Two Heisman Trophy winning Quarterbacks.
Two completely different directions.
As the Cincinnati Bengals travel North-East up I-71 to Cleveland, they look to knock on the door of hope for the first time since 2015.
And they’ll have to step on the Cleveland Browns to do it.
The Bengals and Browns similarities don’t stop at their quarterbacks. Though, it’s easy to see why you’d start there.
Cleveland suffered through the worst two season stretch in NFL history in 2016 and 2017. 1-31. 0-16 in 2017. Their reward at the end? The number one overall pick.
With that pick, the Browns selected Baker Mayfield. The cocky kid from Oklahoma, he backed up his antics with play worthy enough for Cleveland to be convinced that he was their guy. And, in his first season, he did. 27 Touchdown passes. Pro Football Writers of America NFL Rookie of the Year. He was the savior.
Mayfield is on his fourth Head Coach only one game into his third season. He’s 6-12 in his last 18 games, throwing for 26 Touchdowns and 25 Interceptions on a completion percentage of only 58.7%. The team added Odell Beckham Jr., Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, Austin Hooper, Jack Conklin, and Jedrick Wills Jr., all since Mayfied was drafted #1 in 2018. Yet, even one week into the 2020 NFL season, the future of the Cleveland Browns seems the same as always. Bleak.
The Cincinnati Bengals, on the other hand, are exactly what the Browns have.
The Bengals have their own Heisman winning #1 overall pick.
They also have their first round Left Tackle from Alabama.
They also have a future Hall of Fame Wide Receiver.
But the Bengals have what the Browns have lost: Hope.
Even with a heart-breaking loss to the Chargers that gave the fanbase memories of “Bungle” football, there were positives.
A.J. Green is healthy and looking every bit the Pro Bowl receiver he was before the rash of injuries. Jonah Williams held up better than expected against arguably the best pass-rush duo in the NFL. Jessie Bates had his moments, DJ Reader looks to be the difference-maker the Bengals thought they signed, and Mike Williams has even been a nice surprise!
But, most of all, their rookie Quarterback stared adversity in the face and overcame it.
Sure, he had his misses. A horrible shovel pass to Gio Bernard led to an interception. Even his final drive was a dink-and-dunk fest.
Yet, he was as advertised.
His teammates responded to him a way they never responded to Andy Dalton.
They believe in him.
Burrow had a gutsy 23-yard run for his first career Touchdown. Just like everyone expected. He was able to hold up under an onslaught pass-rush (looking at you, Bobby Hart). He even looked passed the uniform eye-test.
They weren’t perfect against the Chargers.
They even took the loss.
But what they do have is hope. And they have the capability to take the next step.
To do that, though, they will have to use the Browns to take that next step.
And that step will make the Browns the doormat of the AFC North.
OUT: Geno Atkins, Mike Daniels, Xavier Su’a-Filo, Shawn Wiiliams
LISTED, BUT FULL PRACTICE PARTICIPANTS: Randy Bullock, Sam Hubbard, Billy Price, LeShaun Sims
OUT: Greedy Williams, Mack Wilson, Kevin Johnson
QUESTIONABLE: Jedrick Wills Jr., Jack Conklin, Jarvis Landry, JC Tretter, Jacob Phillips, Chris Hubbard, Olivier Vernon.