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Packers weighing options with safety Josh Jones



GREEN BAY, Wis. — If the Green Bay Packers trade or release safety Josh Jones, it won’t be because that’s what the former second-round pick wants. That’s how general manager Brian Gutekunst is playing it.

“I think it’s more about what our team desire is, and right now we’re kind of working through that,” Gutekunst said Tuesday. “But he’s a very talented player. He’s shown that on the field at the times. We’ll go along and see where it goes.”

Jones reported for the start of the Packers’ mandatory minicamp, which opened Tuesday, but did not practice. Gutekunst said he was held out because of a hamstring injury, but it’s possible the Packers don’t want to put Jones on the field because if he were to get hurt, they would have trouble trading him or cutting him.

A source told ESPN last month that Jones wanted the Packers to trade him or let him go, and that’s why he left the team during the middle of the voluntary offseason program.

The Packers could have fined Jones had he not reported for this week’s minicamp. When asked Tuesday where things stand, Jones told ESPN: “I have no idea. All of those conversations are left up to my agent and Brian.”

Added Gutekunst: “Obviously Josh wasn’t here in the voluntary session. He got back yesterday. It was good to see him, get him in the building. Dealing with a little bit of a hamstring. But there’s been constant communication with us and Drew [Rosenhaus], his agent, so we’re kind of going from there.”

Jones, the 61st overall pick in the 2017 draft, has not found a consistent role for the Packers. The safety has been used at times as an inside linebacker in the dime defensive package. He has started 12 games in his two years but didn’t become a starter last season until late in the year.

The Packers opened last season with former undrafted rookie Kentrell Brice and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at safety. Even after Clinton-Dix was traded midway through last season, Jones was bypassed for a starting job when the Packers moved Tramon Williams from cornerback to safety. It wasn’t until after Brice sustained an ankle injury in Week 10 that Jones finally got his first start of the season in Week 11.

Since then, the Packers signed former Chicago Bears safety Adrian Amos to a four-year, $36 million contract in free agency and drafted safety Darnell Savage Jr. at No. 21 overall.

“We’ve been in constant communication,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “I think we’re on the same page in terms of what the expectations are and where [Jones] fits with us. We certainly want him a part of what we’re doing moving forward.

“I think he’s a versatile guy. He can fill a lot of roles, especially in [coordinator Mike] Pettine’s defense where we’re going to play multiple defensive backs and put these guys all over the place. I think he’s a talented young player that I think can help us.”

Jones said he reported for minicamp because it’s mandatory. “I’m also a part of the Green Bay Packers,” he said, “so that’s why I came.”

It’s unclear what role Jones would play if the Packers kept him on the roster this season.

“I’ve been here the past two years, but that’s not up to me,” Jones said.

When asked whether he thinks his best opportunity would be with another team, Jones said: “I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t know what the good Lord has planned for me. I don’t know what path he’s going to lead me down. Whether that’s here or there or anywhere, I know that I’m going to thrive.”

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Star-hungry Jets signed Le’Veon Bell for moments like this – New York Jets Blog



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It took only a few days of misfortune to erase the feel-good vibe from the summer. The New York Jets blew a 16-point lead in their season opener, lost wide receiver Quincy Enunwa to a season-ending neck injury and — this one still is hard to fathom — learned that quarterback Sam Darnold has mononucleosis and will be out indefinitely.

This is what you call a serious dose of early-season adversity.

“That’s a nice way of putting it,” Jets coach Adam Gase said, managing a weak smile.

The Jets need a jolt, a spark, a boost, a kick in the rear — something — for Monday night against the Cleveland Browns, and they have just the player who can provide it. For a change, they have legit star power, a player who can dominate a football game.

Le’Veon Bell, this is your moment.

He’s the most accomplished, highest-paid and best overall player on their offense, a versatile talent who can be Trevor Siemian‘s best friend and an enemy to the Cleveland defense. He loves the lights, evidenced by a career of big-time performances in prime-time games.

“He’s already going into the game feeling he’s the best … and he wants to show the world,” said Jets nose tackle Steve McLendon, a former Pittsburgh Steelers teammate.

The Jets have been prime-busts in recent years — they haven’t won at home on Monday night since 2011 — but they landed three night games because of Darnold and an offseason spending spree that yielded Bell and Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley. Suddenly, the TV networks deemed them relevant again, but their season could fade to irrelevancy if they fall to 0-2. Darnold likely will miss a handful of games and their schedule is an absolute killer.

