From a Charlotte third-stringer to a Los Angeles leading man, Baker Mayfield arrived just in time for the Rams.
The quarterback landed in L.A. on Tuesday night and stepped right into a Thursday made-for-prime-time blockbuster with an ending for the ages.
Just two days after he was claimed by the Rams off waivers from the Carolina Panthers, Mayfield found himself on the L.A. 2-yard line trailing by six points with 1:45 to go. Eight plays, 98 yards and 95 seconds later, Mayfield had led the Rams past the Las Vegas Raiders, 17-16.
"I don't know if you could write it any better than that," Mayfield, who was 22 of 35 for 230 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, told reporters after the game. "Obviously, we'd like to be a little bit more stress-free. But it's a pretty damn good story. I'll be honest with you. It's special."
Having practiced just once with the Rams prior to taking the field Thursday, Mayfield's performance prior to the last drive was commendable, but L.A. seemed destined for another loss after Raiders punter AJ Cole's splendid 64-yard punt was downed at the 2. Alas for Las Vegas, Mayfield's final act in his stunning debut saw him connect with Van Jefferson for a game-tying 23-yard touchdown on a beauty of a deep ball with 10 seconds left. Kicker Matt Gay followed with the game-winning extra point.
"You can't say enough about Baker Mayfield and the leadership, the resilience, the competitiveness," said Rams head coach Sean McVay, whose team ended its six-game losing streak. "And what a quick study. He just got here five minutes ago and figured out a way to do some special things tonight."
McVay became Mayfield's seventh head coach (two interim) in the former No. 1 overall pick's five-season career -- and his third head coach this season. The roller-coaster ride Mayfield's been on served him well during his full-speed learning process to get ready for Thursday, though.
"I used to not necessarily complain about the fact that I had that many offensive systems and having to learn that," Mayfield said, "but it came in handy when having to learn a crash course and being able to relate certain things."
Mayfield's week began with him requesting and receiving his release on Monday.
Mayfield's Week 14 game began with him on the sideline as John Wolford got the start. Wolford handed the ball off three times on a three-and-out opening drive and Mayfield took over from there on out, guiding a foreign offense and throwing balls to strangers in the same uniform. His first pass was a 21-yard laser to Jefferson in a foreshadowing of things to come, but not for quite a chunk of game time. In his first drive, Mayfield led the Rams offense to a field goal, but L.A. was stagnant from there, just as it has been for most of the season.
Mayfield said he arrived on Tuesday night around 7:15 p.m. PT in L.A. and soon after began his crash course in getting acclimated for his debut.
On Thursday night, not long after 8 p.m. PT, Mayfield and the Rams had arrived at their first win in a long time. Having gone 1-5 as a starter with the Panthers, who acquired him via offseason trade from the Cleveland Browns following four mercurial campaigns, Mayfield hadn't won a game since Week 3 against the New Orleans Saints. The Rams hadn't won since Week 6 against the Panthers and quarterback P.J. Walker, who was starting in place of an injured Mayfield.
Despite Los Angeles' win on Thursday, the Rams are still amid one of the worst seasons ever for a defending Super Bowl champion. Neither Mayfield nor McVay has had much to smile about or celebrate, but they were each grinning after this one.
"You forget what winning's like and it sure is fun," McVay said.
Perhaps in this nomadic NFL world, Mayfield connecting with McVay and the Rams was fortuitous.
"I took a gamble. I booked a flight, uh, before the waiver wire went through," Mayfield said on the Prime Video postgame stage when asked if he knew he was going to L.A. when Carolina let him go.
It's certainly been a tumultuous season for Mayfield and the Rams, alike. The former was the fourth starting quarterback for the team this season. With Matthew Stafford on injured reserve and Mayfield's performance Thursday, questions will immediately come up as to what the future holds for each of the QBs and a franchise that's tumbled from the pinnacle to uncertainty throughout the roster.
Mayfield will most surely get his first Rams start in Week 15 against the Green Bay Packers.
Beyond that and this season, though, he's not looking too far ahead.
"I'm just looking to be the best version of me possible," Mayfield said. "Learning and improving in the system, trying to take away from a great group of guys that have had a lot of success. Obviously, the injuries, it's tough, but just trying to learn from everybody here. Take in as much as I can and let the pieces fall where they may. I can't control the future. I know I have the next four games here. Trying to build on that and just be the best version of me and improve."
Mayfield's had plenty of highlights and plenty of lowlights in a career that's still shy of 70 games. He's been characterized fairly and unfairly for a live arm and loud mouth.
On this night he was special, though. According to NFL Research, Mayfield's two days after joining a club was the shortest amount of time with a new team before playing for a QB since at least 1995.
While many in his situation would have been a deer in the headlights, Mayfield was a star in the spotlight.