The Cleveland Browns lost their first preseason game since 2016 on Friday, dropping their matchup with the Buffalo Bills at FirstEnergy Stadium 19-17.
Each team is now 1-1 in the preseason after a contest packed with storylines, including the battle between No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield and No. 7 overall pick Josh Allen. Cleveland quarterback Tyrod Taylor and Buffalo wide receiver Corey Coleman were also going against their former teams after trades this offseason.
Allen, who went 9-of-13 for 60 yards and a touchdown, and Mayfield, who went 7-of-13 for 75 yards, were the centerpieces, and the Wyoming product earned preseason bragging rights on the road.
Josh Allen Proves He is Worthy of Week 1 Start
The Bills shouldn't hesitate—it's time to make Allen the starter.
AJ McCarron started the contest but finished a mere 3-of-6 passing for 12 yards and went three-and-out on all four of his possessions. It wasn't exactly an inspiring performance with the season approaching, and the news got worse when Vic Carucci of the Buffalo News reported McCarron suffered a hairline fracture of the collarbone.
Enter Allen, who capped a 15-play, 80-yard drive on his first chance with a strike to Rod Streater in the end zone after demonstrating his ability to move in the pocket and plant and fire.
Allen ran for 18 yards, but it was his tendency to use his legs to keep plays alive when the pocket broke down that stood out. Those are the type of instincts many rookies are missing, and it presented another dimension to his game outside of the rocket arm that intrigued so many when he was at Wyoming.
He also answered questions about his accuracy stemming from his 56.2 completion percentage in college by going 9-of-13.
Buffalo's quarterback room isn't exactly filled with future Hall of Famers after Nathan Peterman famously threw five interceptions in one game last year and did nothing to prove he was starter material. McCarron saw limited playing time in his first four seasons behind Andy Dalton on the Cincinnati Bengals and had just six touchdown passes in seven games in 2015.
Those are not extensive resumes of success Allen is competing against, and his combination of the arm to make plays downfield, the scrambling to keep plays alive and the flashes of accuracy he demonstrated Friday should have Buffalo moving him up the depth chart—especially after McCarron's injury.
Allen will make mistakes as all rookies do, but he brings the highest long-term ceiling and should be QB1.
Baker Mayfield Won't Suffer Setback Despite Unspectacular Statline
Mayfield set the NFL world abuzz in his preseason opener against the New York Giants with 212 passing yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions, but head coach Hue Jackson pumped the breaks.
"I have not changed. I'm not going to change," Jackson said, per Tom Pelissero of NFL.com. "Tyrod Taylor's the starting quarterback here, and Baker's the future of our organization."
The caution was justified statistically, as the Oklahoma product came back to Earth on Friday. However, the unspectacular numbers were misleading and do nothing to knock Mayfield off his path of development.
He ran with the second team and paid the price with lackluster blocking around him, critical mistakes from his teammates and costly penalties. The backups on an offensive line Football Outsiders ranked a mere 22nd in the league in pass protection last year allowed consistent pressure, including a crunching sack by Terrence Fede on the first play of the second half.
Elsewhere, two Mayfield touchdown passes were called back for offensive pass interference and a replay reversal, and Orson Charles dropped a pass downfield that would have maintained a drive.
Mayfield isn't going to start with Taylor on the roster, but Friday's mediocre numbers won't detract from his progress because the tape showed a different story.
Browns' Rushing Attack Has Depth to Carry Cleveland
Cleveland overhauled a passing game that figures to include Josh Gordon with the additions of Mayfield, Taylor, Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway, but its rushing attack showed it can be a serious factor Friday.
It will need to be if the Browns are going to improve since a strong rushing attack will prevent opposing defenses from honing in on Taylor while going up against an offensive line that struggled to protect last year.
What's more, Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson Jr. and Nick Chubb can force defenders into the box, which will open lanes for those talented pass-catchers.
All three were impressive Friday, with Hyde (nine carries for 64 yards and a touchdown) unleashing an earth-shattering stiff arm and demonstrating explosiveness through the holes while Johnson (four carries for 27 yards) proved he can be more than just a receiving threat. Chubb—who ran for more than 1,100 yards in three different seasons at Georgia—added 53 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Cleveland has the running back depth to help carry the offense, which will lead to better production from the passing attack and actual wins in 2018.
The Browns face the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, while the Bills return home for an Aug. 26 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. It is the third preseason game for both, so expect the starters to see more playing time in preparation for the season.