This would be a great time for Bell to do Bell things, taking the Jets to a happy place on Monday night football against the Browns (8:15 ET, ESPN).



Steve Young says the Jets must do what they can to sustain a .500 winning percentage until Sam Darnold returns from mononucleosis.

“[Bell has] been through situations where Ben [Roethlisberger] had gotten hurt in Pittsburgh and he had to carry the load a little more,” Gase said. “He’s been through so many different situations as far as what we’re going through right now. He has a good way about him. He knows how to get ready for the game. He knows how to get his mindset right.”

Especially in prime time.

One of the benefits of playing for the Steelers, a marquee franchise, was that Bell received maximum TV exposure. From 2013 to 2017, he played in 17 prime-time games — 17 out of his 62 games played. The Steelers went 14-3 in those games and Bell averaged 135 total yards from scrimmage per game, 10 yards above his average in day games. He averaged 0.76 touchdowns at night, 0.65 in the day.

Only twice was he held under 100 total yards in a game. The Jets need one of his vintage games.

“Obviously, this one holds a lot of weight to it,” said Bell, recognizing the circumstances.

Bell is coming off an impressive debut. Dude hadn’t played a football game in 20 months, but that didn’t stop him from playing every snap on offense, scoring a touchdown and accumulating 92 total yards. The play that left teammates buzzing was a fourth-and-1 conversion in the fourth quarter. He was stopped about a yard shy of the line of scrimmage, but absolutely plowed forward for the first down. It was a textbook second-effort play that got lost in the postgame analysis because of the team’s epic collapse.

“He’s different,” said McLendon, who saw a lot of those plays in Pittsburgh. “Just look at him. He’s big, agile and smart.”

In March, the Jets signed Bell to a four-year, $52.5 million contract because they wanted a dynamic player to help Darnold’s development and bring a new dimension to the offense. In case you haven’t noticed, the Jets haven’t been too good on that side of the ball in recent years. Their last skill player to make first-team All-Pro was Curtis Martin in 2004, the season he won the NFL rushing title.

Bell did it twice in five years with the Steelers.

Right now, the Jets don’t need awards; they need a win. With Siemian making his first appearance since December 2017 (see: rusty), they figure to run the offense through Bell. Play him every down again, if necessary. As he said, “Whatever it takes for us to win the game.”

For a change, the Jets have a proven star who relishes the big stage. Let him shine.

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Browns defensive end Myles Garrett ‘I want to look like a Grecian god’ — Body Issue 2019



Chris Paul, Liz Cambage, Brooks Koepka and NFL stars such as Myles Garrett and the Eagles offensive line are featured in ESPN’s 2019 Body Issue. To see interviews, pictures, videos and more, visit our full 2019 gallery.

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett has been making headlines for his impressive physique since — well, since before he was a Browns defensive end. After his insane combine measurements and shirtless Pro Day workout went viral in 2017, Garrett was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 Draft and led the Browns in sacks (with seven) in his rookie year. Now, with a few new faces in his locker room and huge expectations on his team, Garrett sat down with The Body Issue to talk about the shoot, his teammates, and his Cinnabon habit.

How did you get approached to be in the BODY Issue?
Mother worked tooth and nail to get this for me.

I’m sorry, your Mother worked tooth and nail to get this for you?
Mi madre, yes. My Mother’s responsible for me being naked in the desert. [We interrupt this interview for a brief message from Audrey Garrett, mother of Myles: “Oh, I pushed it. Myles has always worked on his body, he’s very proud of it. And I like the artistic nature of the Body Issue. I’ve looked at it for many years and I said, ‘As soon as Miles gets an opportunity, we got to get in there.’]

So how did you prepare for this? Keep on doing what I’m doing. You didn’t change anything?
You know, eating one less French toast. It’s usually three — now down to two. I tried one, but it’s not filling enough.

So when this issue comes out in September, who do you think is going to have the most fun with it in the locker room?
Whew, you already know. The loudest mouth of them all. It’s hard to say, now we have another one. So, it’s either going to be Baker or Odell because they both love being all in your face.

Let’s talk about that Browns locker room this year. Are you excited?
I’m excited, but at the end of the day you got to actually put thoughts into action. Odell, Baker, Jarvis, they all put in the work to make this year special. We just got to believe in each other. The D-line, we’ve all been at OTAs together; nobody’s really missed any days so we’re all really getting that chemistry. It’s going to be a blood bath.

