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Baker Mayfield leads Browns to sweep of Bengals to reach .500

CLEVELAND -- With 4:53 left in the third quarter, the Cleveland Browns led 23-0 and Baker Mayfield was shown on the video board in each end zone.

Sitting on the bench wearing an orange parka, Mayfield gestured with his left hand, leading the home team in cheers. Two weeks after Mayfield had lamented not having more fans in the seats, the Browns sold out their home finale and the home team sent them off with a victory.

“We talked quite a bit about that part of it,” interim coach Gregg Williams said. “Let’s give the fans something to rock and roll and cheer about.”

The team that had struggled so badly over many previous seasons continued its feel-good finish with a dominant 26-18 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that only became close in the final two minutes.

The win gave the Browns their first sweep of the Bengals since 2002 and first sweep of any AFC North opponent since 2007. Cleveland improved to 5-2-1 at home and 7-7-1 overall, marking the first time they have been .500 or better at this point of a season since 2007. A win in Week 17 at Baltimore would give the Browns their first winning season since 2007. They already have ensured that for the first time since 2011 they will not finish last in the AFC North.

“Obviously we would love to be in the playoffs, but like I said earlier in the year, you know that you have to go through some tough times to see the brighter end of it,” Mayfield said. “Although it hurt us in the long run, we are going to use this momentum.”

Sunday’s game was close for a quarter, but then the Browns turned it into a festival.

Mayfield went 27 of 37 for 284 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a rating of 121.9. With 24 touchdown passes this season, Mayfield moved within two of the rookie record held by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson. Nick Chubb ran for 112 yards to move within 28 yards of 1,000 for the season. And Jarvis Landry provided a spark with a 63-yard, second-quarter heave to Breshad Perriman off a reverse.

As the day wore on and the music blared, the fans stayed and enjoyed an in-game party like they have not felt in a long time in Cleveland. Their team had won its fifth in six games.

It had a quarterback making precision throws with pinpoint accuracy.

It had an offensive coordinator using all sorts of misdirection and interesting calls.

It had a receiver hopstepping his way to a 63-yard completion.

It had ignited a celebration on Lake Erie borne not only of the revival shown in 2018, but of the hope for 2019.

After so many years of struggles and a winless season that launched a “Perfect Season Parade” in arctic weather in January, the Browns gave their fans an NFL team that can play with anyone and had embarrassed a rival.

At long last the Browns have escaped their lonely, frustrating wandering in the hinterlands of losing.

Sunday, Cleveland welcomed back its NFL team.

“I expect that relationship [with the fans] to continue to grow,” Mayfield said. “I relate to Cleveland. The work ethic, the stuff that you have to earn it around here, that is what the Browns are all about. It is going to be a good relationship for a long time.”