There was a moment during last night's game between the Browns and Ravens that, taken on its own, said some good things about Baker Mayfield. On the Browns' final drive of the game, Mayfield scrambled away from some pressure, shrugged off what would have more or less been a game-ending sack by Justin Houston, and managed to throw the ball away down the sideline. It was a relatively impressive feat of strength for a guy who has struggled all season with a bum shoulder, knee, and foot injuries. It was just about the only impressive thing Mayfield did all game.
The Browns lost, 16-10, despite their defense holding former MVP Lamar Jackson to under 300 total yards and picking off the Ravens' quarterback four times. The responsibility for this loss falls squarely on the Browns' offense, and more specifically Mayfield, who completed just 18 of his 37 pass attempts for 247 yards and a touchdown. That play where he muscled his way out of Houston's arms began what could have been a game-winning drive engineered in the final minute. Instead, Mayfield followed that escape with three limp incompletions and a turnover on downs.
Were you expecting anything more from Mayfield? You probably shouldn't have, if you've been paying much attention to what he and the 6-6 Browns have been up to this season. With last night's performance in the books, it has now been seven weeks since Mayfield threw for more than 250 yards in a game. That includes a 73-yard performance in Week 10 against the Patriots, and a Week 11 win against the Lions in which he played so poorly that the home fans booed him off the field. Mayfield refused to talk to reporters after that game, and then said some rude things about those booing fans the next day.
A lot of Mayfield's struggles this year can be fairly blamed on the various injuries he's had to play through, but last night was supposed to be something of a fresh start. Or at least that's what the anonymous sources, who told NFL.com's Ian Rapoport before the game that Mayfield was "feeling as good as he has in a month," wanted you to believe. Those sources wanted the world to know that Mayfield was ready to "make plays with his legs again" and would be facing the Ravens with "no limitations." Mayfield carried the ball twice for four yards against the Ravens, sprayed inaccurate balls all over the field, and was limping before the first quarter was over.
Those lines from Rapoport's story are all darkly funny in the cold light of Monday morning, and mostly just reveal that whoever it was in Mayfield's or the Browns' camp who wanted to get the "Baker Mayfield is back!" narrative started jumped the gun. It certainly would have made for a good arc if Mayfield had followed up last week's embarrassing performance by running and gunning his way to victory against the Ravens in a nationally televised game. I'd wager that Mayfield even had a few pithy, post-victory comments about the booing fans ready to deploy. Wouldn't that have been fun?
Instead, Mayfield stood at the postgame podium and gave the standard boilerplate about how the team just needs to be sharper, make more plays, blah blah blah. Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski, meanwhile, was asked directly if now was perhaps the time to bench Mayfield. "No. No," he responded. "Let me ask you a question: Why would we do that? We’re not doing that.”
The Browns are now headed into a bye week, after which they will play the Ravens once again. The extra week of rest will certainly do Mayfield some good, and hey, who knows, maybe Week 14 will be the one in which he starts to turn things around!