CLEVELAND (AP) — Before he rolled out of bed, Baker Mayfield had a premonition of near perfection.
More than a hunch.
“When I woke up this morning, I was feeling pretty dangerous,” the Browns rookie quarterback said with a smile and a hint of arrogance. “I just woke up feeling really dangerous.”
Someone should have warned the Atlanta Falcons.
Mayfield threw a season-high three touchdown passes and rookie Nick Chubb streaked 92 yards for a TD as the Cleveland Browns ended a four-game losing streak with their best all-around performance in years, a stunning 28-16 win over the Falcons on Sunday.
The Browns (3-6-1) played their most complete game this season under interim coach Gregg Williams, their defensive coordinator who improved to 1-1 since replacing the fired Hue Jackson.
Mayfield outplayed Falcons star quarterback Matt Ryan with an excellent outing that further justifies Cleveland’s decision to take the former Oklahoma QB with the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft.
Earlier this week, Williams and offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens urged Mayfield to play loose and not worry about any mistakes.
He took the message to heart.
“If you take a step back and watch how he managed the game in the huddle, how he managed the clock, how he managed the check systems and how he managed the overall communication on the offensive side of the ball,” Williams said. “A good next step for him.”
Mayfield completed his first 13 passes and finished 17 of 20 for 216 yards. He threw a 28-yard scoring pass to Rashard Higgins, a 13-yarder to Chubb and 11-yarder to Duke Johnson. He went 12 of 12 for 165 yards and two TD passes in the first half, and didn’t throw his first incompletion until 11:14 remained in the third quarter.
Two plays later, he connected with Johnson to put the Browns ahead 21-10
“It comes down to just doing my job,” said Mayfield, who appreciated his coaches’ trust. “Them saying they trust me enough to let the ball go, I was brought here for a reason so just go do my thing.
“That obviously makes me feel comfortable when they say that. It comes down to me doing my job, getting the ball out of my hands. We did a good job of having guys open, finding the holes in their defense and getting completions.”
Ryan threw two touchdown passes but the Falcons (4-5) had their three-game winning streak — and any playoff momentum — stopped cold.
“It is disappointing because we had been playing better than this the last couple of weeks. We’re better than what we put out there today, but you’re only as good as your last performance. Today was not good enough.”
And while Mayfield did damage, Chubb’s record run was the backbreaker.
With the Browns backed up at their 8, Chubb, who had 176 yards on 20 carries, took a handoff and headed right. He cut toward Atlanta’s sideline, picked up a block and then showed his surprising breakaway speed while finishing the longest run in team history.
Chubb’s run broke the previous team mark held by Bobby Mitchell, who had a 90-yard TD run against Washington on Nov. 15, 1959. It was also the second-longest run by a rookie in league history, behind only Bobby Gage’s 97-yard run for Pittsburgh in 1949.
“A great handoff,” Mayfield joked. “When I handed it off, it parted like the Red Sea.”
The score put the Browns ahead 28-10, an unexpected and unescapable hole for the Falcons, who blew a chance to get closer in the fourth when they were stopped inches short of the goal line.
“I told the team I thought we took a step back,” said Falcons coach Dan Quinn. “That’s tough to see and tough to say. I also told them we must regroup. We’re trying to fight for consistency, and we certainly made improvement over the last three weeks, and we didn’t get the job done.”
One of the few positives for the Falcons was receiver Julio Jones, who had 107 yards and became the fastest player to reach 10,000 with a 30-yard catch in the second quarter. Jones reached the 10,000-yard plateau in his 104th game, 11 quicker than Calvin Johnson.
“He’s amazing,” Ryan said of Jones, who is tied with Hall of Famer Randy Moss with 45 career games with 100 yards or more receiving, the most for a player in his first eight seasons. “He’s a unique and special player. He’s as talented as any player probably that has ever played. His skillset is phenomenal. He works extremely hard. He’s been awesome to be around for his entire career. It’s fun to be a small part of what he’s done so far.”
Kitchens joked earlier in the week he might bring back the “wishbone” — a three-back formation popular with college teams in the 1970s. And sure enough, the Browns used a variation of the wishbone on several plays.
“It was something, wasn’t it?” Mayfield said, drawing laughter. “It is something different. We threw a different look. We moved the ball well. It was just a thing to switch up the tempo, and I think it was great for our offense.”
While Mayfield was sublime in the first half, the Browns did have one interception.
Running back Dontrell Hilliard took a pitch and threw an ill-advised pass back toward Mayfield, who was well covered and the ball was picked by Falcons safety Damonte Kazee, who leads the league with five interceptions.
Falcons: Host the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 18.
Browns: Bye week.