When the Cleveland Browns come back to Raymond James Stadium for the first time in eight years (preseason excluded), they will be led by rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield. Early results suggest that Mayfield, the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, has a good chance to stop the infamous quarterback carousel the Browns have been on since the franchise returned to life in 1999.
Mayfield, for the record, is the 30th quarterback to start for Cleveland in the last 20 seasons. The Browns returned to action in '99 after three dormant years caused by the original team moving to Baltimore. The NFL declared the now-Ravens to be an expansion franchise and left the Browns colors and history in Cleveland for eventual resuscitation.
The second game the reborn Browns played was actually at Raymond James Stadium, a preseason affair that the Bucs won, 30-3, on Aug. 14, 1999. Cleveland's quarterback on that day was Ty Detmer, who didn't officially make that aforementioned list of 30 until he also started the Browns' regular-season opener against Pittsburgh, throwing for 52 yards in a 43-0 loss. Quarterback number two, 1999 first-overall pick Tim Couch, would start the next game.
Again, there's a good chance that Mayfield will finally give the Browns the stability and future they have been seeking at the quarterback position for two decades. In that pursuit, Cleveland has turned to some players whose names won't resonate with many NFL fans outside of Ohio – Spergon Wynn, Austin Davis, Thad Lewis and Austin Davis among them. They've had their own first-round picks (Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel) and other teams' first-round picks (Jason Campbell, Robert Griffin III, Trent Dilfer). Buccaneer fans will recognize that last name; Dilfer is actually one of five passers on that list of 30 who also played for Tampa Bay, joining Bruce Gradkowski, Jeff Garcia and both McCowns, Josh and Luke. (Kelly Holcomb, another name on that list, got his NFL start with Tampa Bay in 1995 but never played for the Bucs in the regular season.)
The funny thing is, when it comes to the Browns' all-time series against the Buccaneers, specifically, Cleveland has actually had more quarterback stability than Tampa Bay (albeit not by as big of a degree as, say, Tampa has better weather than Cleveland). In fact, on Sunday Jameis Winston will be the 10th different quarterback to start the Buccaneers' 10 all-time games against the Browns. Here's the list, in order: Steve Spurrier, Doug Williams, Jack Thompson, Vinny Testaverde, Dilfer, Brad Johnson, Tim Rattay, Josh Freeman, Mike Glennon, Winston. Meanwhile Brian Sipe started the first three Bucs-Browns get-togethers for Cleveland, over an eight-season span, followed by Bernie Kosar, who only got one start against Tampa Bay but did give that position stability for many years. He was followed, in order, by Testaverde (having switched sides before the move to Baltimore), Couch, Derek Anderson, Jake Delhomme and Brian Hoyer.
So on Sunday we get the 10th different QB matchup in the 10th Tampa Bay-Cleveland game. Both teams surely hope that when they meet again in 2022, it will still be Winston vs. Mayfield.
Oh, by the way, Cleveland won the first five games in the series, the Bucs won the next three and the Browns took the most recent matchup in 2010. That leads to a this all-time series scoreboard:
Tampa Bay - 3
Cleveland - 6
1. Tampa Bay 17, Cleveland 3, Oct. 13, 2002
Most Buccaneer fans will remember exactly one thing from this game, which came six weeks into the Buccaneers' 2002 run to the Super Bowl title. Tampa Bay's legendary '02 defense was on an incredible roll at the time, with this game at the end of a five-week run in which it allowed just 30 total points and two offensive touchdowns (while scoring four touchdowns of its own). It was an offensive play, and player, who became the story of this one, as Mike Alstott emerged from weeks of frustration and relative lack of involvement in Jon Gruden's offense with a 126-yard, two-touchdown rushing effort. The most memorable of his 17 carries came early in the fourth quarter, a 19-yard run in which he bounced off, ran through or dragged nine of Cleveland's defenders on what may be the most famous of Alstott's many highlight-reel plays. Ronde Barber intercepted one of Tim Couch's 40 passes, which only amounted to 151 yards and Warren Sapp sacked Couch twice. The Browns kicked a field goal in the fourth quarter but were never in this game.
2. Tampa Bay 17, Cleveland 14, Sept. 12, 2010
The Buccaneers won on opening day for the first time in five years, rallying from a 14-3 deficit to get the winning points on a 33-yard Micheal Spurlock touchdown catch with seven minutes to play. Josh Freeman, the team's first-round pick in 2009, made his first opening-day start and was solid, completing 17 of 28 passes for 182 yards, two touchdowns and one pick, while also running for 34 yards. Ronde Barber set up Freeman's first touchdown, a three-yarder to Mike Williams, by picking off Jake Delhomme and returning it 64 yards to the Browns' three. Tampa Bay had two chances to put it away in the fourth quarter, twice driving inside Cleveland's five-yard line, but Earnest Graham fumbled the first one away and Freeman was sacked on fourth-and-one from the five with 40 seconds left. However, the Bucs' defense didn't allow Cleveland to get anywhere near Tampa Bay territory after either turnover.
