OAKLAND (AP) — The NFL has undergone quite a few changes since the time when Jon Gruden first walked the sideline as Oakland Raiders head coach.
One constant had been Cleveland searching for a legitimate starting quarterback. Now it looks as if the Browns might finally have found their man.
No. 1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield is set to make his debut as an NFL starter on Sunday when the Browns (1-1-1) visit Gruden and the Raiders (0-3) a week after he led a comeback win in relief that snapped Cleveland’s 19-game winless streak.
“I think that guy has the ‘it’ factor,” Gruden said. “He has the charisma. He has the competitiveness. He has the feel. He has the ability to be great. What he did the other day coming off of the bench, down (14) and bringing his team back at home in front of his fans in his debut was awesome.”
Mayfield will be the 30th starting quarterback for the Browns since they returned to NFL in 1999, a list that includes another former No. 1 overall pick in Tim Couch, first-round flameouts such as Johnny Manziel and journeymen such as Ken Dorsey and Luke McCown. Only Brian Hoyer has a winning record at 10-6 as the revolving door at quarterback has led to little success.
The Browns drafted Mayfield first overall looking to change that history and he’s getting the opportunity quicker than planned. Coach Hue Jackson’s plan was for Mayfield to sit and watch Tyrod Taylor, but that changed last week against the Jets when Taylor went out with a concussion.
Mayfield went 17 of 23 for 201 yards and caught a 2-point conversion pass in just more than a half, leading the Browns back from a 14-0 deficit to a 21-17 win that was their first since Dec. 24, 2016.
“This is sooner than what I thought would happen because I thought that we would have played much better earlier on offense. We did not,” Jackson said.
“There was a stark difference in how we performed when he got in there. That is the nature of this business. That is the way that it works. It is an earned business. The young man went in there, and he earned the right to be the starter.”
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FAST START, SLOW FINISH
The Raiders have opened each game this season by taking the opening kickoff and driving for a score, followed by a three-and-out on defense. That has helped Oakland take the lead at halftime in every game so far.
But the second half has been a different story and that’s why the Raiders are the second team in the past 20 seasons to start 0-3 despite leading every game at the half.
Oakland hasn’t trailed for a single second in the first three quarters this season, but has been outscored 37-3 in the fourth, leading to the three losses.
“I feel like if we would’ve gotten blown out all three games, or not been ahead, then you could be pessimistic,” receiver Amari Cooper said. “But we feel like we could have won every game we’ve been in. We’re looking forward to closing the next one.”
Jackson and Gruden have intertwined coaching roots. They were assistants on the same staff at Pacific in 1989, when Jackson coached running backs and Gruden had receivers. Jackson said Gruden tried to hire him during his first stint with Oakland. Jackson then spent the 2011 season as Raiders coach. And while they’re friends, Jackson said that gets put to the side Sunday.
“We used to be office mates. He taught me football,” Jackson said. “We used to argue every day. I know him extremely well. He is extremely competitive, and he does not like losing, no more than I did not like losing.”
SAME PLAY, SAME RESULT
The Raiders have been burned three times already this season on jet sweeps for touchdowns. Todd Gurley took one 19 yards for a score in the opener for the Rams and Miami struck twice last week with an 18-yard TD for Jakeem Grant and a 74-yarder for Albert Wilson. The Raiders expect to see more of the same until they can prove they can stop it.
“If there is $20 bills being spit out of a teller down the street, you and I are going to get in line,” Gruden said. “We are going to stand in line and pick up 20s. The Rams got us, the Dolphins got us and I’m sure Cleveland is going to try and get us as well.”
Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry didn’t know he’s been making catches — and history. The three-time Pro Bowler has had at least five receptions in 20 straight games, the second-longest run in NFL history.
Antonio Brown set the mark with 36 straight games from 2013-15. Landry’s run underscores his consistency and playmaking abilities, and he is proud of his dependability.
“I can only speak about just getting opportunities and taking advantage of the opportunities regardless of the play call or whatever it is,” said Landry, who has 420 catches in just over four seasons.
“If the quarterbacks trust me to throw it to me, then I got to make the play.”