It took a last second 58-yard field goal to get the win, but it was the difference between complete disaster and a world of possibility for the Cleveland Browns. Ending an opening week winless streak stretching back to 2004 took a backseat to all of the implications that came with defeating the Carolina Panthers led by former quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Head Coach Kevin Stefanski did his best to downplay this game in the grand scheme of things, but all the pressure was on the Browns in this game. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam allegedly suggested Mayfield was a child and replaced him with a pervert in Deshaun Watson facing two dozen civil lawsuits for sexual assault and misconduct, the would-be 'adult'. A team that has faced warranted criticism in their acquisition and handling of Watson to then lose to the child they unceremoniously dumped would've been a nightmare scenario and something that lingered with this team the next ten games, if not the whole season, adding yet another unfortunate chapter to Haslam's tenure with the team.
The victory also prevented a revolt against quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Everyone likes Brissett the person. Teammates rave about him and he's endeared himself to the media and fans with his quick wit and kind demeanor. However, a quarter and a half into the game after Brissett missed a few potential touchdown passes, patience was already running thin with the veteran signal caller as there were no shortage of critics wishing for the Browns to trade for Jimmy Garoppolo or bench Brissett for Joshua Dobbs.
A few key late throws on the last drive and a victory provided a stay of execution, but there will continue to be critics who continue to call for the Browns to make a change at quarterback that isn't coming if Brissett's play doesn't improve.
One of the most interesting aspects of this game was the contrasting mindsets of the two passers. Baker Mayfield, often an emotional player, made it a point to calm the entire game, trying to keep his teammates in the game as they struggled mightily early. It may have contributed to their late game rally.
Meanwhile, Brissett, often the more cool, calm and collected of the two noted in his press game presser that he was battling his emotions during the game. He said, "The build up to this moment, it goes further I know for me from being here, a long time coming to get to this point and I've got to do a better job of calming those emotions down especially in a lot of these critical situations."
If Brissett was able to connect on fades to either Kareem Hunt and Amari Cooper or the post to Donovan Peoples-Jones, the Browns might have won this game going away. Instead, the Panthers were allowed to hang around and almost came away with the victory.
With this game under his belt, Brissett can perhaps be more calm and consistent moving forward. If the Panthers are any indication, the Browns don't need Brissett to perform miracles in these early contests, but he can't be a liability. Too often against the Panthers, he held the Browns back, limiting what they could do offensively.
The Browns must come out of September with at least a 3-1 record to even think about the postseason this year. The Panthers were an important hurdle to clear and now the Browns prepare to face the New York Jets at home.
The Jets struggled on offense in their opener against the Baltimore Ravens in no small part to an offensive line dealing with injuries. They are effectively down to their third and fourth options at tackle and Myles Garrett is coming off a dominant performance.
They may technically be rolling with a backup quarterback, but the Browns can't afford to take Joe Flacco (or anyone else) lightly. Like Mayfield, Flacco is going to capitalize if the Browns keep blowing coverages. The Jets also have a decent group of receiving threats including Corey Davis, Elijah Moore and former Ohio State wide receiver Garrett Wilson.
Ideally, the Browns will be able to stifle the running game of the Jets the way they did against the Panthers, allowing their pass rush to generate pressure and cause turnovers.
The biggest challenge for the Browns will be Robert Saleh's defense. The Jets led by their talented front were able to limit the Ravens running game to 63 yards on 21 carries. Given what the Jets will see from the Browns on tape, they will do everything to limit Nick Chubb and force Jacoby Brissett to beat them with his arm.
Even as the Browns are focused on the Jets, it's difficult not to notice the Pyrrhic victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who the Browns will host week three. The Steelers were able to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime, but they suffered numerous injuries in the process. None would be more devastating than if T.J. Watt suffered a torn pec, which would end his season and leave a gaping hole in the Steelers defense.
The Browns will have to scratch and claw for every victory they get this season and will take all the help they can get, but getting the win in Carolina allows a sigh of relief and cautious optimism.