By Ed Meyer
CLEVELAND: The beauty of the Cleveland Browns’ 28-16 beatdown of the Atlanta Falcons was everywhere the eye could see Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield was brilliant with his quick, sharp execution, completing 17-of-20 passes for 216 yards and a career-high three touchdown passes.
At one point early in the third quarter, Mayfield had reached the perfect quarterback rating, 158.3, after hitting on 13 consecutive passes – every one on the mark – for 175 yards and two TDs.
But there was more to come, more than anyone had ever seen in a Cleveland Browns game in nearly 60 years.
With the Browns in front 21-10 midway through the third quarter, rookie running back Nick Chubb, all 230 pounds of him, hit a hole created on the right side of the line by guard Kevin Zeitler, broke free near midfield and sprinted 92 yards for the back-breaking touchdown.
The Browns led by 18 points, and there was nothing more Atlanta could do behind star quarterback Matt Ryan to deter the Browns’ defense from securing the win.
No player on the Falcons’ defense came close to catching Chubb on his epic run as the stadium erupted.
It was the longest run in franchise history, the club announced.
The great halfback, Bobby Mitchell, held the previous record with a 90-yard run in 1959, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House.
Fox TV analyst Ronde Barber, a former star cornerback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was stunned by Chubb’s cutback running and breakaway speed.
Chubb, the rookie from Georgia -- Herschel Walker’s school -- went into the 2018 draft with many questioning whether his 4.52-second speed in the running back’s measuring stick, the 40-yard dash, was fast enough to make it big in the NFL.
Barber, however, called it: “the fastest 4.52 I’ve ever seen.”
The victory, after four consecutive defeats and a change in head coaches, improved the Browns’ record to 3-6-1 before their bye week. The Falcons came into the game with three straight wins and their playoff hopes suddenly revived, but dropped to 4-5 to fall four games behind the Saints in their division.
What I saw, and how I saw it
The Browns could not have started any more sharply.
Minutes before the game began, Fox NFL Sunday analyst Michael Strahan, the former Giants defensive end, made his pick of the day. The Falcons went into the game as 6-point favorites.
Strahan picked Atlanta as his “lock” to win. So much for that.
Mayfield wasn’t listening to the broadcast, of course, but immediately made Strahan’s pick look shaky. The rookie opened the action 6-of-6 for 86 yards and a TD on a 28-yard pass to wide receiver Rashard Higgins in the right corner of the end zone in one-on-one coverage.
It was the first TD for the Browns in the first quarter, all season.
Every pass Mayfield threw was on the money. It’s what the Browns’ braintrust loved – arm strength and tremendous accuracy in his career at the University of Oklahoma -- when they decided early in the drafting process to make him the league’s No. 1 pick.
The numbers became even more astounding. Getting excellent protection from the new starter at left tackle, former top draft pick Greg Robinson, Mayfield finished the first half 12-of-12 passing for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
Browns snuff out potential Falcons turning point
After Mayfield’s red-shot start, the Browns led 7-3 following a 40-yard field goal by the Falcons early in the second quarter.
It wouldn’t be long before trickery reared its ugly head.
Setting up in a 3-back set from the shotgun, Mayfield broke left out of the formation and drifted into the flat as a receiver. But running back Dontrell Hilliard’s poorly lofted pass to Mayfield was picked off by Damonte Kazee deep in Atlanta territory and returned to the Cleveland 45.
It appeared at that point, with much of the second quarter still to play, that the Browns just might implode again after the Falcons mounted a drive and scored to take a 10-7 lead.
But Mayfield wouldn’t allow it to happen again. He responded to the Atlanta scoring drive by mounting his own drive and slinging a 13-yard TD pass to Chubb on the right flank, in traffic, to reclaim the lead 14-10 with 0:55 left before halftime.
The Browns mounted two more scoring drives after that turnaround to put the Falcons away.
Barber, the Fox analyst, praising Mayfield’s performance at halftime, said something that the Browns’ long-abused fans have been waiting to hear for nearly two decades.
“As the offense continues to build around him,” Barber said, “this could be an exciting football team.”
Greg Williams’ moment in the sun
It was the first victory by interim head coach Greg Williams, the defensive coordinator before Hue Jackson was fired two weeks ago, since Dec. 7, 2003, when he was head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
In a joyous scene at midfield after the victory was complete, Browns tight end Orson Charles appeared to surprise Williams, seemingly coming out of nowhere to chest bump the new head coach and warp him in an embrace.
Williams will gladly take three or four more good chest bumps just like that before this season ends.
And then what happens to the search for a new head coach?