Baker Mayfield had a dreadful, no good, very ugly Sunday, and yet, the Browns still won.
It helped that Cleveland was playing the league’s only winless team. It also helped that said team started a quarterback who hadn’t thrown a pass in a regular-season game since 2019.
Cleveland’s quarterback didn’t look much better than Lions signal-caller Tim Boyle on Sunday, missing the target on many of his pass attempts, throwing two ugly interceptions, and finishing with one touchdown pass — a short completion to Nick Chubb in the flat — and a passer rating of 53.2, his fourth-worst rating of his career and worst of 2021.
The game was frustrating for both Mayfield and the many fans who proudly wear his jersey and voiced their displeasure by raining boos down on him and the Browns’ offense when they struggled through most of the second half. Afterward, Mayfield quickly exited the field and did not speak to the assembled media before leaving FirstEnergy Stadium.
So much for a Victory Monday.
“I was frustrated, among other things,” Mayfield explained Monday as to why he didn’t talk following the win. “I’ve never dodged any questions or hid away from that, so it’s not about that. Just frustrated, removed emotions and all that from it, and just decided it was best to wait.”
Mayfield added: “Not one part of that is not being accountable. I’d be the first to tell you I played like s—. So it’s not about accountable, and I don’t owe you guys any of that. I owe that to my teammates and I talk to them, and that’s what matters.”
Mayfield was predictably abrasive following the forgettable performance, and despite adding a tally to the Browns’ W column, it certainly didn’t feel like Cleveland had triumphed in the hours that followed the Browns’ 13-10 win over Detroit. The former No. 1 overall pick has spent his entire career under a football microscope, with legions of doubters ready to find the latest example of why they believe he’s destined to fail.
To this point, he hasn’t failed, but Mayfield also hasn’t crept this closely to failure since Cleveland’s massively disappointing 2019 campaign, if ever. It must be noted that Mayfield is playing through multiple injuries at the moment, including a torn labrum suffered in the Browns’ Week 2 win over Houston, a fracture to the same injured shoulder suffered in the Browns’ loss to the Arizona Cardinals, a knee issue and a foot ailment. The injuries have limited Mayfield’s ability to use his legs to extend and make plays, and it’s certainly fair to wonder how much his shoulder injury is affecting his accuracy, which has been all over the place, depending on the week.
“For me, decision-making was great. It was the lack of execution,” Mayfield said. “I think there were some plays that just … I’m not gonna make every throw. Nobody does that. But very, very frustrated with how where I was going with the ball compared to how the results were. That’s very, very frustrating.
“I’ve always been an accurate guy, and that was not the case yesterday. That’s extremely frustrating to me when I feel like I let my teammates down. Preparation week, everything leading up to the game was great. Felt like I was in a good position to be able to play and play at a high level, and I didn’t. So that’s a very frustrating thing.”
Mayfield might not have the answer for his inaccuracy, which has produced three interceptions between his last two games. After lighting up the Cincinnati Bengals for 218 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-16 win in Week 9, Mayfield has looked far from that quarterback in the two weeks since.
It’s understandable, then, for Mayfield to be frustrated enough to give himself 18 hours to cool down before speaking publicly. What’s not acceptable at this stage is the performance of Cleveland’s offense as a whole, which missed two receivers (Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz) on Sunday, recently said goodbye to the disgruntled Odell Beckham, and has been forced to play without either or both Chubb and Kareem Hunt in multiple games this season, as well as right tackle Jack Conklin.
Even with the absences considered, it’s more than fair to ask why Kevin Stefanski’s offense simply isn’t performing anywhere near the level it reached in 2020, when the Browns finished 11-5 and won their first playoff game since the 1994 season. Stefanski has been shown on the sideline looking perplexed, if not downright maddened by his team’s play during recent weeks, and doesn’t seem to have a legitimate answer to their struggles.
“I take a lion’s share, you can put that responsibility on me,” Stefanski said Monday. “I need to do better. There are plays that we just didn’t do a good enough job yesterday in giving the guys an opportunity. But I do think as a collective group, we’re on the same page.”
If preparation isn’t the issue, as both Mayfield said and Stefanski alluded to, then it truly comes down to execution — oh, and playing cleaner football. The Browns were flagged for penalties 10 times Sunday in what was once a worrying trend that has now become an unfortunate, but defining trait of the 2021 season.
Stefanski mentioned the penalties as something the team needed to clean up during his postgame address in the locker room Sunday. The Browns aren’t oblivious to their sloppy play and its negative impact. And when they’re closer to healthy, they’re still strong in some areas — but not good enough overall to inspire much confidence.
Chubb returned Sunday and ran for 130 yards on 22 carries, helping Cleveland rush for 184 yards as a team. The Browns needed every one of those yards to hold off the now 0-9-1 Lions and avoid an embarrassing defeat at home.
They’ll need much, much more to beat the Ravens in either of their two games scheduled over the next three weeks. With the AFC North still very much up for grabs, there’s no time to waste.
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