It’S Been Open Season On Baker Mayfield, But Don’T Count Him Out

Baker Mayfield looks to stand up to the stout Seahawks on Sunday.

Baker Mayfield looks to stand up to the stout Seahawks on Sunday.

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He’s been chum in the water for four of five games now, and everybody wants a piece of Baker Mayfield.

Rex Ryan said Mayfield is “over-rated as hell.”

Colin Cowherd said Mayfield looks overweight and, “He is regressing. His strength is now an issue. He’s no longer accurate.”

Nick Bosa said on Monday night that Mayfield couldn’t see over the 49ers’ defensive line, and “he was panicking … he was double clutching, rolling back and forth. We had him rattled all game.”

Richard Sherman said Mayfield disrespected the game by not shaking his hand at the pre-game coin toss, adding, “He hasn't earned anything in this league. How many games has he won?”

On Wednesday, Sherman pretty much admitted he made up the story after videos refuted his account.

Such is the level of respect Mayfield is earning these days that an NFL player would make up a story to demean him.

Joel Bitonio shook his head when asked about this phenomenon.

“It’s one of those things that people, they see Baker’s name, they see him in the media, they see some of his quotes and things of that nature, and they want a piece of him,” he said.

This is what happens when you stare down and mock a beaten former coach, say in a high-profile magazine article that you can’t believe a quarterback was drafted so high, cash in on early success with a dozen or so endorsement deals before you win more games than you lose, admit in April that your team should be considered a Super Bowl contender, rip a teammate for expressing his desire to be traded, lug around a boulder on your shoulder and dare everyone to knock it off – and then go out and throw interceptions, miss open receivers and make mistakes with games on the line.

This is called reaping what you sow.

Sophomore slump: Mayfield’s second season has been a real learning experience for him.

In training camp, he said his top priorities were reducing turnovers and improving accuracy. Through five games, he leads the NFL in interceptions and is 33rd among among 34 quarterbacks listed in completion percentage.

When he took the league by storm in the second half of his rookie season, Mayfield was money in the bank in the red zone (inside opponents’ 20-yard line). This year, he has completed 6 of 24 passes (25 percent) with three touchdowns and two interceptions in the “money” zone. He often looks skittish and frantic and throws the ball too hard for most to catch.

“When you start talking about that, you can’t just say it is just the quarterback. Everybody is involved,” said coach Freddie Kitchens.

Last year, Mayfield completed 35 of 54 passes (64.8 percent) with 20 touchdowns an no interceptions in the red zone.

“I think we were more efficient last year,” Kitchens said. “But that was last year. You do not pick up where you left off. Our guys are committed to getting better. This is not a finished product in any stretch of imagination – red zone, short yardage, third down or anything. It is not a finished product. We are going to continue to get better.”

In the fourth quarter alone – generally regarded as the time for franchise quarterbacks to shine – Mayfield ranks 37th among 38 QBs listed with a passer rating of 26.1. Mayfield has completed 48.3 percent of his passes in the fourth quarter, and has thrown five interceptions with no touchdowns.

Nobody expected Mayfield to struggle like this in his second season, especially after the addition of Odell Beckham Jr., the upgrade in offensive line coach in James Campen, the natural progression of second-year running back Nick Chubb, and the ascension of Kitchens to head coach with new coordinator Todd Monken adding to the expansion of the offense.

“We are a different team,” Mayfield said. “Obviously, I am not happy that I am not picking up with the same success that we ended off with, but that is a part of the game.

“That is a part of the learning curve of getting better each week, trying to get better and trying to execute and just knowing who we are as a team and what I need to do to make us have success. For me, it is about winning games so when we do not do that, I did not do my job.”

A different perspective: It happens that Mayfield opposes arguably the best quarterback of the young season in Russell Wilson.

Last year when the Browns prepared to play the New Orleans Saints, Mayfield was still the understudy to Tyrod Taylor. But in a mid-week conference call, Saints QB Drew Brees – the patron saint of height-challenged quarterbacks – predicted that Mayfield “will be better than me.”

No such conversation is taking place this week with Wilson – who is the shortest of them all at 5 foot, 11 inches and making his first-ever visit to Cleveland.

But Pete Carroll, Seahawks coach, made some interesting comments about Wilson’s development over his pro career, which should be encouraging to Mayfield and Browns fans. They were made in response to a question about Wilson. Mayfield’s name was not mentioned.

“It takes years to figure out how to play quarterback in the NFL, to me,” Carroll said. “I have been talking about that for a long time. Early on when Russ had a lot of success, he was immediately compared to the top quarterbacks in the league. I always used to say, ‘Give him a few years. These guys are in their double-digit years of their career. He is way behind them.’

“It just takes so long to learn and command a game. They will fool you. They will fool you because they are so talented, and they fool you that they got it and they make good plays here and there. It takes a long time to really own and command what is going on with both sides of the ball, being able to handle protections and adjusting them, the ability to change runs and put you in one run to another and being able to see the availability of play. It just takes a really long time.

“Russ in the last 2-3 years has continued to improve, and he is the best he has been. It is a result of the great consistency. He has not missed anything over the years. I do not even think that he has ever missed a practice since he has been here. It just adds up eventually.”

Mayfield fooled us with early success. The game isn’t that easy. He will figure it out and will get better and better, like Wilson has.

Now, about that other stuff …