Baker Mayfield Conquers The Ghost Of Odell Beckham Jr. In 41-16 Rout Of Bengals

The Browns' defense had plenty to celebrate in producing three takeaways and sacking Joe Burrow five times in the biggest rout in 25 regular-season games under coach Kevin Stefanski. (Cleveland Browns)

The Browns' defense had plenty to celebrate in producing three takeaways and sacking Joe Burrow five times in the biggest rout in 25 regular-season games under coach Kevin Stefanski. (Cleveland Browns)

Baker Mayfield conquers the ghost of Odell Beckham Jr. in 41-16 rout of Bengals

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland.


Should we start right now and say there is no way Baker Mayfield can take this team to Foxboro, MA, and beat Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots in his next game?

Why not?

Every time he is blistered by doubters, every time his back is plastered to the wall, every time his magical run as an overcomer seems to be expiring, Mayfield serves helpings of crow and produces a game like he did in Paul Brown Stadium.

During the most nerve-wracking week of his Browns career, one in which his leadership was undermined by popular teammate Odell Beckham Jr., Mayfield looked into the cameras and conceded, “There’s no manual for this.”

On Sunday, he wrote the manual.

The quarterback picked up the pieces of Beckham’s social media smear campaign, pulled the team together, spread the wealth on offense and saved the train from skidding off the tracks with a 41-16 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals – the most lopsided win of the Kevin Stefanski era.

“That’s Baker for you,” said running back Nick Chubb. “He loves when people doubt him. He feeds off that.”

The cliché is that quarterbacks get too much of the blame for losses and too much of the credit for wins. But nobody stood more to lose than Mayfield if he had laid an egg after Beckham, through his father, singled him out as the major problem of an offense on the skids.

Yes, Mayfield had plenty of help. The Browns produced their most complete game of the season.

Chubb had two touchdowns among his 137 yards on 14 rushes, including a vintage, 70-yard scamper on which he took everyone’s breath away by separating from Cincinnati’s chasers with each stride in the open field. In his return from a two-game injury break, receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones proved he’s a capable and confident deep-ball replacement for Beckham with catches of 60 yards for a touchdown and 26.

And the defense hounded Joe Burrow, aka Joey Franchise, for five sacks, three by nickel back Troy Hill, and the secondary produced three turnovers – a 99-yard interception return for touchdown by Denzel Ward, and another interception and forced fumble by safety John Johnson. 

Ward’s Pick 6 on Cincinnati’s first offensive series set the tone – not only on the scoreboard but on receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who may be the rookie-of-the-year but was far from brilliant.

Ward and Greg Newsome took turns pressing, hitting and hounding Chase into one of the worst games he’ll ever play in the NFL. Chase was involved in all three Browns’ takeaways, the intended receiver on both interceptions (Ward deflected the ball on the second one into Johnson’s hands) and the target of Johnson’s hit that caused the fumble. Chase's miscues led to 13 Cleveland points.

Chase also dropped two on-target Burrow passes – one in the end zone and another behind Newsome that could have been a 77-yard score if Chase had held on and kept his balance.

“We pressed him, were physical, played the ball in the air. We competed against him,” summed up Johnson.

Ultimately, though, this was Mayfield’s redemption, a day to give his teammates hope that he can be the quarterback he was last year when Beckham went down with the ACL injury. Mayfield was surgically efficient – 14 of 21 for 218 yards, two TDs, no turnovers and a 132.6 passer rating.

He played freely, unshackled from the mysterious stigma of trying too hard, or not enough, to satisfy Beckham with the ball.

“You look at the back half of last year, and that’s how we were the whole time,” Mayfield said, not referencing Beckham by name. “Spread the wealth isn’t the plan. It’s based how defenses play us. Our run game is obviously very good, so we have to take advantage of one-on-one matchups. It happened to play out like that. The defense has to pick their poison, and I trust all the guys we have in that room.”

Naturally, Stefanski wouldn’t bite on the elephant-in-the-room question: So it was Odell’s fault all along, right?

“I’m not addressing that,” he said, conspicuously not denying it, either.

Mayfield was diplomatic in discussing Beckham, even though he volunteered, “We still haven’t talked.”

“But that doesn’t change [my friendship],” he added. “I wish him the best in his career, but I’m worried about the guys in our locker room.”

And that doesn’t include Beckham now.

“I’m proud of how they were able to focus up despite all the bull**** going on this week," Mayfield said. "They were able to do their job. It’s why I appreciate this group of guys and the staff we have. We’re going to see if we can build on it.”

Like a year ago, in this very same place, Mayfield has blasted hope into a season on the brink. The win technically moved the Browns (5-4) ahead of the Bengals (5-4) in the congested AFC North standings. The victorious Ravens (6-2) are in first. The Steelers (4-3) play the Bears on Monday night.

Johnson said, “I said earlier in the week, you can either tank and start losing games, or you can put all that stuff aside and start winning. Going 1-0 was the first step. Another road opponent [is up] next. When you look back at it from afar in the postseason, you’re going to look at this point from the year and say, ‘Oh, that’s when things started kicking.’ It’s a good first step. We just have to keep it going."

Without Beckham. He’ll be with another team by the end of the week. His other teammates may not ever bring themselves to say, “Good riddance.” But it had to enter into their mind on the short, pleasant flight home.