Cade York has heroic NFL debut as Browns deny Baker Mayfield revenge in season opener


Courtesy of Brian Westerholt - Associated Press

Teammates embrace Browns kicker Cade York after he carried their seasoner opener win against the Carolina Panthers.

Gaurav Hardikar, Staff Writer

The Cleveland Browns kicked off their 2022 campaign on Sunday Sept. 11 with a dramatic victory against the Carolina Panthers in a game that came down to the wire. 

Recently acquired star quarterback Deshaun Watson began his 11-game suspension this week following 20 allegations of sexual misconduct, so the Cleveland offense turned to backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Meanwhile, the Browns defense had one mission: to make the opposing quarterback as miserable as possible. That man was none other than Baker Mayfield, the former quarterback for the Browns. Mayfield was vengefully making his Panthers debut after being dumped for Watson, despite having led the Browns to their first playoff win in decades.

The tension in the air at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina was palpable as all 72,205 fans in attendance awaited kickoff. Browns rookie kicker Cade York booted the ball to Panthers return specialist Andre Roberts, who took the ball up to the Carolina 22-yard line for the opening possession. The first drive stalled, as Baker completed two throws in three attempts for a loss of a yard before the Panthers punted. Star running back Nick Chubb led the Browns’ charge, carrying the ball four times for 21 yards. Brissett missed on a throw on fourth-and-3 to turn the ball over to the Panthers at their 36-yard line. 

The slow start continued, with each team punting twice more before the game saw its first real action. Early in the second quarter, Mayfield misfired over the middle and Browns safety Grant Delpit came up with an interception in Panthers territory. Mayfield’s mistake injected life into the Browns’ offense. However, Brissett made the same mistake two minutes later when the ball was intercepted by Panthers safety Xavier Woods. Luckily for the Browns, Panthers cornerback CJ Henderson was called for a defensive pass interference which occurred in the endzone, giving possession back to the Browns. The ball was placed on the 1-yard line and, with a pass to Kareem Hunt, the first touchdown was scored. 

The defense continued to pester Mayfield, sacking him before the Panthers went 3-and-out and punted again. The Browns squads fed off one another, as the running backs took over on the ensuing drive. Though Brissett found wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones on back-to-back throws to pick up 25 yards, Chubb and Hunt stole the show. Chubb pounded through the Panthers defense for a 25-yard run while Hunt scampered away en route to a 24-yard rushing touchdown.

Down two touchdowns and with the game nearing halftime, Mayfield pulled himself and the Carolina offense together for their first touchdown. Mayfield connected with tight end Ian Thomas for a 50-yard passing play. Two plays later, dynamic Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey drove the ball in to put Carolina on the board.

With the Browns back in possession, Brissett, Hunt and Chubb continued to cook with a drive highlighted by a 24-yard pass to Hunt, quickly leading the Browns offense into field goal range. York, who had already gotten off to a promising start to his career with flawless extra point kicks, drilled his first career field goal to put the Browns up 17-7 at halftime.

Cleveland received the second-half kickoff and put together a time-consuming scoring drive. Chubb once again barreled through the Panthers defense for 20 yards before York lined up to nail a field goal from 34 yards. 

Down 20-7, McCaffrey recovered a botched snap and took it 33 yards to put the home team within striking distance. However, they were unable to make anything happen and John Hekker punted it. On their next drive, the Panthers faced a third-and-5 situation with just 7 yards to go and the game in the final quarter. Mayfield surveyed his options in the endzone, but they were well covered by the Browns’ defense. Improvising, Mayfield sprinted up the middle to pick up a rushing touchdown and put the Panthers within one score of the Browns.

The Browns refused to get too comfortable and got their offense going again with a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Anthony Schwartz and a 16-yard run by Chubb. York continued to be dependable with a successful 36-yard field goal, giving the Browns a 9-point lead in the fourth quarter.

With just over six minutes remaining, Mayfield fired a missile on the first play of the next Panthers possession, passing to wideout Robbie Anderson for an instant 75-yard touchdown pass, igniting cheers throughout the stadium. The home defense felt the energy and forced a punt out of the Cleveland offense, though they spent nearly four minutes doing so.

The Panthers were trailing 23-21 with two minutes left. This was Mayfield’s chance to prove his skeptics wrong, especially those within the Browns’ organization. Wide receiver D.J. Moore caught Mayfield’s first pass for a 26-yard gain. The promising start was followed by a 21-yard McCaffrey reception. A penalty after the play tacked on another 15 yards, and the Panthers found themselves 14 yards from victory. Though the Browns defense had bent, they knew they couldn’t break at such a crucial point. They stonewalled the Carolina offense on the next three plays and held them to just a field goal. Even then, Cleveland trailed 24-23 with just over one minute left in the game.

The game had reached a fever pitch as Brissett and company took the field. The Panthers committed a roughing the passer penalty, granting the Browns 15 yards, putting Cleveland at their own 40-yard line. Two plays later, Brissett connected with Peoples-Jones on a 13-yard pass play to drive into Panthers territory. Brissett ran up to the line of scrimmage to quickly spike the ball and stop the clock before finding star wideout Amari Cooper, acquired in March from the Dallas Cowboys, with a 9-yard pass.

Brissett spiked the ball again and, with 13 seconds left, York stepped up once again for the most daunting task a kicker making his NFL debut could imagine: a 58-yard make-or-break field goal attempt. Calm and collected in front of a deafening Carolina crowd, York wound up and blasted the ball. The ball sailed slightly to the right, looking at first to be wide of the mark. But the ball quickly curled to the left in cinematic fashion as it neared the uprights and went through without a doubt. Browns players rejoiced around the rookie, whose heroics capped off a perfect 14-point performance.

The Panthers tried a series of lateral passes in a desperate final play of the game, but a tackle by star defensive end Myles Garrett, who had already sacked his old quarterback twice in the game, sealed the to road victory for Cleveland.

While Chubb, Hunt, Garrett and Peoples-Jones impressed as per usual, the most memorable player of the day was undoubtedly York. The Browns played an imperfect game and nearly lost after leading by 13, but York simply could not miss and saved the Browns from despair. 

Unfortunately, the most notable blemish for the Browns was Amari Cooper, who only had three catches on six targets for 17 yards in his Cleveland debut. With tough rivals throughout the division, the Browns will need Cooper to step up as the season moves along. The AFC North features the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, who both picked up wins on Sunday, and the reigning AFC champion the Cincinnati Bengals, who the Steelers defeated in overtime.

As for Mayfield and the Panthers, though the ending was heartbreaking, the overall performance should keep fans hopeful. However, the slow start that called for the comeback in the first place should absolutely be a concern, as the Panthers sit in the NFC South and must fight for a playoff spot with the Super Bowl-contending Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the playoff hopeful New Orleans Saints, who both won their season openers.

The Browns return to Cleveland for their home opener on Sept. 18  against the New York Jets. The Jets are coming off a loss to the Ravens and will look to bring home a win to keep the team ready for starting quarterback Zach Wilson’s return from injury. With the way the Browns played in all phases of the game in Carolina, however, they may find themselves yet another victim of Cleveland’s blazing talent.