "Thursday Night Football."
"We drafted him for that reason," Jackson said. "He has that magnetism. He has it. He's still a young player. He has a lot of work to do. He has got to keep working. Tonight is his night. It was his coming out party."
Mayfield entered the game with 1:42 left in the second quarter and the Browns trailing 14-0 after quarterback Tyrod Taylor suffered a concussion. Mayfield immediately got the stadium rocking during his first series in NFL regular-season action by completing 3-of-4 passes for 47 yards and setting up new kicker Greg Joseph's 45-yard field goal, which trimmed the Browns' deficit to 14-3 with 23 seconds left in the second quarter.
Then Mayfield continued to thrive as the Browns (1-1-1) outscored the Jets 18-3 in the second half with Joseph's 27-yard field goal, two 1-yard touchdown runs by Carlos Hyde, an extra point by Joseph and a two-point conversion on which Mayfield caught a pass from Landry.
"Obviously, once Baker got into the game at quarterback, you just saw a different rhythm, which was good, good to see," Jackson said. "Obviously, the young man did some really good things. You can’t take that away from him. What a night for him. He came off of the bench, went in there and led this team and helped lead this team to victory."
The offense struggled mightily against the Jets (1-2) with Taylor in the driver's seat. He went 4-of-14 for 19 yards for a rating of 39.6, rushed four times for 22 yards and took three sacks. He got up slowly after the last one by linebacker Avery Williamson, disappeared into the medical tent on the sideline and never returned to the action.
Jackson likely avoided naming Mayfield the starter right away at least partly out of respect for Taylor, whom the Browns acquired in March in a trade with the Buffalo Bills.
"Obviously, I like to watch the tape," Jackson said when asked who'll start moving forward. "Baker did some great things. We do not play until [Sept. 30 at the Oakland Raiders]. We have some days. Let’s not get into those debates tonight. Obviously, what he did tonight was outstanding for the football team and his teammates and just the way he competed. I have to watch the tape, and we will go from there."
This is a no-brainer, and it wouldn't be surprising if Jackson named Mayfield the starter during the Friday afternoon conference call he has scheduled with media.
"Not focused on that," Mayfield said when asked about being named the starter. "Singular focus. Going to enjoy this one."
He took joy in imagining Browns fans clean out the Bud Light "victory fridges" that opened as a result of the win.
"Dilly dilly to the Cleveland fans!" Mayfield said.
"Cleveland deserves a win, but we're not done yet. Don’t break the dilly dilly coolers too hard."
Mayfield spent the first two games of the season — a 21-21 tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers and a 21-18 loss to the New Orleans Saints — on the bench while Taylor and the offense, for the most part, failed to get much going.
Jackson and General Manager John Dorsey insisted they wanted Mayfield to begin his career watching Taylor from the sideline and learning the NFL game before being thrown into the fire.
"I still stand by the decision," Jackson said. "I think it was right. I still think he needed the time. He needed the time to see and understand the National Football League and how it works. We are better served. I can’t tell you that Baker would have performed like that in Week 1."
He certainly flourished, though, as soon as he got his chance.
"I have just been waiting for my moment," said Mayfield, who received a game ball from Jackson in the locker room after the win. "I have been patient. I have been in a good opportunity, put in a good situation with the guys around me, veteran QBs and great coaches that I can learn from. I was never whining or complaining about playing time. I just want the team to win, no matter what the cost is.
"This one is definitely up there [with the best wins I've had], being the first NFL game that I've played in. First regular-season one that actually counts, it's definitely up there for me. I've had some great memories, but I'm just getting started."
Asked to describe his mindset when he entered the game, Mayfield said, "Treat it like any other time. I have to go do my job. Don’t over think it. Live in the moment. It's that time. I have to command the offense. I have to command the team. I have to bring a spark and give us a chance to win.
"[The key is] being decisive on where I wanted to put the ball, just attacking," Mayfield added. "You want to put them on your heels. When you do that, the offense builds confidence. The defense will see that. They start to build that as well. The crowd gets into it."
Jackson explained he talked to Mayfield in his office after each of the first two games and attempted to provide lessons by reviewing different scenarios.
"I always try to put things into context for him that these things can happen, and when they do, how is he going to handle it? I'm being very honest with you. He normally looks at me in my office and goes, 'Coach, basically, are you kidding me? I am going to go out there and play my tail off,'" Jackson said. "That's what he did. He did not do anything that I was surprised at. He's a tremendous football player."
The Browns can't afford to keep tremendous football players on the bench, especially not at the game's most important position. If anyone believes Mayfield will take this opportunity and run with it, it's Mayfield.
"People can say cockiness or whatever, but there are results when you play with a confidence and you believe in yourself," he said. "That is what I always try to do with my guys, and it’s what I’ve always done. I just tried to carry that over when I was in."
It worked. Mayfield outdueled Jets rookie quarterback and No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold, who went 15-of-31 passing for 169 yards with two interceptions for a rating of 38.2.
"The quarterback play needed to improve and be better. That's what you saw when he came into the game and started to play like he did," Jackson said. "You saw the offense start to move and the ball start to matriculate down the field. That position is huge. We know that. We knew that we drafted the right guy. I knew that that was the right guy, but it was going to be the right timing. Nobody knew how that was going to happen. This is how it has unfolded."
Mayfield's teammates envisioned instant success for him.
"He's a winner," said defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in last year's draft. "That guy has a chip on his shoulder and none of this surprised me. I knew he was going to go out there and have a hell of a game whenever it was.
"I don’t think there's a coach or a player in this building who has doubted him or felt like we were in a disadvantage when he came onto the field," Landry said. "That's something that you have to love about him. That's why he was the first pick. That's why he was the Heisman Trophy winner. You saw it tonight firsthand."