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Mayfield leads quick TD drive; Browns cruise in preseason opener

By MARY KAY CABOT • Aug 8, 2019 at 11:19 PM

CLEVELAND — Baker Mayfield and Rashard Higgins showed they’re ready for their closeup on Mayfield’s first and only drive against the Redskins.

Meanwhile, rookie linebacker Mack Wilson stole the show from there with two interceptions including a 40-yard pick-six.

En route to a 30-10 rout in the preseason opener at FirstEnergy Stadium, Mayfield found his good buddy Rashard Higgins for a 24-yard touchdown just inside the goal line against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to put the Browns up 7-0 just 2:13 into the first quarter.

After the catch, Mayfield made like the paparazzi and snapped photos of ‘Hollywood’ Higgins as walked the red carpet in the end zone.

It capped a fast and furious seven-play, 89-yard drive on which Mayfield — operating out of the no-huddle — went 5-for-6 for 77 yards for a perfect 158.3 rating.

And that was without Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, who stood on the sidelines in uniform, Beckham in a ballcap and Landry in a bucket hat.

“They did a good job of managing the situations and great protection, not even flushed from the pocket any,'' Kitchens said at halftime. "Great protection up front.”

Receivers Derrick Willies, Rashard Higgins and Jaelen Strong started the game in three wides, and Mayfield’s short pass in the left flat to Willies on the first play of the game was his only incompletion.

He connected on his next five attempts, one to Strong, one to Nick Chubb and two to Dontrell Hilliard to set up the Higgins’ TD. Nick Chubb also rumbled 12 yards off right guard to near midfield.

Mayfield, who got the crowd fired up in pre-game warmups with his vintage Phil Collins “In the Air” drum riff, went out in a blaze of glory, giving way to Drew Stanton after the first drive.

The drive provided a sneak preview of the Browns’ explosive offense this season, and Mayfield looked right at home running the uptempo scheme. It also came on the same day that the Browns traded disgruntled running back Duke Johnson to the Texans for a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020 that can improve to a third.

But Mayfield and Higgins weren’t the only ones who shined in in the preseason opener in this season of great expectations. Myles Garrett was unblockable and rookies Greedy Williams and Mack Wilson both had interceptions, including Wilson’s pick-six and another theft with 13:33 left in the game.

David Blough and D.J. Montgomery connected on an 11-yard TD pass to make it 24-10 and Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi treated the few remaining fans to an 86-yard punt return for a TD with 3:05 left to produce the final margin.

The bench cleared and mobbed Sheehy-Guiseppi after the score.

Myles Garrett unblockable

Garrett is wearing his 10-pound weight loss extremely well. Shaking off a knee injury that sidelined him the last two days of practice before the game, Garrett played the first series and was virtually unblockable. The only chance was to hold him, and the Redskins were flagged four times for that offense on their opening drive, three of which were declined. But Garrett was a major reason the Redskins’ mostly first-teamers mustered only 14 yards on their first drive before punting from their own 35.

Wilson keeps the pick party going

Wilson picked off former Ohio State Dwayne Haskins in the second quarter and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown, stiff-arming Haskins on his way into the end zone. It followed three interceptions in the four previous practices for Wilson, including two other pick-sixes.

Playing most of the game, Wilson grabbed another one with 13:33 left in the game, leaping back to grab the pass.

“It’s great,'' Kitchens said at halftime of the pick-six. "Mack has been making some plays the last couple days and it has continued tonight. That’s what we need.”

The Browns’ fifth-round pick out of Alabama continues to make a huge impact in this training camp and plant his flag for playing time.

Greedy Williams too

Williams, who started at cornerback in place of the injured Denzel Ward, picked off Haskins in the second quarter and returned the ball four yards. Williams has also been getting his hands on passes in practice. Williams, the No. 46 overall pick, started the game opposite Terrance Mitchell, and helps his case for starting on opening day along with Denzel Ward.

Drew Stanton’s night

In his two series with the backups, Drew Stanton completed only 3-of-8 attempts for 68 yards and earned a 66.1 rating.

Stanton looked like he may have completed a 1-yard TD pass to Antonio Callaway, but the Browns lost the challenge. In the corner of the end zone, Callaway reached and appeared to secure the ball while landing with both knees inbounds, but the incompletion stood.

Mayfield enthusiastically cheered on Kitchens’ throwing the red challenge flag.

Higgins shines again

The incompletion to Callaway followed a 38-yard pass from Stanton to Higgins, who juked past safety DeShazor Everett for extra yards to the 2. Higgins finished with five catches on six targets for 98 yards and the TD. With Beckham and Landry out, and Willies and Strong threatening to steal some of his reps in three wides, Higgins helped his cause with a strong night.

Dontell Hilliard’s fumble

In his first game since the Browns traded Duke Johnson, Hilliard was stripped of the ball on the goal-line and the Redskins recovered. At halftime, Hlliard had 19 yards on nine carries for a 2.1-yard average, and caught three of his five targets for 34 yards.

But the Browns won’t tolerate fumbling and he’ll have to get that fixed in a hurry.

Eric Kush gets the RG nod

Kush, the seven-year veteran who started 11 games for the Bears over the past two seasons, got the start at right guard. It followed three straight practices in which he got the nod from Freddie Kitchens to try to win this job. At this point, Kitchens wants someone — anyone — to step up and take the job.

2018 No. 33 overall pick Austin Corbett worked at backup center and didn’t get any right guard guard reps.

Kyle Kalis concussion

Guard/center Kyle Kalis, the Lakewood native and St. Ed’s grad, left the game with a concussion. It’s the fifth concussion for the Browns this season, an inordinate amount for preseason. The others are Seth DeValve, Demetrius Harris, Brian Price and Adarius Taylor. Kalis has been part of the three-man rotation at right guard along with Kush and Corbett.

Sione Takitaki starts for Joe Schobert

Schobert was excused from the game for a personal reason, and third-round pick Takitaki started in his place. Takitaki played most of the game and was active, getting good pressure up the middle and making several tackles. Schobert’s absence gave Takitaki the extra work he needs to try to win this job. Takitaki and Wilson have had excellent camps and have made strong cases for playing time.

Greg Joseph makes FG; misses a PAT

Joseph made a 43-yard field goal in the second quarter to extend the Browns’ lead to 17-7. Problem is, he hit the left upright on a PAT at the end of the game after making the first one on Higgins’ TD. Therefore, the kicking job is still a little shaky. Fifth-round pick Austin Seibert made two extra points -- on Wilson’s pick-six and Montgomery’s TD catch.

Joseph and Seibert are in a heated battle for the starting job, but Seibert has been struggling in practice and Joseph, the second-year incumbent, has had a leg up. The field goal helped his case, but the PAT, from 33 yards, hurt him.

Did not play

The Browns rested some of their veterans and others sat out the game because of injury. Ward, who left practice early on Tuesday when he tweaked something, did not play, and Mitchell started in his place. Others who were idle included defensive linemen Olivier Vernon (hamstring) and Sheldon Richardson (abdomen), although they were in uniform. Cornerback T.J. Carrie was on the sidelines in street clothes with an undisclosed injury as was receiver Damion Ratley (hamstring).

Up next

The Browns will play at Indianapolis Aug. 17 after practicing against the Colts in Westfield, Ind. on Aug. 14 and Aug. 15.

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