Did you ever play anything besides football?
In high school, I was a ball player. I wanted to be a hooper, I didn’t really care about football. My coach said, I’m going to bring you over to beef the line. Initially, I was like, I’m going to be a receiver, catch some balls, go to basketball, and don’t worry about this football thing. Then we had our first scrimmage and I dropped back (on D-line) and a guy comes across the middle and I light him up. I was like, I kind of love this.

Do you have any issues with your body? Any insecurities at all?
My obliques could be a little bit better; I should work on my side crunches.

Nine out of 10, or 10 out of 10, people would say that your physique is perfection. Is there a physique that inspires you?
I used to look at classic body builders like Lou Ferrigno or Arnold. I know it’s probably not obtainable for me and it’s probably not going to be functional on the field, but those kinds of things inspire me because that’s kind of the peak of physical appearance.

I’m always striving for more and I always want to look like a Grecian God. I want to be at my best physical appearance just to know that I’m using all my God-given abilities. If you don’t want to look like that, whatever is comfortable for you, whatever makes you happy, I say do it. Life’s short. If you want to eat cake, if you want to eat Cinnabon, if you want to eat pizza, I’m there with you. I’ll sit down there and eat with you.

If you knew it wouldn’t affect your physique at all, how many Cinnabon could you eat?
Regular Cinnabon? I could probably eat six. I eat three easily so it’s like another three wouldn’t hurt.

Fill in the blank for me. Myles Garrett on the field is?

Myles Garrett off the field is?
A knucklehead.

How so?
I’m a ferocious and graceful but fun-loving knucklehead. I love going out hiking, playing games, bowling or playing laser tag. I’m just trying to explore the world one place at a time.

What part of your body gives you an advantage on the field?
I know people judge my feet, but I think they benefit me by allowing me to bend the edge when I stick my foot into the ground. They’re like, “you got these big old flippers” and I’m like okay, you see that, but when I’m turning the edge like a motorcycle, then you understand.

What part of your body are you most proud of?
A lot of people make comments on my biceps, but my Dad gave me those. It was natural for me, but I had to work on the stomach and chest. That didn’t come naturally. My brother used to call me a bird chest, so, it took a lot of push-ups.

How much of your physique is genetic and how much is discipline and hard work?
When I was a freshman in high school I was like 6-2, like 180 pounds. My coach said, you’re going to work with me, I don’t care if it’s basketball season or track season, you’re going to come with me after school and we’re going to get in a session. By the end of my senior year, I was 245.

If you didn’t play football anymore, in six months what would you weigh?
I would go to like 295 because I still want to eat. That French toast’s not going to hurt. Then I’d look in the mirror like, ‘oh, that ab is gone.’ Then I’d start running. That’s all I’d do; all that lifting would be gone. I’d probably get down to 220.

How important is sleep for you? How much sleep do you usually get a night?
Oh, this is team no sleep. None. During the season, I’ll go to sleep between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. But during the offseason, I stream a little Twitch and make a little YouTube. Give people a little window into my life and end up staying up until 4:00 in the morning.

Take us through what you eat in a normal day.
On an off day it’s time to get fat so, we go get three French toast and we’ll go get some omelet, A real man’s omelet, and some fruit. For dinner, we’re going to get some steak and ribs. Timber Lodge. It’s the best ribs you’ll have. That’s a promise. I can eat three racks and still eat more dinner. If I got practice the next day, I’m going to cool it, eat two racks. That might be my dinner with a side of vegetables. But if I don’t have anything the next day, I can eat three racks, eat a Tomahawk steak with some mashed potatoes and a couple broccoli. I’ll drink a couple glasses of water for lunch. Honestly, I just need two big meals.

You’ve said in the past that you like to write. What kind of things you like to write?
Mostly poems.

If I asked you to write a poem about your experience today, what would you say? Go!
A day filled with laughter and fun, surrounded by the hot California sun. With a mix of gracefulness, fun and class, I’ll walk out of here — get some steak, some sushi and free at last.

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Baker, Bud Lights and rally opossums



CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns have never won a Super Bowl. But nearly year ago, against the same team they’ll face on Monday Night Football, it sure felt like they did.

After going 635 days without a victory, the woeful Browns had become the NFL’s punching bag and punchline. From Tim Couch to Johnny Manziel, Cleveland cycled through so many quarterbacks it became laughable, even to languishing Browns fans. The ineptitude had gotten so bad that Bud Light promised free beer in Cleveland if the Browns ever won again.

But under the Thursday night lights with a massive national television audience gradually tuning in, that all changed in Week 3 against the New York Jets.

