College shootout foes Mahomes, Mayfield renew rivalry in NFL
BEREA, Ohio — Back when their chances of playing quarterback in the NFL were still in the dream stages, Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield sat in an apartment near Texas Tech's campus and played video games.
It was 2013.
Three years later, they appeared to do the same thing on the field.
"It was a basketball score," Mayfield recalled.
"That game was crazy," Mahomes said, remembering the October night in 2016 when he and Mayfield rewrote the NCAA record book.
The quarterbacks and friends will renew their old rivalry — and perhaps embark on a new one as pros — Sunday when Mahomes leads Kansas City and the Chiefs' high-flying, high-octane offense into Cleveland to play Mayfield and the Browns, who are again in disarray following the firings this week of coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
The previous time they met between the hash marks, Mahomes and Mayfield put on a stunning statistical show unlike anything college football had seen before.
They combined for 12 touchdown passes and 1,279 yards passing and broke the total yardage mark with 1,708 yards — 854 for each school.
Looking back, Mayfield, who threw seven TD passes to Mahomes' five and led the Sooners to a 66-59 win, still can't fathom what happened.
"That was my 'Welcome back to Lubbock' moment," said Mayfield, who began his college career as a walk-on at Texas Tech before transferring. "Weird things happen in Lubbock, Texas, on Saturday nights. It is pretty funny, Oklahoma goes back to Lubbock this weekend and then I am playing Pat on Sunday."
Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has replaced Jackson as Cleveland's interim coach, shook his head in disbelief when given details of the Mahomes-Mayfield shootout.
"Oh, my gosh," he said. "Setting defenses back a thousand years."
Five years ago, when Mayfield hosted Mahomes on his recruiting trip to Texas Tech, no one — not even the quarterbacks themselves — could have envisioned that first meeting would blossom into a friendship and maybe the NFL's next great QB duel.
Mayfield was aware of Mahomes' background and talent — son of a major league baseball player, bazooka-like arm — but then got to know him personally during that weekend visit. What Mayfield quickly learned was that, like him, Mahomes is a natural leader.
"Patrick has always been an easygoing guy," Mayfield said. "That is why those teammates he has always had play for him so hard. He gets their respect not just based on talent — that's easy to respect — but based on who he is as a person. He just has that presence about him that you want to be around. You gravitate toward that, so it is fun to see him grow."
And my, has Mahomes grown.
The 22-year-old leads the league with 26 TD passes and 2,526 yards. He threw six TD passes in Week 2 against Pittsburgh, and Mahomes has made as many jaw-dropping, highlight-reel worthy plays this season as many quarterbacks have in a career.
Mahomes' arm strength has drawn rave reviews. Ask any coach, player, scout or reporter who has seen him play and there's usually a tale about one of his throws.
Mayfield said he's "absolutely" jealous of Mahomes' rocket right arm.
"There was a play in that college game, he was rolling to his left, flicked it and it went about 65 in the air for a touchdown back of the end zone," Mayfield said, remembering the OU-Texas Tech classic in '16. "He does stuff that you can't even think of even being possible."
Mayfield was surprised Mahomes wasn't taken in 2017 with the No. 1 pick, which ended up being Browns defensive end Myles Garrett.
"Talent-wise, I thought he should have been. I love Myles but," Mayfield said with a smile.
"Coming from the Texas Tech system, there are always your skeptics about people doubting the fact that all he did was sit back there and throw the ball. He threw it 88 times in our game, but when it comes down to it, throwing the ball is throwing the ball, and he is really good at it."
So is Mayfield.
While Mahomes started only one game as a rookie last season, Mayfield was thrust into the lineup in Week 3 when Tyrod Taylor was hurt.
Mayfield doesn't have nearly the same supporting cast as Mahomes, but he has put up respectable numbers and feels he's learning with every snap.
"His talent is through the roof," Mahomes said of Mayfield. "He is going to keep getting better every single week. He has already had a lot of success. The sky is the limit for him."
On Sunday, they'll go at it again — pass for pass, play for play — in what appears to be a mismatch with the Chiefs rolling and the Browns reeling.
But beyond the score, the NFL could get its first glimpse of a budding QB rivalry. It's not Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, but that one started somewhere, too.
"I would absolutely not say that it's going to be Brady-Manning right now, but it is humbling to be in that conversation," Mayfield said. "If he keeps playing that way, there is no reason why it would not be on his side of things. Now, I just have to pick up my side and play better."