Baker Mayfield played for the better team, had the better stats and had the better result when his Browns outlasted Joe Burrow’s Bengals 35-30 in Thursday night’s thriller to open Week 2 of the 2020 NFL season.
That didn’t make him the better, more impressive quarterback in the game. That honor belongs to Burrow, the rookie No. 1 overall pick.
Mayfield needed his best performance in a year and a half to ensure Cleveland started 1-1. He was super-efficient, completing 16 of 23 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 9.5 yards per attempt and rating a stellar 110.6.
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Then consider that Burrow had a much higher volume game, dropped back 64 times, completing 37 passes while getting sacked three times to Mayfield’s none. In getting to 316 yards, Burrow averaged only 5.2 yards per attempt and yet somehow rated a solid 90.6.
Mayfield was also on the team with the stronger offensive line and more dynamic rushing duo as the Browns outrushed the Bengals 215-68. He was also the one who threw a red zone interception that kept the Bengals in the game longer than they should have been.
Despite being under heavy duress and facing consistent long distances on downs, Burrow helped his team go 8 for 18 on third down and an incredible 5 for 5 on fourth down. For most of the night he was scrambling for his life, but he hung in there, uncannily avoided pressure and grinded for the rushing yards his team needed at critical times.
There’s no doubt that when looking at both young QBs in the Battle of Ohio, Burrow was the one anyone would want, for now and for the future.
Quarterback is a dependent position, but it’s also the most important position. Good QBs are lifted well by their supporting cast. Great QBs get the job done despite their supporting cast. Mayfield, in Year 3, remains in the former category. Burrow is unquestionably already in the latter.
Mayfield worked with a clean pocket and finally took advantage of primo downfield passing opportunities facilitated by the dominant running of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Typically a bad play-action passer, he went 4 for 5 for 87 yards in those situations, including a 43-yard TD strike to a streaking Odell Bekcham Jr.
Meanwhile, Burrow continued to have shoddy pass protection. That bad blocking didn’t help his talented feature, Joe Mixon, much at all, as he kept hitting walls against a depleted Browns defensive front. He made some impossible throws on the run. Even with veteran A.J. Green blanketed, he found other guys in key situations, including true go-to wide receiver Tyler Boyd.
Burrow got extra receivers Tee Higgins and Michael Thomas involved at ideal times. He lost his fine connection with tight end C.J. Uzomah, who went down with an Achilles injury in the second half after scoring as a key target in the first half. Burrow’s response? Simply feeding Uzomah’s replacement, young Drew Sample, over and over to keep moving the ball.
Spreading the ball around, not panicking under pressuring and getting the ball out quickly are all signs that a promising rookie QB has “it” right away. Consider how much the Browns have invested at offensive tackle, tight end, wide receiver, running back and coaching with the intention of getting Mayfield to play better.
Burrow has inherited a team that has major familiar protection issues. He could have folded and given up in both losses against the Chargers and Browns after taking massive beatings, and no one would have blamed him. Somehow, he fought to the end and made his team look much better than it really was.
The Bengals are 0-2 to start Burrow’s career. But despite what the box score said in Cleveland on Thursday night, the brighter quarterback future is in Cincinnati.
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