A coming-out party against Baker Mayfield on Monday night was serendipitous for 49ers rookie defensive end Nick Bosa.
Bosa didn’t forget about what the Cleveland Browns quarterback did when the two last squared off in 2017, when both were in college. Mayfield’s fifth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners won a high-profile game against Bosa’s No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes, a 31-16 road victory.
Afterward, Mayfield took an Oklahoma flag, ran to midfield, waved and planted it emphatically in the middle of Ohio State’s ‘Block O’ logo. That didn’t sit well with Bosa or his teammates, and he decided over the 49ers’ recent bye week he would get a little revenge if an opportunity presented itself when Mayfield and the Browns came to Levi’s Stadium.
“I just wanted to get payback. He had it coming,” Bosa said.
Bosa’s retribution Monday came on the final play of the first half when he pressured Mayfield into an intentional grounding penalty (replays showed it could have been ruled a sack as Mayfield’s knee hit the ground as he threw it away).
Bosa mimicked Mayfield’s flag wave from two years ago and planted it. The move was eerily similar to Mayfield’s — because Bosa practiced it in his bedroom beforehand, he said.
Bosa, the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft, was arguably the best player on the field throughout his breakout performance on “Monday Night Football” during San Francisco’s 31-3 drubbing of Mayfield and the Browns.
The 49ers are 4-0 for the first time since 1990. They out-gained Cleveland in yardage 446-180. Mayfield had just 100 passing yards on 8 of 22 completions and a 13.4 passer rating, the worst of his two-year career. He threw two interceptions and fumbled twice, losing one forced by DeForest Buckner and recovered by Bosa, and another forced by Bosa in the third quarter.
Bosa filled the stat sheet after having just one sack during his first three games playing on a gimpy right ankle he sprained early in training camp.
He had two sacks, five quarterback hits and two tackles for loss in the blowout.
“Tonight was a level up for him,” fellow defensive end Dee Ford said. “I feel like he is a game-breaker, period. I think we are going to see a lot more of Nick.”
The normally quiet and monotone Bosa said he doesn’t typically talk trash, but had plenty to say to Mayfield on the field and in the locker room afterwards.
“I don’t usually talk, but this game he had it coming,” Bosa said. “He didn’t say one word back. ... I was just screaming his name. ‘Ba-ker. Ba-ker. You good? Come on, pick it up. We want a challenge.’”
The Browns converted 1 of 11 third downs, averaged only 3.9 yards per play and had just 78 net passing yards. Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had two catches for 27 yards after scoring two touchdowns in a Monday night game on the same field last November as a member of the New York Giants.
“I don’t know how anybody thought (Mayfield) would be able to see over Arik (Armstead) and Buck,” Bosa said. “But he was panicking. He was double clutching, rolling back and fourth. We had him rattled all game.”
Mayfield was asked about Bosa’s celebration afterwards.
“I didn’t know that until I was informed before I got up here,” he said. “Good for him. Good play.”
Coach Kyle Shanahan wasn’t at all surprised by Bosa’s performance.
“Just because I had to go against him in practice and quickly he definitely pissed me off a lot in practice for an offensive coach,” Shanahan said.
Mayfield’s first interception came in the first quarter as Bosa pressured him against left tackle Greg Robinson. Mayfield threw as he was hit and lobbed a pass snagged by Richard Sherman, giving him his second interception of the year.
Mayfield’s second interception wasn’t his fault. The Browns appeared to have a touchdown to make it a 14-10 game in the second quarter. But open receiver Antonio Callaway bobbled the throw at the goal line and tipped it up to K’Waun Williams, who got his second interception in as many games.
The 49ers responded with a Tevin Coleman touchdown to make it 21-3 and the Browns never got into San Francisco territory again.
Coach Kyle Shanahan’s team ran for 275 yards after entering the night with the NFL’s second-ranked rushing attack. Matt Breida, who scored an 83-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, paced the 49ers with 114 yards. Coleman added 97 on 16 carries in his first action since a Week 1 high-ankle sprain.
Shanahan dialed up 40 running plays and didn’t ask much from Jimmy Garoppolo, who had 181 yards while completing 20 of 29 (69 percent), for 181 yards and two scores. He threw a touchdown pass to Breida and tight end George Kittle. It was Kittle’s first of the season. San Francisco didn’t have a turnover for the first time all year.
The 49ers and the New England Patriots are the NFL’s only undefeated teams. San Francisco has its first division game on a short week Sunday in Los Angeles against the Rams, who are stewing off back-to-back losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and division-rival Seattle Seahawks.
Surely Monday’s win over a national stage will elevate the 49ers’ profile and change the way they’re talked about around the league. Shanahan’s message to his team about handling the hype was simple.
“The same way you handle 0-5,” he said. “You don’t pay attention and you just go to work. I think we’ve got the right guys. ... But the league is too hard to be overconfident. Every week is a tough week and we’ve got a lot of work to do. Still got some guys who are waiting to get back from injury and that game by no means was perfect.”