A rally opossum appeared. Twitter was exploding throughout. The Bud Light fridges were unlocked. And in one game, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, who had embraced hype and hate at every turn, gave Cleveland hope of a football savior, while joining the pantheon of NFL superstardom


And, at least for one night, it seemed as if the entire sports world was pulling for the Browns.

‘We got our guy’

Mayfield says now he had a premonition something special was going to happen that night. No, he didn’t “wake up feeling dangerous,” to borrow his own famous catchphrase.

“It wasn’t one of those bulls— terms,” he told “It felt like I was back in college game day, where the first two games, I was like, I’d wake up, it’s not the same game day feeling knowing that I go out there and I play right away.

“When I woke up that morning, I just think, there was just a different energy about it, I just felt like I was going to play that day and I just had a feeling about it, I don’t know. … it felt different.”

Would it ever.

Late in the second quarter with the Browns trailing 14-0, the No. 1 overall draft pick out of Oklahoma replaced injured starter Tyrod Taylor. Mayfield immediately would start talking trash before summarily taking over the game. The comeback culminated with Mayfield’s game-tying two-point conversion catch off Cleveland’s version of the Philly Special, the trick play the Philadelphia Eagles ran in their Super Bowl LII win.

The improbable 21-17 victory ended the NFL’s second-longest winless streak since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

“I mean, it was just one of those movie reels, like a surreal moment. Like OK, we’ve got the No. 1 overall pick and he’s going to lead us to the promised land,” Browns safety Damarious Randall said of Mayfield, who wound up delivering one of the greatest rookie debuts for a quarterback in NFL history, and the best statistically, according to Pro Football Focus, since at least 2006. “The whole city rallied behind him and we definitely rallied behind him. We broke open the [Bud Light] cooler.

“That was really the start of something new.”

Browns fans poured out of FirstEnergy Stadium and into the streets chanting Mayfield’s name. Others cheered and sang at bars, drinking free Bud Light into the night.

“The feeling coming out of that game was, ‘We got our guy.’ This guy has what it takes to be that franchise quarterback,” said longtime Browns Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas, now an analyst with NFL Network, who was on the FirstEnergy sidelines that night. “Baker gave that hope back to a franchise that was desperate for some hope. Those fans were desperate for hope.”

The momentum Mayfield ignited carried through last season. He set a rookie record for touchdown passes as he narrowly finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting to New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley. Even though the Browns flopped last weekend in their most-anticipated season opener in decades, the promise of the foundation Mayfield helped put in place remains, as Cleveland seeks to end the NFL’s longest playoff drought this year.

“That was a major starting point. You could physically see it,” said Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward, also a rookie last season. “And Baker showed that he was our guy, our star quarterback.”

Since the franchise returned to Cleveland in 1999, the Browns have started 29 different quarterbacks. But not since Couch had Cleveland drafted a quarterback No. 1 overall, until Mayfield, who won the Heisman Trophy with the Sooners.

“Baker had a huge following because of his personality and the success he had in college,” Thomas said. “So nationally, he was already a huge brand.”

Yet unlike the Jets, who started fellow first-round draft pick Sam Darnold from Day 1, Cleveland coach Hue Jackson refused to give Mayfield the chance to win the starting job in training camp, deferring to Taylor instead. As the Browns’ winless streak continued to balloon, so did anxiety among the fan base.

“‘Put in Baker,’ that’s all we’d hear,” Randall said. “The crowd would go crazy every time we didn’t get a first down.”

Fate would finally step in and overrule Jackson. With three minutes to go before halftime, Taylor was sacked and suffered a concussion.



Baker Mayfield has quickly formed a bond with the city of Cleveland and has fans expecting big things in his second season.

Mayfield doesn’t know who told him he was going in, but he does remember what he was saying to himself as he watched Taylor gingerly leave the field.

“It’s never the way I want go in, but just the energy, you know I was thinking to myself, ‘Not a lot left in the second quarter, get some points, get some momentum, just because the crowd’s going to be a different animal in the second half,'” he said.

All it took for the crowd to erupt, however, was Mayfield grabbing his helmet.

“I remember Baker, the camera zooms to Baker and Baker’s snapping his helmet on and he runs in there and I’m at home and I could feel the crowd from my house,” said then New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., not knowing at the time he’d be joining the Browns in a few months.

“I get chills thinking about it. I could feel it.”

Critters in Section 149

Mayfield’s morning premonition wasn’t the only pregame omen.

