HOUSTON -- Quarterback Baker Mayfield had his rookie moment Sunday, as his three interceptions in the first half contributed to a 23-point halftime deficit and led to a 29-13 Cleveland Browns loss to the Houston Texans.
Mayfield played much better in the second half, but the deficit was too large to overcome. Thirteen of Houston’s 23 first-half points followed Mayfield’s turnovers. An interception was returned for a touchdown by Zach Cunningham, and two others led to Ka'imi Fairbairn field goals.
“It’s on me to take care of the ball, because if we do that the first half then we’re definitely in that game,” Mayfield said. “There’s zero question about that. We had the things we wanted. I got to be able to execute them.”
The easy assessment is Mayfield got a dose of humility after a week in which he chirped about former coach Hue Jackson, calling him “fake” on an Instagram response, then didn't back down an inch from it in midweek interviews.
That could have been the reason Houston’s J.J. Watt threw some shade toward Mayfield after the game, something Watt rarely does.
“He probably wasn’t feeling too dangerous in the first half, but he was feeling a little more dangerous in the second half,” Watt said.
His "dangerous" remark referred to Mayfield saying after the win over Atlanta that he woke up feeling dangerous. That comment was noticed by his peers, and Mayfield’s midweek comments on Jackson obviously were noticed in Houston.
Mayfield dismissed it, saying the loss was a matter of execution. But another thing that happened the week before playing the NFL’s hottest team saw the Browns talking about reaching the playoffs while they were 4-6-1. Without meaning to, Mayfield put the team’s playoff hopes in proper perspective with a malaprop, saying: “All we can take care of is what we’re doing and let the rest fall into pieces.”
He obviously meant let the pieces fall where they may.
The most accurate assessment from this game is that Mayfield wasn’t facing Cincinnati, Atlanta or Kansas City. The Texans are a top-10 defense, and their secondary played aggressively and seemed able to read Mayfield’s intentions, at least in the first half. Browns interim coach Gregg Williams credited former Browns coach turned Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel with undercutting some of the quick routes the Browns like.
The game isn’t defining. Mayfield had played the season without a clunker of a half or a game. This one simply did not start well. Mayfield will line up next Sunday and play Carolina at home. And he did throw for more than 350 yards in the second half as he feverishly tried to get the Browns back in the game.
“That’s how the first half should have gone if we had taken care of our stuff,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield went over each interception, and in doing so pointed out details he said everyone on the offense needs to be precise about for the offense to succeed.
The first was a one-handed snag by Cunningham, which he returned for a touchdown. Antonio Callaway was five yards beyond the spot of the interception, but Rashard Higgins was coming straight to Cunningham on a cross and took his route two yards deeper and behind Cunningham as he threw.
“The guy made a great play, but we got to have the right depth on our routes and I got to have the ball out earlier to where he doesn’t have a chance to make that play,” Mayfield said.
The second also was to Callaway, and Mayfield hinted Callaway did not come back to fight for the ball.
“The second one we got to be able to attack the ball,” Mayfield said. “Once again, ball out earlier on a deep post-curl. You got to fight through it and make a play. Yeah it’s going to be a competitive catch, but we got to be able to do that.”
The third was thrown late into coverage from Houston’s 38. Intended for David Njoku, the pass had no chance.
“It’s just a dumb throw,” Mayfield said, adding Njoku was open early, which was when he should have thrown the ball.
Mayfield guided a 75-yard touchdown drive on the Browns' first possession in the second half. He also had a 76-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway called back by a holding call on tackle Greg Robinson, then had a 76-yard pass and run to Callaway end when Callaway fumbled at the 6. The penalty and turnover kept the Browns from clawing back into the game.
The two halves told the story of the game. In the first, Mayfield was 5-for-13 for 46 yards with three interceptions. Rating: 9.3.
In the second half, Mayfield was 24-for-30 for 353 yards with a touchdown. Rating: 126.8.
"I just go to do my job better in the first half,” Mayfield said.