Being Baker Mayfield:
The rookie QB welcomed the challenge of turning around the Browns. He’s already delivering.
Baker Mayfield wanted the challenge. Months before the Browns made him the first pick of the 2018 NFL draft, he didn’t flinch at the prospect of joining the long-suffering franchise, which before his arrival had notoriously rotated through 28 starting quarterbacks since 1999.
Mayfield made it known in January at the Senior Bowl that he believed if anyone could end the Browns’ run of futility, he could. He reiterated this belief a month later at the NFL scouting combine. Now, having played in just three games and taken the reins of Cleveland’s offense, the former Oklahoma star is making a believer out of his teammates, coaches and fans.
On Oct. 8, Mayfield directed the Browns to a gutsy 12-9 overtime win over Baltimore. The triumph not only gave the Browns their second victory of the season but also their first against a divisional opponent since 2015. And again, Mayfield impressed those closest to him.
“I ain’t been around you a long time, but one thing I know about you — you don’t flinch,” Cleveland coach Hue Jackson told Mayfield in front of the rest of the team in his postgame locker room speech. “You keep playing, and you keep bringing the guys in.”
As is evident by the final score, points were difficult to come by for Cleveland. Mayfield threw for 342 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception and completed just 25 of his 43 throws.
However, when the pressure peaked, he displayed remarkable poise. Mayfield led his team all the way from its 2-yard line and into range for the winning field goal. A 13-yard scramble and a 39-yard completion proved critical on the drive.
During that performance, Jackson and Browns players witnessed another display of Mayfield’s resilience and determination. But this wasn’t new news to everyone within the organization.
Mayfield’s mental makeup drew the Browns to him, and it was what separated him from all of the other talented quarterback prospects.
When general manager John Dorsey and his staff evaluated quarterbacks leading up to the draft, they chose not to put great stock in Mayfield’s physical attributes. They didn’t care that he’s considered undersized at just under 6-1 and 215 pounds. They didn’t worry that he didn’t have the same pure arm strength as some of the other quarterbacks available did. The confidence with which Mayfield carried himself both on the field and during pre-draft interviews made Browns brass fall in love.
During their talks with people from Oklahoma, they learned that Mayfield possesses a knack for getting his teammates to rally around him. Some of it stems from his communication skills and his ability to find ways to identify with teammates regardless of their differing backgrounds. His body language and presence in the huddle are also factors.
The Browns learned that Oklahoma teammates found Mayfield’s swagger contagious. They also found his refusal to hang his head after mistakes or losses inspiring and motivating. No moment seemed too big for Mayfield in college, and the Browns thought the same would apply in the NFL. Jackson and his assistants still planned to groom the rookie gradually, but once he shined in place of injured Tyrod Taylor in Week 3 and directed Cleveland to its first win since 2016, they realized it was impossible to keep him on the bench any longer.
After flying high in that comeback victory, Mayfield came back to earth last week at Oakland. He threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns, but he also tossed two interceptions and lost two fumbles in a 45-42 overtime defeat. Mayfield blamed himself for the loss and vowed to do better.
Despite the disappointing result for a reinvigorated Cleveland team, some close to Mayfield saw the benefits of the rookie having endured such an outing. The narrow margin of defeat served as a valuable lesson on the importance of ball security.
As Mayfield took the field against Baltimore, he was determined to show he could rebound from the previous week’s disappointment. And he delivered.
Now, Browns teammates are learning Mayfield is the same guy they heard about and observed from afar at Oklahoma. They’re talking about him the same way his Sooners teammates and coaches did.
“When I first saw the video of him dancing when he was in college at OU, that is when I knew that Baker was a different breed,” Browns running back Carlos Hyde said on a conference call with reporters Oct. 9. “He is not like most quarterbacks. He has some swag to him. I love it, especially from the quarterback position. I say that because of the way he plays and the way he carries himself — a guy who has been here and done it before like it is nothing new to him.”
Said wide receiver Jarvis Landry: “It’s his attitude and charisma. Like I said, he didn’t budge. He didn’t flinch. He continued to find ways to get the ball in people’s hands and let them make plays, and that’s the biggest thing. It shows the amount of trust he has in everybody.”
Now 2-2-1, the Browns find themselves squarely in the race for the AFC North. Yes, there are 11 games left. But Mayfield has given the Browns reason to believe that their rebuild might proceed at a quicker-than-anticipated pace.
The Browns are 2-1 in games rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has played.