CLEVELAND — Browns wide receiver Breshad Perriman revealed he spent all Saturday night and Sunday morning thinking about rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield launching a deep pass to him on the offense's first play against the Carolina Panthers.
What Perriman visualized became reality when he got behind cornerback Donte Jackson and caught a 66-yard bomb from Mayfield to set the tone for the Browns' 26-20 victory Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium.
After a 3-yard rush by rookie running back Nick Chubb and an offside penalty on Panthers defensive end Mario Addison, receiver Jarvis Landry rushed for a 3-yard touchdown on second-and-goal, allowing the Browns (5-7-1) to counter the Panthers' game-opening TD drive and tie the score 7-7 with 7:41 left in the first quarter.
"It was just open," said Perriman, a former first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens who signed with the Browns on Oct. 13. "It wasn't designed for it to automatically go to me. It was just the right coverage, the right the play at the right time.
"It was a huge momentum boost. Those are just the big type of plays you just got to take and run with."
Mayfield explained he threw to Perriman when a safety opted to cover tight end David Njoku as he ran across the field.
"[Perriman] stretches the field," Mayfield said. "He has elite speed to be able to get past the corners and stretch the safeties. It has been great for us to be able to have that great deep option to where people have to be on notice. They have to cover it deep. If they cover him up, then we take out shots underneath. If not, we're letting it go to him."
As part of their pregame banter, Mayfield told Browns free safety Damarious Randall the Browns could score on their first play. They came awfully close. Perriman's catch ended at the 9-yard line of the Panthers (6-7).
"That's what we get paid to do is to make the plays when it comes game time," Mayfield said. "That's one of those things that I told him to run, and I'm just going to let it loose on whatever path he's on. I'm going to trust him to make the play on it. It's a high post. He has to win and stay skinny, and he did."
Landry said offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens unveiled his plan for the first play during a meeting on Wednesday.
"It worked just how he said it would," Landry said.
Panthers strong safety Eric Reid lamented the big gain.
"It gave them momentum," he said. "Obviously, we don't want to start a game that way. It gave them a lot of yards to start with. I know it gave them confidence. I wish we can have that one back."
Mayfield turned to Perriman again in a tough spot. With the Browns backed up at their 2 on second-and-11, Mayfield rolled right in the end zone and connected with Perriman for 17 yards and a first down with 2:24 left in the fourth quarter.
"You've got to have a ton of confidence, especially in that situation [to call that play]. It's crucial," said Perriman, who had two catches on two targets for a game-high 81 yards. "Everybody knows [Mayfield] can make a play at any given time, so Freddie just leaves it all in his hands, and he always gets the job done."
The Browns were in danger of finishing their second consecutive game without a takeaway after they created at least one turnover in each of their first 11 games.
But on first-and-10 at the Panthers 35, Randall intercepted a pass from quarterback Cam Newton to seal the Browns' win with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Newton overthrew receiver Devin Funchess, and the ball went right to Randall.
"I knew they had to throw the ball down the field, and I knew going into the play that obviously Cam's arm wasn't at its strongest point and that's why they had a more conservative approach today and they were trying to dink and dunk and manage the game," Randall said, alluding to the pain Newton has been experiencing in his throwing shoulder after undergoing surgery a year and a half ago.
"But we knew whenever [he had] to throw the ball down the field that his passes go maybe high, go low. So we just definitely knew coming in that he was going to have some issues throwing the ball deep."
The Browns have 28 takeaways this season, and Randall tied a career high with his fourth interception.
With the temperature at kickoff recorded at 28 degrees with a wind chill of 23, FirstEnergy Stadium was about three-quarters full. The announced attendance was 59,392. Capacity is 67,895.
Mayfield is imploring fans to show up to home finale Dec. 23 against Cincinnati. The Browns are 4-2-1 at home and will finish above .500 at home for the first time since 2007, when they went 7-1 in Cleveland.
"We're becoming a team that is prideful of playing at home and protecting our territory," Mayfield said. "We would love to have more fan support. Today was cold. I get it, but having more people, especially at our last home game coming up, we would love to have more people in the stands cheering for us because we feed off of the energy."
The Browns kept fantasy-league dream pick Christian McCaffrey from turning into their nightmare.
They gave up touchdowns to McCaffrey that put them in holes of 7-0 and 14-7, but contained him as the day wore on.
"With the exception of one run, we [did an acceptable job]," interim coach Gregg Williams said. "We lost leverage on that one run a couple of times."
