Let’s not mince words here: The Browns went down in a ball of flames on a national stage last season.
By nature of the position he plays, the pilot of that doomed craft was Baker Mayfield. Sure, he might not have been receiving the best direction from the tower, but Mayfield was still at the controls of the team’s promising offense that failed to land anywhere near its intended target in 2019.
Instead of watching Mayfield sprint alongside his teammates in celebration of their touchdown-scoring efforts, Mayfield was left to unbuckle his chinstrap while displaying the same confused gaze after throwing his latest interception. Instead of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. touchdown celebrations, folks were more worried about their rule-breaking footwear choices in Denver.
The only star of the offensive show was the one who did the least talking: running back Nick Chubb.
Mayfield has learned from his experiences from his second season, in which his conduct — a shirtless photoshoot with a tiger, talking confidently of his team’s chances in just his second season — might have been deemed sophomoric. That part of Mayfield’s life is now in the past, the quarterback said Friday.
“The last couple years have been a roller-coaster of emotions and not nearly as much success as I’m used to,” Mayfield told reporters. “So I’d say I lost myself not having that success, not finding out what was working. I think I tried different ways of trying to have that success and didn’t find it.”
The humble pie served to Mayfield may have been the best possible dish he could have consumed in his second season. By all accounts, Mayfield has realized it isn’t as easy as it might have seemed to win consistently in the NFL. He might have learned it just in time to turn things around for the years ahead.
“I lost myself in that and I wasn’t able to be who I am for these guys on the team. I told them that,” Mayfield continued. “I told them that if I’m not doing that, hold me accountable. Just finding that, finding out how to get back to the basics like I said and establish myself in this new system and attack it.”
The talk of Super Bowls (plural) is over now in Cleveland because as the Browns learned last season, you can’t flap your jaws to a playoff berth. Now, it’s about getting to work in Cleveland under new head coach Kevin Stefanski, whose zone-run and play-action scheme should fit Mayfield perfectly.
“Scheme-wise, I think my attributes match up to what they want to do,” Mayfield said of Stefanski’s offense. “But not only that, I think it matches up to our team and people they’ve brought in. Our whole offense, just mentality-wise, culture-wise, a no-B.S. policy. You’re going to know exactly what we want to do and you’re expected to do it. It’s a be-an-adult type-thing, handle your own business and we’ll have success, and we’ll have continuity.”
Former head coach Freddie Kitchens went about things in a similar way on the surface, though the accountability (or lack thereof) didn’t extend beyond what could be seen in training camp. Cracks appeared rather quickly, and the Browns weren’t able to patch them up in time before it all fell apart.
Such a risk doesn’t seem to exist in the Stefanski-led locker room, as indicated by the way Mayfield appears to be carrying himself in 2020.
“He’s the leader of our team, will continue to be the leader of our team,” Browns receiver Jarvis Landry said of Mayfield. “His attitude toward this season is at a heightened level. It’s fun to see him out here. It’s fun to see him doing the things that he loves with a smile on his face and making plays already. It’s good to have him in the building and working with him.”
With Landry and Beckham expected to start the campaign fully healthy (unlike last season), and Mayfield in a properly adjusted state of mind, these quieter Browns might just be poised to make much more noise than their bombastic 2019 counterparts.
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