Led by brash rookie QB Baker Mayfield, the Cleveland Browns suddenly merit keeping an eye on.
Are they legitimate playoff contenders yet? Of course not; only their most ardent fans would say so.
Still, the Browns — owners of just one victory over the previous two entire seasons combined — are a club that now matters, not just because they're capable of winning, as they did 35-20 against the falling-apart Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, but also because they have some real characters.
First and foremost, of course, both on and off the field, is Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall draft pick who helped the Browns (4-6-1) end a 25-game road losing skid that was one shy of the NFL record. After tossing four TD passes and zero interceptions, he made sure to get in his shots against his former head coach, Hue Jackson, who was fired by Cleveland less than a month ago and quickly took a job with the Bengals as a defensive assistant.
Afterward, when they met on the field for a handshake, Mayfield resisted what appeared to be Jackson's attempt to bring him in for a hug. Then, speaking to reporters, Mayfield took what could only be construed as a jab at Jackson and the also-fired Todd Haley, the Browns' former offensive coordinator, saying: "We have people that we believe in calling the plays now."
"Didn't feel like talking," Mayfield said of his brief postgame interaction with Jackson. "Left Cleveland, goes down to Cincinnati. ... It's just somebody that was in our locker room asking us to play for him and then goes to a different team we play twice a year. Everybody can have their spin on it. But that's how I feel."
There was more, too. When Browns safety Damarious Randall grabbed a pick in the first half, he ended up out of bounds on the Bengals' sideline and handed the ball right to Jackson. Hmmmm.
With Mayfield joined on offense by dynamic running back Nick Chubb — the fourth rookie in league history with rushing and receiving touchdowns in consecutive games — and young talent such as Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward on defense, plus the sort of swagger Randall showed, it looks as if the Browns might no longer provide the must-not-see-TV they've offered for quite some time.
In case you missed it, here are other top topics after the NFL season's 12th Sunday:
The most important takeaway from San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster's arrest on a domestic violence charge could be what, if anything, the NFL ends up doing about it. The 49ers said Sunday they'll put Foster on waivers; spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league is reviewing the matter.
As this season spirals out of control, Doug Marrone's Jacksonville Jaguars keep finding new ways to embarrass themselves. The latest example: Running back Leonard Fournette, who went from his team's sideline to the opposite sideline to throw punches at Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson near the stands in Buffalo's 24-21 victory. As if that weren't enough, the scrap spilled into the tunnel after both players were ejected. Fournette might have been able to help the Jags (3-8) avoid a seventh loss in a row had he remained in the game. Plus, as Hall of Famer Deion Sanders put it on the NFL Network: "This fool ran across the field?!"
RIVERS THREW IT
He wasn't exactly facing much of an opponent, but Chargers QB Philip Rivers sure turned in a performance to remember, completing 25 straight passes and finishing with a 96.6 completion percentage (connecting on 28 of 29 throws) — both single-game NFL records — to help LA top the Arizona Cardinals 45-10 and improve to 8-3. "It was a fun day, to say the least," Rivers said.
LUCK COULD RUN OUT
Give Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich credit for creative play designs, having Andrew Luck run pass routes in back-to-back games, including one that resulted in a 4-yard catch on fourth down to move the sticks on a TD drive in Sunday's 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins. But, the coolness of Luck's first career reception aside, someone also needs to remind Reich that his team's success depends largely on Luck — and that the QB missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. So maybe it's time to put those trick plays back in Reich's pocket.
AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.