He was talking about a 25-yard gain in the third quarter that set up a field goal and a 20-17 Carolina lead. Other than that, McCaffrey ran 15 times for 38 yards. He came in with 80 catches but added just six receptions for a modest 38 yards.
A No. 8 overall draft pick in 2017, McCaffrey came in averaging 127 rushing-receiving yards, fourth-best in the NFL. His total Sunday was 101.
Myles Garrett said the defensive game plan centered around McCaffrey.
"You have to try to make everything tough for him," Garrett said. "Always have somebody designated for him, whether that was me taking him in the backfield and knocking him off his path or Scho [linebacker Joe Schobert] or [linebacker] Jamie Collins taking him down the sideline or the middle. There was always someone."
Added defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, "He's one of those players who is very special out in space. We tried to limit him before he got started."
— Steve Doerschuk
Resiliency helped get Mayfield drafted No. 1. The young QB has displayed the trait since strapping on an orange helmet.
As offensive captain Joel Bitonio put it after the Browns came back from deficits three times to beat the Panthers, "Baker has been uber-confident since Day One."
Mayfield seemed intent on coaxing the characteristic out of his teammates on Sunday.
The Browns needed a play from Njoku while playing catch-up in the second quarter, but the tight end made a poor read and veered right into a defender. On the next series, Mayfield entrusted Njoku to make a tough catch, and he did, for 28 yards, setting up a field goal and a 17-17 halftime tie.
Earlier, the Browns pulled into a 7-all tie and had the ball back. Rashard Higgins fumbled at the end of a short gain, basically handing the Panthers a 17-yard touchdown drive. Mayfield targeted Higgins twice on a subsequent series, getting a third-and-9 completion to Higgins for 15 yards.
Higgins later dropped a potential TD pass near the goal line, putting the offense in a lull that overlapped halftime. But Mayfield snapped the Browns out of it with a 75-yard TD drive overlapping the third and fourth quarters.
Bitonio carried on with his own mission of resilience.
In the first half, the Browns had just scored, made a defensive stop, and launched a march on a scrambling Mayfield completion to Landry. Landry's first down, however, was wiped out because Bitonio was illegally downfield.
"That was a run-pass option," he said. "We called a run. I was downfield. It was kind of part of our play call."
The penalty was kind of a bummer. The next play became a little dump to Higgins intended to get back some of the penalty yardage. It was the Higgins fumble, leading to a 14-7 Panthers lead.
Another problem involving a Browns leader warped the start of the second half. On the Browns' first play after receiving the kickoff, Landry made a catch, swung the ball away from his body while making a move, and fumbled. That launched a sequence that left the Browns trailing 20-17.
Another veteran, right guard Kevin Zeitler, got caught holding twice with the Browns backed up in their own territory. This added to the tension of trailing 17-14.
The best aspect of the glitches was the Browns' determination to overcome them. Bitonio and the offensive line kept grinding.
"We're starting to jell," Bitonio said. "We didn't run the ball well early, but as it went along, we kind of imposed our will.
"Winning feels good, man. We're seeing some good things from some good players. It's been really fun."
— Steve Doerschuk
• Garrett recorded one sack to increase his team-leading total to 12.5 this season. With 16 seconds left in the second quarter, he appeared to register a forced fumble while splitting a sack with rookie linebacker Genard Avery, but the ruling on the field was reversed after the officials determined during a replay review that Newton pushed the ball forward and therefore threw an incomplete pass instead of fumbling. Garrett began limping midway through the third quarter but sacked Newton on the next series.
• Starting center JC Tretter limped off the field in the third quarter and spent time in the medical tent on the sideline, but he didn't miss a snap. He's been playing through a high-ankle sprain since Oct. 14. "He's a very, very important piece out there to have be able to make calls and direct guys the right way and lead," Mayfield said. "He's not the most vocal guy, but for those linemen, he sets the example every day. To have a guy fight through injury is great, and he continues to do it."
• Ogunjobi started despite entering the weekend listed as questionable to play with a biceps injury he suffered last week. He had four tackles.
• Rookie running back Nick Chubb rushed for a 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and became the first Browns player since Greg Pruitt in 1975 to run for a TD in five consecutive games.
• Two coaching search updates: Iowa State coach Matt Campbell agreed to a contract extension through 2024, the school announced, and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh told ESPN, "I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying at Michigan."
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. 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.