Hue Jackson's heart was in the right place; he just could have said it differently.
Reveling Thursday night in his first victory since Christmas Eve 2016, the Browns' head coach was asked if the Baker Mayfield-led comeback against the Jets meant Mayfield would be the starting quarterback going forward. He could have said something like, "Tonight's not the night to get into all of that. Tyrod Taylor is in concussion protocol, and we have 10 days until our next game. We'll discuss that at the appropriate time."
Instead, Jackson said, "I'd like to watch the tape," which is a thing football coaches say when they obviously don't want to answer a question. And since his 2-32-1 record as Cleveland's coach makes Jackson one of the easier targets for ridicule in the NFL, he's predictably taking a little heat for it.
Because, Hue, the tape shows the Browns winning a game, man! There's only one other tape like it from your entire Browns coaching tenure. And the idea that you wouldn't try to repeat every single thing that went into Thursday night's comeback -- including making Mayfield the quarterback -- is insane.
There's no going back now. Mayfield has to be the Browns' starter when they play in Oakland a week from Sunday, and you don't need to dig into your All-22 coaches film to figure that out.
Sure, it's lousy news for Taylor, whose star-crossed career seems to have sputtered once again. We all hope that losing his job to Mayfield is the worst of the consequences of Taylor's third concussion in 13 months, and no one is trying to minimize the circumstances that led to Mayfield taking over Thursday night's game. But the end result was a breathtaking debut by the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and a team and a city that has to be all-in on Mayfield from this point forward.
And that means no matter what. It's important for all of us -- especially Browns fans -- to understand that it's not going to be all free beer and fourth-quarter comebacks. Mayfield is a 23-year-old rookie who still hasn't even played a full NFL game. He will have some bad games, maybe even some really ugly ones. The Jets and their fans were flying high after Sam Darnold's Monday night debut, and it was a mere 10 days later in Cleveland that Darnold looked like an overwhelmed rookie in Mayfield's coming-out party.
Thursday night doesn't mean Darnold can't play or that the Jets should go back to Josh McCown, nor does it mean that Mayfield is on an express elevator to Canton. Every rookie in the league is a work in progress, vulnerable to mistakes and bad decisions. When Mayfield inevitably has the kind of game Darnold had Thursday, it won't mean it's time to turn back to Taylor or some other option.
Nope, the Browns have to be all-in on Mayfield from here on out, even if he has lumps to take. Because what happened Thursday night in Cleveland was watershed stuff. Browns fans would have been thrilled if Taylor had delivered their first victory in 21 months. Heck, they'd have been thrilled if they'd punted on every possession and won the game 2-0 with a Myles Garrett safety. This was an emotionally emaciated fan base, desperate for a feeling they could barely remember.
But to have it happen like this? A 14-point comeback behind the swaggering, flag-planting, Heisman-winning former walk-on who carries all of their hopes and dreams for the franchise's future? Oh, that's a whole different level of thrilling. That's more than Browns fans dared to think they deserved when they walked into that stadium Thursday night. There's no taking Mayfield away from them now. They've seen too much.
They've seen that he's hyper-accurate, which we knew from his college days.
They've seen that he gets rid of the ball quickly, zips it into tight windows, keeps his eyes downfield when the protection breaks down and doesn't look to run if his first read isn't open.
They've seen him convert third downs to keep drives alive at critical points in the game. They've seen him post a 95.4 Total QBR, making him the first Browns QB with a Total QBR of at least 90.0 since Derek Anderson in 2007 (minimum 20 passes, via ESPN Stats & Information).
They've seen that he's not fazed by much of anything, including having to take over as the starter in the second quarter of Week 3 after working with the second team all summer.
They've heard him coolly talk up his teammates in postgame interviews that were set up to be gush-fests about him.
Most of all, they've seen him win. And winning that game Thursday night with Mayfield meant more than it would have meant with Taylor or DeShone Kizer or Robert Griffin III (who, incidentally, was the last Browns QB to win a game before Mayfield). That's no offense to any of those guys, but what Mayfield represents for the fans of the Cleveland Browns is hope in a place where not much of that has been able to grow. It's almost so obvious that it doesn't need to be said, but there's no way you can take that away from them now. That "tape" Jackson already has watched by the time you read this is going to tell him that Mayfield is the man in Cleveland, for better or for worse.
And if Thursday is any indication, it should be a fun ride.