When a quarterback is signed mid-week, the expectation is usually set he won’t be playing that week. NFL offenses are complicated, quarterbacks have to learn their receivers, and on top of that there’s jet-lag to contend with.
When the Rams signed Baker Mayfield on Tuesday, it was treated as a shrug and move on move by much of the NFL world. Mayfield struggled with the Panthers after being largely passed over by the league when the Browns were shopping him. But the Rams’ options were John Wolford or Bryce Perkins at quarterback. So the match made sense, if only because neither side had other options.
Imagine everyone’s surprise when Mayfield not only got in the game on “Thursday Night Football,” but led the Rams to an improbable comeback win just three days after Tom Brady did the same thing for the Buccaneers against the Saints. Mayfield’s victory included a 17-play drive that went 75 yards and an eventual game-winning drive that went 98 yards.
It ended in a stunning 17-16 final score that has the Raiders reeling after they were up 16-3 at the 12-minute mark.
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This wasn’t a quarterback coming in and just rejuvenating the offense. Yardage didn’t come easy. But Mayfield did what he had to do and found a way to win. Just like he did when he took the Browns to the playoffs.
So how did he get there? How did the Rams go from signing a castoff to celebrating a come-from-behind victory? The Sporting News looks into the end of Mayfield’s tenure with the Raiders, and his tumultuous 40 hours in Los Angeles leading up to the win in Lala Land.
Baker Mayfield Rams timeline
Sunday, Nov. 27: Baker Mayfield gets replaced by Sam Darnold
In Week 12’s 23-10 win over the Broncos, the Panthers went with Sam Darnold over Mayfield, who had thrown two picks the previous week against the Ravens in a 13-3 loss.
Darnold, who missed the beginning of the season nursing an ankle injury, didn’t have a particularly heavy workload. He threw just 19 times as D’Onta Foreman did the heavy lifting for the Panthers. But he also didn’t turn the ball over, which is what the Panthers were really looking for.
Week of Dec. 4: Baker Mayfield requests his release
At some point, The Athletic reported Mayfield requested his release from the Panthers, per Joe Person.
After Darnold’s win for Carolina, it became clear Mayfield wasn’t going to get the starting job back. At that point, he asked for his release from the Panthers.
Monday, Dec. 5: Panthers grant Mayfield his request
Mayfield was granted his release by the Panthers Monday, Dec. 5, ostensibly shortly after his request.
Mayfield was quickly tied to several teams in dire QB situations, including the 49ers, Saints, Texans, and Ravens.
Tuesday, Dec. 6: Rams claim Mayfield and he lands in L.A.
The Rams ended up claiming Mayfield off waivers, following the news Matthew Stafford will likely be out for the season with a spinal contusion. That left their quarterback options as John Wolford and Bryce Perkins, neither of whom had been inspiring in their playing time following the Stafford injury.
MORE: NFL world reacts to Baker Mayfield’s insane comeback win
From his flight, he traveled to the Rams’ practice facility in Thousand Oaks, about an hour away from the airport.
Wednesday, Dec. 7: Mayfield has his first Rams practice
Sean McVay didn’t take long to ask Mayfield to get acclimated. According to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic, the Rams mostly ran their red zone offense and throw-and-catch drills Wednesday.
Mayfield ran two 10-play sequences and learned the Rams’ silent count, as the Rams were effectively preparing for a road game in SoFi Stadium against the well-traveled Raiders crowd.
“What a quick study,” Sean McVay said following the game on Mayfield’s progress. “I mean, he got here like five minutes ago.”
According to Rodrigue, Mayfield threw “maybe” 50 passes with his new team before his first game with the Rams.
Thursday, Dec. 8: Mayfield leads Rams to win on ‘Thursday Night Football’
After Wolford started the game with a three-and-out series, Mayfield — who was somewhat surprisingly dressed — took over.
Make no mistake: Much of the game was ugly. But in the last 12 minutes, Mayfield was able to figure things out.
Down 16-3 with about 12 minutes left, he engineered a 17-play, 75-yard drive that bled nine minutes off the clock. The Rams converted two third downs and two fourth downs to get there, but eventually they scored.
After the Raiders pinned the Rams at the 2-yard line, the Rams drove 98 yards behind Mayfield in just nine plays, ultimately scoring the game-winner.
“I’ve kind of never seen anything like what Baker did,” said Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein, per The Athletic. “He got here, what, Tuesday? Just unbelievable. The work and the effort and the mindset of the boys, the offense and defense and special teams actually putting together a complete performance there down the stretch.”
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Mayfield himself said McVay’s familiarity was a big reason for his comfort.
“Sean’s protection scheme is similar to Bill Callahan’s, who I had in Cleveland,” Mayfield said, per Pro Football Talk. “So, the terminology with that, that knocks out a big chunk of the learning curve. And just trying to learn all the motions and the terminology for that — it’s tough. But those guys did a great job of helping me out, communicating with me when I got off the field on the sideline and just talking through the plays that were coming up.
“There were still definitely… looked like some rookie errors with formations and motions. Obviously, it hurt us late. It worked out, but not having the timeouts to call on defense, it came down to that third-and-1 stop. Defense did a hell of a job making that stop and giving us the ball back. There’s things that definitely need to be worked out, but those guys helped me out in this crash course.”
Mayfield is clearly downplaying what happened, and he’s right, things did still look ugly at times. But for a quarterback who’s struggled as he has this year to join a team that struggled as the Rams have, and put together a win that was imperfect in nearly every way… There’s something strangely perfect about that. The Rams have another four games left on the year, in which Mayfield will likely see an extended tryout. Perhaps trying out with McVay’s offense will benefit him as teams continue to replicate the Rams, imperfect as they are. They are the defending champions still, after all.