Thursday’s NFL: Mayfield and Barkley show the goods
East Rutherford, N.J. — If first indications are accurate, the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants hit it right in taking Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley with the top two picks in the NFL draft.
Mayfield threw two touchdowns in two-plus quarters and Barkley ripped off a dazzling 39-yard run on the opening play from scrimmage as the Browns beat the Giants 20-10 on Thursday night.
“I’m aware that it was the first game and in that respect, it’s not so bad,” Mayfield said after showing why the Browns made him the top pick.
Replacing starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor late in the first quarter, Mayfield hit 11 of 20 passes for 212 yards, didn’t turn the ball over and converted two fourth-down plays with his feet.
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“I thought he did some good things out there,” Cleveland coach Hue Jackson said. “I’m honestly not surprised by anything Baker does. This was his first opportunity and he’ll grow from it.”
The Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma found tight end David Njoku on a 10-yard TD pass to cap a 14-play, 72-yard drive on his second series. He finished his debut with a completion on a 54-yard slant and run to fellow rookie Antonio Callaway.
Taylor, expected to be coach Jackson’s starter as Mayfield learns this season, hit all five of his passes in two series, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to Njoku, a New Jersey native.
Barkley electrified the fans at MetLife Stadium, taking a handoff from Eli Manning on his first NFL touch and turning on the jets on a 39-yard jaunt down the sideline in front of the Giants’ bench. It set up a 42-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas.
“I loved his first run,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said of the Penn State halfback. “If only they all could be like that. You could see, it wasn’t too big for him.”
Barkley scoffed at the idea he made something out of nothing on the play. There was a hole, he said.
“Everybody talks about the speed difference in the NFL, but to see you still have that burst and you can get to that line of scrimmage like that and create space; I just have to find a way to gain even more yards than that,” said Barkley, who finished with 43 yards on five carries.
Jalen Simmons scored on 5-yard third-quarter run for the Giants’ other score. It came three plays after C.J. Board fumbled a punt return and Zak DeOssie recovered at the Browns 16.
Manning played two series and hit 4 of 7 passes for 26 yards. Star receiver Odell Beckham Jr., returning from major ankle surgery, dressed but was held out by Pat Shurmur, who is trying to rebuild the Giants after a 3-13 season.
Player demonstrations took place during the national anthem at several early preseason games Thursday night.
In Philadelphia, Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and cornerback De’Vante Bausby raised their fists during the anthem, and defensive end Chris Long placed his arm around Jenkins’ shoulder. Jenkins had stopped his demonstration last December.
Defensive end Michael Bennett walked out of the tunnel during the anthem and walked toward the bench while it played. It appeared all the Steelers stood.
“Everybody is waiting for what the league is going to do,” Jenkins said. “We won’t let it stop what we stand for. I was very encouraged last year with the direction and that obviously took a different turn.
“I think it’s important to utilize the platform as we can because for whatever reason, we have framed this demonstration in a negative light, and often players have to defend why we feel the need to fight for everyday Americans, and in actuality we’re doing the right thing.”
At Miami, Dolphins receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson and defensive end Robert Quinn protested during the anthem. Stills and Wilson kneeled behind teammates lined up standing along the sideline. Quinn stood and raised his right fist. There were no apparent protests by the Buccaneers.
Stills kneeled during the anthem during the 2016-17 seasons and has been vocal discussing social injustice issues that inspired the protest movement by NFL players.
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a leader of the movement, tweeted support for Stills and Wilson.
“My brother @kstills continued his protest of systemic oppression tonight by taking a knee,” the tweet said. “Albert Wilson joined him in protest. Stay strong brothers!”
And in Seattle, three Seahawks players ran into the tunnel leading to the team’s locker room prior to the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Defensive linemen Branden Jackson and Quinton Jefferson, and offensive lineman Duane Brown left the field following team introductions and before the start of the anthem. They returned to the sideline immediately after it concluded. All three were among a group of Seattle players that sat during the anthem last season.
In Jacksonville, four Jaguars remained in the locker room during the national anthem, and team officials said it would be up to the players to explain why they weren’t on the field. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Telvin Smith, and running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon joined teammates on the sideline after the anthem.
“As a man, I got certain beliefs,” said Smith, who wore “Salute the Service” cleats. “You know what I mean? This is not going to become a distraction, and Jacksonville’s not going to become a distraction for this team. I got beliefs. I did what I did. I don’t know if it’s going to be every week, can’t answer if it’s going to be every week.
“But as a man I’ve got to stand for something. I love my team, I’m dedicated to my teammates, and that’s what we’re talking about. I did what I did. It was love. I hope people see it and respect it. I respect views.”
At Baltimore, both teams stood, but while most of the Ravens lined up shoulder to shoulder on the sideline, second-year linebacker Tim Williams stood alone in front of the bench with his back toward the field.
All of the players on each team at New England appeared to stand for the national anthem, some bowing their heads and others placing their hands on their hearts. The Patriots observed a moment of silence beforehand for Weymouth, Massachusetts, police officer Michael Chesna, who was killed last month in the line of duty.
The league and the players’ union have yet to announce a policy for this season regarding demonstrations during the anthem after the league initially ordered everyone to stand on the sideline when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played, or remain in the locker room.
“The NFL has been engaged in constructive discussions with the NFL Players Association regarding the anthem and issues of equality and social justice that are of concern to many Americans,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email.
“While those discussions continue, the NFL has agreed to delay implementing or enforcing any club work rules that could result in players being disciplined for their conduct during the performance of the anthem.
“Meanwhile, there has been no change in the NFL’s policy regarding the national anthem. The anthem will continue to be played before every game, and all player and non-player personnel on the field at that time are expected to stand during the presentation of the flag and performance of the anthem. Personnel who do not wish to do so can choose to remain in the locker room.
“We remain committed to working with the players to identify solutions and to continue making progress on important social issues affecting our communities.”