Baker Mayfield can be the game-changer for the Browns

Stephen A.: Pump the brakes on Mayfield hype (1:22)

Stephen A. Smith says Browns rookie QB Baker Mayfield wouldn't have played as well if the Jets had pressured him. (1:22)

CLEVELAND -- Joel Bitonio called it an "avalanche effect."

That sums up well the impact Baker Mayfield had for the Cleveland Browns with just one half of football.

The heck with caution; there’s no underselling this: It has been years since the Browns had quarterback play like Mayfield provided Thursday night. Brian Hoyer did it at times in 2014, Derek Anderson in 2007, Kelly Holcomb in that playoff loss to Pittsburgh and Tim Couch did it as he helped the Browns to the playoffs.

But none did it under the circumstances Mayfield did. With the Browns trying to avoid a 20-game winless streak. With him taking his first snap on the fly late in the second quarter, entering the huddle down 14-0, the Jets' defense dominating the game.

In most cases, an avalanche takes a loud noise or traumatic event to begin; this one started with a flick of a wrist. It was simply Mayfield doing what the best quarterbacks do. Read, drop, plant, throw.

The results: Mayfield guided a fourth-quarter comeback win. He was 17-for-23 with three drops and one pass thrown away. He led the team to 21 points and threw for 201 yards in just more than one half. More important, Mayfield provided a jolt of energy to a team and fan base badly in need of it, energy that was tangible in an open-air stadium.

He showed all the traits that general manager John Dorsey said he had when he drafted Mayfield first overall in April. He dropped back quickly and got rid of the ball in a hurry; Pro Football Focus reports that Mayfield’s average throw left his hand in 2.57 seconds.

He had pinpoint accuracy. The throw he made to Jarvis Landry for 29 yards to set up the Browns' first touchdown was on a line, back shoulder, into tight coverage.

The danger with the Browns is that because they have lost for so long and struggled with so many, anything that happens leads to extremes. Any loss seems catastrophic, and on the flip side one half of excellent play seems charismatic.

Jumping the shark can lead to a bad bite.

The Browns have been through many saviors, guys who were going to be the guy only to fizzle (for varying reasons). There was excitement over Brady Quinn after a road win in Buffalo. There were fans chanting Hoyer’s name in Cincinnati after a road win. There was a big contract given to Anderson after his 2007 season, and there was exultation over the drafting of Johnny Manziel.

Enter Mayfield, the guy that sure Hall of Famer Drew Brees said eventually will be better than him. High praise, but sometimes players know. Fans and media watch and analyze, but players can sense the intangibles.

Mayfield now deals with the hype. Baseball star Bryce Harper wore his jersey after Friday’s game. Ticket sales for the Browns' home games have shot through the roof. And as the thousands walked up Cleveland’s West 6th Street after the game, they chanted Mayfield’s name en masse.

Things will get harder, and defenses will game plan for him. Disguised coverages, overload blitzes -- teams will try it all. But it’s impossible, and foolish, to ignore what happened on the field. Dorsey said "trust your eyes" when he talked about evaluating quarterbacks. The eyes had it Thursday night.

Dorsey also said this before the season about knowing when Mayfield’s time had arrived: "You just watch and see it unfold. You’ll know. You’ll see it."

If Mayfield sustains what he started, a team that hasn’t won in more than a year can dream of two wins, a winning streak, and who knows what from there. At this point, it’s a dream, and the Browns are the last team that needs to get ahead of itself.

But for the first time in a long time the potential seems real.

Glowing words today can look foolish in a year, but avalanches are powerful for a reason.

Mayfield can be the game-changer for the Browns, and for Cleveland.