Greg Pleasant was in his seat in Section 149 about an hour before the game when he noticed a stir two sections over. An opossum had hunkered down along one of the rows in the southwest corner of the stadium, and was scaring fans from their seats. Pleasant had no experience wrangling critters. But he decided to take action, anyway.

“I’m not afraid of a opossum, man,” he recalled to ESPN. “I’m not afraid of animals.”

Pleasant bravely made his way to the opossum, scooped him up by his tail and placed him in a box provided by a security guard.

Pleasant, who said he doesn’t use Twitter or Facebook, went back to his seat next to his wife to get ready for the game — unaware he was about to go viral.

“The guy that took the videos informed us that he posted the video on, I don’t know, on YouTube or something,” Pleasant said. “I was around my section until we were leaving the game, so I thought that just people from my section were complimenting me on grabbing the opossum. But then we were leaving the stadium and people were coming up to me outside of the stadium. I’m like, ‘Well, these people aren’t from our section.'”

Pleasant couldn’t believe it when the following morning, driving his daughter to school, the local sports talk radio station was talking about him.

Security had released the opossum humanely outside the stadium. And Browns fans had an impromptu mascot to commemorate the night.

Three weeks later, the Browns made Pleasant an honorary Dawg Pound captain.

Coincidentally, that same morning, an opossum — the same one? — was spotted outside FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns would win that game against the Baltimore Ravens, too.

That wouldn’t be the end of critters for Pleasant, though. This past May, he was changing the tires on his car when he noticed a baby raccoon with a wounded foot.

“Vets won’t touch a raccoon,” Pleasant said, “so I had to fix him up myself.”

“Chomps” now lives at the Pleasants’ house.

“He’s more of a pet now,” Pleasant said. “We have a dog kennel that he sleeps in. … Yes, he likes the trash. He’s big enough now that he just climbs into the trash can.”

Talking trash

In his first career NFL huddle, Mayfield told the offense, “Let’s get this s— done,” according to tight end David Njoku.

“[Mayfield] just took complete control,” Njoku said. “And we all bought in.”

Mayfield was also talking trash — a lot.

“It’s funny because you could see Baker’s confidence, but also at the same time you’re like, ‘Baker, you’re not the one blocking these guys,'” veteran offensive lineman Joel Bitonio said. “I look back on it now, and that’s how I knew Baker was going to be confident and have this swagger to him.

“But at the time I was like, ‘Quit talking! We haven’t done anything yet.'”

The most memorable banter came as he was kneeling the ball before halftime.

“One of the linebackers was like, ‘I’m coming for you, rookie,'” Mayfield recalled. “I was just like, ‘Turn around, man. I don’t know your last name, I don’t know who you are.’ Just one of those.”

Nobody, fittingly, can remember who that Jets linebacker was who attempted to rattle Mayfield. But it obviously didn’t work.

“That’s a true story, that definitely happened,” Tretter said.

“If someone wants to challenge Baker, Baker will be open for the challenge. That’s just his personality. He’s going to talk back. That’s just who he is.”

Despite the talk, Mayfield was focused on getting points before halftime. He completed his first pass to Jarvis Landry for a first down. The second, he found Njoku for another.

“You definitely felt the momentum shift when he came in,” said Jets defensive end Henry Anderson. “He started to complete some passes and obviously the fans were feeling it, too. They were pretty hyped.”

Mayfield eventually did as he hoped, leading the Browns to a 45-yard field goal before halftime. Cleveland trailed by 11. But it felt like it had the lead.

And that’s when the rest of America seemed to begin tuning in to what would become the NFL Network’s highest-rated Thursday game in three years.

Cleveland Special

Because they utilized it to beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, the Eagles get the credit for the reverse-pass-back-to-the-quarterback trick play. But in actuality, a few weeks before that Super Bowl, Oklahoma executed a version of the Philly Special with Mayfield during the Rose Bowl against Georgia.

While preparing for the Jets, Cleveland installed a copy of the play. Problem was, the Browns practiced it exclusively with Taylor catching the pass; Mayfield didn’t get a chance to run it once.

After Mayfield’s 29-yard strike to Landry set up a touchdown in the closing seconds of the third quarter, the Browns had the chance to tie the game on a two-point try. Their first attempt failed, but was negated by offsetting penalties. So the Browns dialed up their version of Philly Special, which for them had the banal designation of “reverse pass.”

Mayfield, whose pregame routine throughout his college career included mimicking catching touchdown passes, told Landry he “was gonna get open for him.” Admitting he had no idea whether Mayfield could catch, Landry remembers Mayfield also saying to throw the ball to him “no matter what.”

