Mon, Oct 14, 2019

You can say a lot of things about Baker Mayfield — be it good, bad or indifferent — but you can never allege he lacks confidence. The second-year quarterback and former first-overall pick got off to a blazing start in his rookie 2018 season when he finally took the reigns as starter of the Cleveland Browns, and that fueled talk of his NFL potential and braggadocio arguably not witnessed since the days of “Broadway” Joe Namath.

The organization then fired Hue Jackson this offseason, hired Freddie Kitchens and made the blockbuster move to land All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. via trade to create what was projected to be a dynamic reunion with former LSU teammate and four-time Pro Bowl wideout Jarvis Landry. With a full year under running back Nick Chubb’s belt and the decision to trade Duke Johnson to the Houston Texans because of it, that’s a lot of Tier-A movement with the goal of the Browns offense being potent enough to finally challenge for the AFC North title and possibly make noise in the playoffs.

Instead, through five weeks of play, they’re 2-3 and each of their three losses were by a combined score of 29-94. The latest was a 31-3 beatdown by the undefeated San Francisco 49ers that saw Mayfield crawl to an unnerving 100 yards on eight for 22 passing with no touchdowns and two interceptions — finishing with a passer rating of 13.4; one of the lowest you’ll ever see in an NFL game. CBS Sports’ Josh Edwards broke down why the Browns need to change their identity and make Chubb the focal point if they want to turn things around.

After taking the field at Levi’s Stadium without shaking hands, and being roundly criticized for it by cornerback Richard Sherman, Mayfield took the field and got bullied by former Ohio State star and rookie first-round pick Nick Bosa; who also had a message for him both during and after the contest.

Still, Mayfield appears unfettered. 

“We’re not hitting the panic button,” he said following the worst game of his career, via WHIO.com. “I don’t think it’s anything besides looking in the mirror and seeing what we did wrong. It’s as simple as that. We have a short week. 

“It’s going to be very mental for us.”

He doubled down on the avoidance of the proverbial big red button, noting there’s a lot that can be cleaned up on the whole.

“Once again, we’re not hitting the panic button,” Mayfield added in his post-game presser. “For us, we know the problem. We know we have to be better and do better. When you play a great team, you have to eliminate mistakes. 

“You just have to. We know exactly what we need to do. We need to play well. We need to do our job each and every play.”

It bears mentioning the Browns must now quickly turnaround and try to rebound against a visiting 4-1 Seattle Seahawks, and that won’t be an easy task — to say the least — but the need to come out with a victory is that much more pronounced when considering they’ll face the possibly still-undefeated New England Patriots following a bye in Week 7. In other words, if Mayfield and Co. don’t get things together, and fast, they risk quickly falling to 2-5 with only nine games remaining to save themselves.

That’s a lot of pressure for an inconsistent team led by a QB who’s thrown for just 1,247 yards and four TDs in five games, and also has eight interceptions along with a passer rating of 68.5. Granted, it’s not all on Mayfield — although much of it is — the porous offensive line isn’t doing him any favors. 

He’s already been sacked 16 times this year, and that’s tied for fifth-most in the league.

“So much of the quarterback has to do with the things around him,” Kitchens said. “Last week he played good because the guys around him played good. Quarterback can’t do it himself so he doesn’t.”

Eventually, Kitchens decided to pull Mayfield in the fourth quarter due to both his poor play and the brutalization by the Niners front.

“I thought he was taking too many hits unnecessarily,” Kitchens said.

That problem won’t exactly go away in Week 6, because the Seahawks have 13 sacks already this season. The pressure on Mayfield will again be hot-and-heavy in the coming battle with Seattle, and how he handles it — or doesn’t handle it — on the field will determine how much of it will be waiting for him when he puts his street clothes back on following the game. 

What the Browns achieved in Baltimore shows they can make waves this season, but until they figure out how to do it consistently, they’ll keep washing back up on the shore — beached and confused. 

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