'Just like we drew it up': Baker Mayfield a quick learner in thrilling Rams debut
Sean McVay did not waste any time.
Check that: The Rams coach allowed more than 12 minutes to expire before he could not control himself any longer.
The evaluation of new quarterback Baker Mayfield needed to commence.
Forget that Mayfield arrived only 48 hours earlier.
But it was the finish that fans will remember.
Mayfield engineered two fourth-quarter scoring drives, capping his debut with a touchdown pass to Van Jefferson with 10 seconds left for a 17-16 victory before a Raiders-heavy crowd of 74,738 at SoFi Stadium, which for one night anyway was Baker’s Field.
“I don’t know if you could write it any better than that,” Mayfield said.
The Rams could not have felt better. They ended a six-game losing streak and improved their record to 4-9.
“You forget what winning’s like,” McVay said, “and it sure is fun.”
The night was all about Mayfield, and whether the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL draft can be a viable option as Matthew Stafford ’s backup next season — and perhaps beyond.
The initial read: Absolutely.
“Whatever happens from here on out, I got nothing but respect for Baker Mayfield,” receiver Ben Skowronek said. “To have a guy come in like that, work his tail off for 48 hours, learn the game plan, learn our names…. He’s the type of competitor you want to play with.”
Mayfield was big in the clutch and showed the type of arm strength and release that McVay adores. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 230 yards, including the touchdown to Jefferson.
Not a bad Rams debut for a much-maligned player who was traded by the Cleveland Browns in July and waived this week by the Carolina Panthers.
“Hats off to Baker,” center Brian Allen said. “We were teaching him cadences in the middle of plays. Time to get out there and see what happens. And it happened.”
Quipped McVay: “Just like we drew it up.”
McVay said he was impressed by Mayfield’s leadership, resilience and composure.
“And what a quick study,” McVay said. “He just got here five minutes ago.”
Mayfield, who has played for numerous coordinators, said McVay and Rams assistants and players helped him with a “crash course” in grasping the offense.
“I used to not necessarily complain about the fact that I had that many different offensive systems and having to learn that, but it came in handy when having to learn a crash course and being able to relate certain things,” he said.
The Rams now have some extra time to prepare for their Dec. 19 game at Green Bay, the first of four remaining games against the Packers, Denver Broncos, Chargers and Seattle Seahawks.
And four more chances for Mayfield to make his case.
“It’s been a tough year, to be honest,” Mayfield said. “A good way to kick-start this journey.”
McVay had said on Wednesday that it would be “unprecedented” for a quarterback to play with so little preparation with a new team.
Well, these are unprecedented times for McVay and the defending Super Bowl-champion Rams, who have nose-dived with a Super Bowl hangover.
Stafford, 34, is on injured reserve because of spinal cord contusion and is expected to be out for the rest of the season.
Wolford was questionable for Thursday’s game because of a neck injury.
So, the Rams claimed Mayfield, who had not played since Nov. 20. But McVay was clearly intent on finding out if he could fix him.
When players came out for early warmups about 90 minutes before kickoff, Wolford was not on the field. Mayfield, in shorts, a blue Rams sweatshirt and black headband, took all the snaps as third-string Bryce Perkins looked on.
Mayfield briefly met on the field with television announcers Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit in something akin to a last-minute production meeting to make up for the one he might have done the day before.
But when the Rams came out in uniform for regular warmups, Wolford took snaps with the starters.
The Raiders scored on the first possession for a 7-0 lead, and when the Rams got the ball and went three and out, Wolford’s night was over.
Mayfield, wearing No. 17, came on the next series and fired a 21-yard completion to Jefferson on his first play. The drive ended with a 55-yard field goal by Matt Gay.
Mayfield had the Rams on the move in the next series, completing 22-yard passes to Tutu Atwell and Skowronek before running back Cam Akers killed the drive by losing a fumble.
Josh Jacobs rushed for a touchdown and Daniel Carlson’s two field goals gave the Raiders a 13-3 halftime lead.
Much of the second half did not go well for Mayfield and the Rams. He was sacked multiple times and penalties stifled a drive that forced Gay to attempt a 61-yard field-goal that went wide left.
Late in the fourth quarter, however, Mayfield directed a 17-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with Akers’ short touchdown run that pulled the Rams to within 16-10 with just more than three minutes left.
The Rams got the ball back at their two-yard line with 1:45 left, and Mayfield’s 32-yard pass to Skowronek keyed a drive that ended with Mayfield’s 23-yard scoring pass to Jefferson.
“Just shows the type of guy that he is,” Jefferson said of Mayfield, adding, “He’s a tough guy. I’m glad he’s here.”
The Rams defense kept giving Mayfield chances by limiting the Raiders to field goals or creating turnovers. Linebacker Ernest Jones intercepted a pass in the end zone near the end of the second quarter. And Taylor Rapp clinched the victory with an interception.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner had a game-high 14 tackles — and marveled at Mayfield.
“The defense gave [the offense] us a chance to come on the field and make those plays,” Wagner said. “He came on and did an amazing job.
“It was great to watch.”
McVay thought so as well.
“To say that I expected this,” he said, “I mean it certainly exceeded our expectations.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times .