Freddie Kitchens' popularity goes up antoher notch as the Browns improve to 5-2 since he became Baker Mayfield's offensive coordinator.

CLEVELAND Perhaps when this Kitchens fellow is all grown up and is a head coach somewhere, he will go by Fred.

At the moment, the ornery Alabaman retains the playfully boyish name. And, my did it sound like Christmas morning when Freddie came out to play with 67,431 of his new friends. By sundown Sunday, the Browns had unwrapped a 26-18 win, their fifth in seven games since F. Kitchens took over as "OC."

It was different this time.

Four Sundays earlier, Baker Mayfield turned practically every play Kitchens sent in to gold. Through four series at Cincinnati (touchdown drives of 78, 56, 96 and 59 yards), the rookie went 17-of-21 for 245 yards and three TDs.

In Sunday's rematch, Mayfield's early efforts were like pulling a gold teeth.

A 20-yard gain was available on the first play of the game, which got David Njoku open over the middle. Mayfield's pass, high and outside, whistled off the tight end's fingertips. A little dump pass to Nick Chubb didn't come close.

Mayfield and Jarvis Landry got their wires crossed on the second series. A quick pass 15 yards over the middle wasn't close. A bit later, Landry was breaking open in the left flat, but again the pass wasn't close.

As the game went on, Kitchens relied on his own back-thought: "This is an all-encompassing team deal. Baker is special, but he needs support around him. He can’t be the only one.”

Kitchens patiently waited for Mayfield radar to kick in. As the game unfolded, the Bengals could never be sure where the ball was going.

Wideout Antonio Callaway, who had a big first half at Cincinnati, was targeted only once in the rematch. Tight end Darren Fells, who came in with seven catches through 14 games, added three more Sunday.

"Freddie lets players be players, and he puts them in the right spot," said Fells, 32. "Baker is a very unselfish quarterback who doesn't panic under pressure.

"As a rookie, he's shown things I've seen veteran quarterbacks do. I've played with Carson Palmer and Matt Stafford. He's doing the things I saw them do. He'll definitely be elite if he stays focused."

Through two series, Mayfield was 3-of-7 passing in a scoreless game. In his next three series, which produced two touchdowns and a field goal, he went 11-of-12.

Trick plays kept the Bengals off balance. A pass by wideout Jarvis Landry (a fake reverse) netted a 63-yard completion to Breshad Perriman. A direct snap to Duke Johnson kept a drive moving with a 6-yard gain on first down.

With the lead at a modest 16-0 early in the third quarter, on a third-down the Browns needed to convert to avoid stagnating, Mayfield "threw Landry open" with a sideline pass right in front of Kitchens. Landry made a dandy catch.

On a shovel pass, the Bengals seemed quite unaware running back Dontrell Hilliard had the ball. It went for 15 yards.

Rashard Higgins' drag route left him open five yards downfield. He took off into an opening for a 17-yard TD.

It was 23-3 and the stadium was chanting his name when Mayfield took off on a scramble and declined to slide so as to not sacrifice yards. The sound track was a steady roar when he threaded the sideline strike to Duke Johnson in front of Bengals special assistant Hue Jackson.

Kitchens had never been an offensive coordinator prior to Jackson getting fired. After seven games in the saddle, defenses have had time to adjust to him.

"We keep doing what we are doing, and we will see how people play us," Mayfield said. "Whatever is open. They see us taking shots down the field to Duke, getting the ball out to Higgie, trusting our tight ends

"Wherever it goes, we expect it to happen.”

Kitchens response to his suscess: Keep those cards and letters coming.

Captain Joel Bitonio, the left guard, said Kitchens asks for the offensive line to submit one index card each week with a list of the unit's favorite plays.

"Some of the coordinators I’ve had are very locked in, which is fine," Bitonio said. "They’ve got to make their calls."

Kitchens is ... what? Plugged in?

"At halftime he’ll be like, ‘What do you think is working?'" Bitonio said. "What can we hit ‘em with?’ It’s been really cool."

 

Reach Steve at 330-580-8347 or steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP