One of the new wrinkles Joe Woods threw at Baker Mayfield was a double-safety blitz, which resulted in this sack. (Cleveland Browns)
Cade York saves the day with 58-yard game-winner to thwart Baker Mayfield's revenge game
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Instant takeaways from Browns' 26-24 victory over the Carolina Panthers …
1. It’s over: Cade York saved the Browns from their worst nightmare. The rookie kicker paid his first dividends of the season by kicking a 58-yard field goal with eight seconds left to claim a 26-24 victory over Baker Mayfield and the Carolina Panthers. Mayfield almost was successful in taking revenge on his former team by leading a comeback from nine points down in the fourth quarter to take his first lead of the game, 24-23, with 1:13 to play. Mayfield’s fourth-quarter heroics included a 75-yard touchdown pass to Robbie Anderson and 64-yard drive to set up a 34-yard field goal. Jacoby Brissett took over at their 25-yard line after a touchback and got a huge break on the first play with a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on Brian Burns. Brissett’s biggest play was a 14-yard completion to Donovan Peoples-Jones on second-and-12. With no timeouts, Brissett spiked the ball to stop the clock on two occasions, the last to set up York’s bomber. York was 4-for-4 on field goals and 2-for-2 on extra points in his debut. It’s why the Browns were able to break an 18-year non-winning streak in season openers and run their record in first games to 2-21-1 since 1999.
2. Are you kidding us?: The Browns’ defense dominated the day except for a few plays – a 50-yard Mayfield-to-Ian Thomas connection, a 28-yard run by Christian McCaffrey after he picked up a dropped snap, and a Mayfield 7-yard touchdown run when a sea of green grass opened in front of him. But the one that really kept the Panthers in the game was a broken coverage on Robbie Anderson. Mayfield spotted it and threw a strike for a 75-yard touchdown. That score revived the crowd, closed the Browns’ lead to 23-21 with 6:02 to play, and tightened the squeeze on the Browns.
3. Take that: Through his first six series, Mayfield was as bad as anything seen a year ago in a Browns uniform. He was 6 of 13 passing for 17 yards with three sacks, four tipped passes, and one interception. He also fumbled a shotgun snap, which was recovered by the Panthers. The natives in Bank of America Stadium were getting restless and his teammates, particularly under-used McCaffrey, were showing frustration.
4. Missed chances: The Browns’ offense was nervous and confused to start the game. They squandered scoring opportunities in the first quarter when Brissett overthrew Amari Cooper beating coverage down the right sideline, then on another series missed Kareem Hunt streaking past linebacker Shaq Thompson. Brissett also whistled a ball out of the end zone aimed for Donovan Peoples-Jones. At the end of the half, they had to settle for a short field goal after having first-and-goal from the Panthers’ 9.
5. Whew: The Browns let Mayfield off the canvas on his seventh possession -- his only productive series of the first half. Down, 14-0, Mayfield was almost intercepted on first down, then made a first down on completions to McCaffrey and D.J. Moore. Then the Browns defense made their only bad play of the half. They lost coverage of tight end Ian Thomas and Mayfield connected for a 50-yard gain to the Browns’ 2. McCaffrey plowed in from 1 yard two plays later for the Panthers’ only touchdown of the first half. It saved Mayfield from getting booed off the field. The Browns had 1:57 to make something happen, and Carolina helped immensely by scooting the kickoff out of bounds. Starting from the 40-yard line, Brissett converted a third-and-13 on a screen to Kareem Hunt for 24 yards. An illegal block penalty by safety Xavier Woods added another 15 yards. The Browns failed to punch it in from the Panthers’ 9, however, and settled for a 26-yard field goal to go up at halftime, 17-7.
6. Dynamic duo back: The reunion of Nick Chubb and a healthy Kareem Hunt had a big effect on the offense the first half. Chubb had 69 yards on 11 carries and Hunt scored both touchdowns, the first on a simple 1-yard toss by Brissett after a play-fake and the second on a violent 24-yard run up the middle. The two backs also shared some time on the field together. Chubb finished with 141 yards on 22 carries. Hunt had 46 on 11 plus 24 on four receptions.
7. Something new on defense: Coordinator Joe Woods promised new wrinkles in his playbook, and he gave a glimpse on a seldom-seen blitz at the end of the first quarter. On third-and-7 from the Panthers’ 23, Woods lined up Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett on the left side of the line and then blitzed safeties John Johnson and Ronnie Harrison. The safeties sandwiched Mayfield for an emphatic sack. After the play, the Panthers were slapped with an unsportsmanlike conduct for “sideline interference.” For the game, Myles Garrett had two sacks and Jadeveon Clowney and Tommy Togiai shared another.
8. Something new on offense: In the first half, there were more than a handful of plays with Chubb and Hunt on the field together. That wasn’t altogether new, but it’s the most we’ve seen the two backs together. Brissett just couldn’t capitalize on the options these plays presented. Also, on four occasions in the first half, the Browns slipped in Michael Dunn as a tackle-eligible. The Browns play-faked the first time, resulting in a sack. Anthony Schwartz gained 5 yards on an end-around carry the second time, squandering a bevy of blockers in front of him. On the third time, Brissett play-fake inside the Panthers’ 10 and immediately threw the ball away – off the goal post. On the fourth time, a handoff to Chubb resulted in a 1-yard gain.
9. Return to sender: Tough debut for punt returner Demetric Felton. His first opportunity was a fair catch. The second one, he fielded a short punt running straight ahead and lost his footing, face-planting himself for a 6-yard return. On his third try, Felton fumbled the ball, and it was quickly recovered by Herb Miller. Felton had five punt returns for 29 yards for the game.
10. Pre-game notes: Both Jack Conklin (knee) and Chris Hubbard (elbow) were made inactive after extensive pre-game workouts. James Hudson started at right tackle. It also left newly acquired Joe Haeg as the only natural tackle on the bench, though Michael Dunn could play there in emergency. Other Browns inactives: running back D’Ernest Johnson, receiver Michael Woods, safety Richard LeCounte, defensive end Isaiah Thomas and quarterback Kellen Mond.