After running back Duke Johnson took the direct snap and flipped the ball to him on the reverse, Landry saw Mayfield was open. With his left hand, he flipped the ball to Mayfield, who comfortably hauled in the pass at its highest point with two hands.

“That was huge for us,” Mayfield said. “The stadium was going wild, too.”

Mayfield wouldn’t be stopped after that. On the game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, he converted two third downs with a pair of completions, to finish 17-of-23 for 201 yards in just over a half.

“He’s relentless, he just competes,” said Browns coach Freddie Kitchens, who was an offensive assistant last season. “Didn’t really know what the reads were and stuff like that.

“But he just made stuff happen.”

‘Oh God. The free beer thing’

Robert Costanzo has managed the Grindstone Tap House for 17 years. And he’s not sure he has ever had a night like the one when the Bud Light fridge was opened.

“We were at standing room capacity, it was ridiculous,” said Costanzo, whose Berea bar is located just around the corner from the Browns’ practice facility. “Everyone was so pumped up. And I’m not sure if they were more pumped up about the refrigerator getting open or that we had won the game.”

Partnering with the Browns, Bud Light had proposed several ideas to leverage Cleveland’s lovable losing. Finally, they came up with the Victory Fridge.

Bud Light provided 10 different bars across Ohio with locked fridges stocked with 200 cans of beer apiece. Bud Light also parked two fridges at FirstEnergy Stadium. Once the Browns finally won, those fridges would be unlocked, giving fans free Bud Light to celebrate.

Privately, team officials were concerned if the Browns remained winless and the fridges stayed locked deep into the season, the gimmick might turn the team into a bigger joke. But thanks to Mayfield, Cleveland didn’t have to wait long for free beer.

The marketing ploy was such a smashing success, Bud Light followed up this month by creating a mock pop-up appliance store with the Browns to sell commemorative victory fridges. The inventory ran out in hours, with more than 2,000 fridges selling in the store and online. Net proceeds went to Browns charities.

“People were [lined up] at like 4 a.m.,” said Landry, who along with defensive end Myles Garrett and wrestling star “The Miz” attended the event. “It was crazy.”

Day 1 of a winning streak

After the game, Thomas was exhausted from a day of work with NFL Network. But like the rest of Cleveland, he wasn’t about to go to bed, either.

“The city was on fire,” he said. “It was just such a special moment. … There were just people everywhere. Nobody wanted to leave the stadium, nobody wanted to leave the streets, the bars were packed until [closing] time, and even then the police that night were like, ‘All right, you guys can stay out a little longer.'”

Thomas went to eat at a restaurant near the stadium and ran into legendary Browns running back Jim Brown. Together over drinks and appetizers, they talked about Mayfield and the team for hours.

“I just remember how optimistic he was about Baker leading that franchise,” Thomas recalled. “How excited he was to see that stadium as excited as they were, with as much hope as they had. He hadn’t seen the fans that optimistic, that excited about a team or a player in a long time.”

It didn’t stop the next day.

“I went out to eat and I couldn’t sit down,” Garrett said. “People were bum-rushing me, [saying], ‘Did you see that?’ It was like, ‘Yeah, I was there. I remember the whole thing, I’m still sore from it.'”

The reaction of the crowd as he ran into the tunnel that night has stuck with Mayfield. And at that moment, it cemented his connection to them and to the city.

“It meant so much more for them,” he said. “The mood and culture of this town of ‘Here we go again,’ it was critical for us. … We got the first one. Let’s put all the bulls— aside of, ‘Oh, they’re gonna have another 0-and-16 year,’ and let’s just go to work.”

Mayfield went home that night with his parents and brother, who were in town. He had a celebratory beer, went to team meetings the following morning, then caught a flight to Oklahoma to watch the Sooners play that weekend.

Bitonio, now in his sixth season with the Browns, is Cleveland’s longest-tenured current player. Prior to last season, he’d played in nine wins — total — in his NFL career. He’d been through Manziel, three head coaches and all 635 days of that streak. Bitonio, too, confessed he was growing desperate for hope.

In Mayfield’s performance against the Jets, he finally found it.

“I never felt so much relief and so much joy after a game,” Bitonio said. “I hope we win a championship coming up here soon, and people are like, ‘That was the turning point. That was Baker Mayfield’s start.’ It’ll be one of those ESPN classic games where you have the Philly Special play, and you had that rally possum and the Bud Light fridges, and 635 days. …

“Down the line, people are going to be like, ‘That was the start of it. That’s when the tide shifted.'”

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