CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Mayfield Baker did not take his revenge against the Cleveland Browns thanks in part to what Carolina Panthers come back Christian McCaffrey branded ‘awful’ for brutalizing passer’s penalty defensively Brian Burnsbut he came close.
After looking abysmal for nearly three quarters, Mayfield led the Panthers to 17 points in the fourth quarter and the lead before the Browns spoiled their revenge with a 58-yard field goal by the rookie kicker. Cade York with eight seconds remaining.
The game-winning drive was aided by a hard-hitting setter penalty in the first game that gave Cleveland a first down at 40. Chief umpire Brad Rogers said the call was made because there was ” forced contact with the head and neck area.”
McCaffrey saw it differently.
“It was a horrible call,” he said.
The 26-24 defeat left Mayfield 0-4 in early NFL games, including 0-3 with the Browns.
“Everyone made this game the Super Bowl,” Mayfield said. “But despite what everyone is going to think, there are 16 games left. The Super Bowl isn’t until February.”
Mayfield took much of the blame for that loss due to a slow start on his part and the offense. He was 10 for 19 for 101 yards with four knockdowns at the line of scrimmage, one interception and two sacks in the first half. He also missed a shotgun snap.
He finished with five angled passes down the line, a trend that began in Cleveland where his 44 passes down the line from 2018 to 2021 were the most in the NFL.
“I have to do a better job of finding angles and windows to throw it, and we have to give it up,” Mayfield said. “But this team put up a fight. That’s why it’s so disappointing.”
Mayfield’s only big play in the half was a tight end 50-yard completion Ian Thomaswhich was wide open in the middle of the field.
It got so bad he was booed for the first time after being forced to throw the ball under pressure to end the fifth of his seven possessions.
There were also boos when the Panthers left for the locker room at halftime 17-7. It was so bad that Quincy Avery, the Browns’ suspended quarterback’s personal passing coach Deshaun Watson, tweeted: “This is the baker we know and love.”
Mayfield finally showed some of the energy the Panthers were looking for from him late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter with a touchdown that he capped off with a 7-yard run down the middle.
He then showed some of the emotion he has throughout his career, slamming the ball into the padded stadium wall after cutting the lead to 20-14.
“He’s the ultimate fighter,” offensive guard Brady Christensen said of Mayfield.
After a field goal from Cleveland, Mayfield threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Robbie Anderson to cut the lead to 23-21 with 6:02 remaining.
He then led Carolina to a field goal with just over a minute to play, setting the stage for York’s game-winner which left York celebrating and Mayfield disappointed.
“I usually say I don’t celebrate kicks,” York said. “That one was a little different.”
Mayfield was 16 for 27 for 235 yards.
“I thought Baker was there and took all the balls and gave the plays that gave us a chance to win,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said.
The Browns dropped Mayfield after the 2021 season in which he went 6-8 while battling a non-throwing shoulder injury. They traded for Watson in the offseason, prompting Mayfield to seek a trade from the team that made him the first pick in the 2018 draft.
He went through what Carolina called an “open” competition with the 2021 starter Sam Darnold for the starting job, although league sources said it was Mayfield’s job to lose all along. He was officially named the starter on August 22.
He never made a big deal out of facing his former side until Sunday, saying it was a “good story”, but he was focused on his job.
“Obviously there’s a lot of attachment there,” Mayfield said of the Browns after being named the Panthers’ starter. “I’m not going to sit here and be a robot and say it doesn’t mean anything. It will.”
But it wasn’t an emotional day in the sense that the so-called revenge games have been for Mayfield in the NFL and in college.
“It’s always good to see familiar faces,” Mayfield said. “Emotional? I wouldn’t put too much into it. We didn’t finish, mainly because we didn’t start fast.
It was nothing but hugs and smiles for Mayfield before kick-off as he greeted several of his former teammates, coaches and executives.
There were more hugs and fewer smiles after the game.
“Lots of anticipation,” Mayfield said. “We’re going to wash this out. We’re going to come out of this better.”
ESPN’s Jake Trotter contributed to this report.