3. Tampa Bay 22, Cleveland 7, Dec. 24, 2006
This was an unremarkable game at the end of a down season between 2005 and 2007 playoff runs for the Buccaneers, but when you only have three wins in a series, they're all going to make a list of top three highlights. Tampa Bay's defense was the driving force in this win, the team's only 'W' in the last six games of a 4-12 season, holding Cleveland to 187 yards and 12 first downs and picking off Derek Anderson four times. Safety Jermaine Phillips had two of those interceptions but it was Derrick Brooks' 21-yard pick-six early in the fourth quarter that was the real dagger. Michael Pittman had 107 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, Greg Spires had two sacks and the next day was Christmas.
1. Cleveland 42, Tampa Bay 31, Nov. 5, 1989
The Buccaneers played a lot of high-scoring games in 1989, among them 42-35 and 32-31 wins over the Bears, a 56-23 loss at Cincinnati, a 32-28 loss at Washington and this 73-point affair with the Browns in Tampa. Though the home team out-gained the visitors in net yards, 398 to 271, it was the Cleveland defense that made the difference with four interceptions off Vinny Testaverde, including ones returned for touchdowns by Felix Wright and the excellently-named Thane Gash. Testaverde also threw for 370 yards and two touchdowns to James Wilder, but RB Eric Metcalf countered with a 24-yards touchdown catch in the first quarter and a 43-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter. Bernie Kosar was extremely efficient, completing 18 of 22 passes for 164 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Browns got up 28-7 before halftime and basically just traded punches the rest of the way out.
2. Cleveland 22, Tampa Bay 17, Nov. 2, 2014
The middle of the 2014 season was the last time before the current season that the Browns' franchise appeared to be possible contenders, winning three straight at midseason to go to 6-3. (They would finish 7-9 and then win a total of four games over the next three years.) The middle contest in that three-game run was against the Buccaneers in Cleveland, with Mike Glennon at the helm for Tampa Bay and Brian Hoyer under center for the Browns. Both quarterbacks threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions, but Hoyer's two TDs both came in the second half and both turned a Cleveland deficit into a lead. The first of Mike Evans' two touchdown catches on the day gave the Bucs a 10-9 lead at halftime, but Terrance West scored on a two-yard pass early in the second half. After Evans found the end zone again, Hoyer hit Taylor Gabriel for a 34-yard score midway through the fourth quarter. An offensive pass interference flag on Evans just after the two-minute warning erased what would have been a first down at Cleveland's 27 and Glennon threw incomplete on the resulting fourth-and-11.
3. Cleveland 34, Tampa Bay 27, Sept. 28, 1980
The Browns had a good 1980 campaign, led by Brian Sipe, going 11-5 and winning a division title before bowing out in their first playoff game. In Week Four, they came to Tampa and got involved in a shootout, with both teams topping 400 yards on the day. The Bucs had a 13-3 lead in the second quarter after Doug Williams hit Gordon Jones on a 41-yard score, one of the 56 passes Williams threw on the day, completing 30 for 343 yards, three TDs and two picks. Sipe was more efficient, going 22-for-32 for 318 yards, three touchdowns and one pick; he threw just two passes to RB Calvin Hill, but both went for scores, the latter a 43-yarder that finished a 28-0 scoring run for the Browns. After a seven-yard touchdown catch by Jerry Eckwood trimmed the Browns' lead to seven points with 45 seconds left, the Buccaneers successfully executed an onside kick. Williams got the home team down to Cleveland's 35 with time for one more play, but his pass to Jimmie Giles over the middle ended in the tight end being tackled at the 20.
View photos of Defensive Coordinator Mark Duffner from his time with the team.
Bucs' Top Performers Against Browns:
Among players currently on the roster, here are a few Buccaneers who have fared well against the Browns.
· DT Gerald McCoy…2 games, 5 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 forced fumbles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback hits
· DE Jason Pierre-Paul…2 games, 9 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 quarterback hits, 1 pass defensed, 1 fumble recovery returned 43 yards for a touchdown
· WR Mike Evans…1 games, 7 catches for 124 yards and two touchdowns, 17.7 yards per catch
Browns' Top Performers Against Bucs:
· QB Tyrod Taylor…2 games, 2-0 record, 20 of 33 passing 268 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions, 10 rushes for 50 yards
· WR Jarvis Landry…1 game, 6 receptions for 95 yards and 1 touchdown, 15.8 yards per catch, 5 first downs
Bucs-Browns Game-by-Game Record:
· Overall Season Series: Browns lead, 6-3
· Bucs' Home Record: 2-3
· Bucs' Road Record: 0-4
· Current Streak: Lose 1 (2014)
· Buccaneers' Longest Winning Streak: 3 (2002-12)
· Browns' Longest Winning Streak: 5 (1976-95)
· Regular Season Point Total: Buccaneers 144, Browns 188
· Most Points in a Game for Tampa Bay: Brown 42, Buccaneers 31 (1989)
· Most Points in a Game for Cleveland: Brown 42, Buccaneers 31 (1989)
· Most Points, combined: 73…Brown 42, Buccaneers 31 (1989)
· Fewest Points in a Game for Tampa Bay: Browns 20, Buccaneers 0 (1983)
· Fewest Points in a Game for Cleveland: Buccaneers 17, Browns 3 (2002)
· Fewest Points in a Game, combined: 20…twice (see above two games)