Second Thoughts: Baker Mayfield Needed A Mental Timeout As Much As A Physical Timeout

Baker Mayfield said he blew off his post-game media responsibilities because he was frustrated that he "played like [expletive]." (Cleveland Browns)

Baker Mayfield said he blew off his post-game media responsibilities because he was frustrated that he "played like [expletive]." (Cleveland Browns)

Second thoughts: Baker Mayfield needed a mental timeout as much as a physical timeout

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 Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for and 850 ESPN Cleveland.

Second thoughts on Browns’ 13-10 victory over Detroit Lions … 

1. Kevin Stefanski’s handling of Baker Mayfield has been puzzling since the quarterback suffered the injury to his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Stefanski has been reluctant to sit Mayfield except for the Denver game, which came in a short week following a second injury to the shoulder. Since then, Mayfield suffered injuries to both knees and his left foot, but the coach has maintained that Mayfield was healthy enough to play and he gave the team the best chance to win. Physically, that’s debatable at best. But I think there’s another issue in regards to Mayfield’s struggles, and that’s his mental wellness. Center JC Tretter said of playing with injuries, “It is not easy, physically, to start. And then mentally, it drains you because there are things you have always been able to do and then you can’t do those things in the same way. That is frustrating. I think that is something that people overlook is kind of that mental grind of playing hurt for a lot of time in the middle of the season. It is just kind of exhausting.” Every quarterback, of course, deals with injuries. But Mayfield’s original injury happened in Game 2, and the second one came in Game 6. That’s an extra long road to the finish line in this season of 17 regular-season games while playing hurt. And the Browns just happened to be assigned the last available bye in Week 13, which is still another week away.

2. Playing with multiple injuries certainly has made Mayfield’s tough job harder. Perhaps it has affected his thought process and decision-making during games. Also, consider the other pressures that have piled on him. There is the real pressure of playing for a new, life-altering contract – which the club has conspicuously ghosted him on. There was the pressure of Odell Week, when Beckham Sr. threw him under the bus for not getting the ball adequately to Junior. There was the pressure immediately following that ordeal to coalesce his team and prove he could win without Odell in a big division game in Cincinnati. Then there’s the ongoing pressure of playing poorly while trying to lead the team back into the hunt for the AFC North title. On top of everything, Mayfield knows he’s probably facing his first major surgery of his career after the season on the left shoulder. For these reasons, I thought the time was right for Mayfield to get a mental break and sit out the Lions game. It was for mental health as much as physical. Nobody on the team felt they couldn’t win that game with Case Keenum at quarterback. Yet, Stefanski stayed with Mayfield and the result was a heaping of boos on his home field after playing poorly that contributed to his malaise. That could have been avoided.

3. So why did Stefanski stay with Mayfield this long? He’s such a thoughtful and purposeful coach, surely he had to consider these things, no? I have a theory that just crystallized with the news that running back Kareem Hunt and right tackle Jack Conklin have been cleared to practice this week and could possibly play in Baltimore. My hunch is that Stefanski and the medical staff all along targeted the first Baltimore game for their return. My theory is that Stefanski felt it might do more harm to Mayfield’s psyche and confidence to sit him, so he strived to have him play through his slump, knowing that Hunt and Conklin would be available to provide a boost for the Baltimore game. If so, it was a calculated risk on Stefanski’s part. When you consider the Browns have scored 17 or fewer points in five of the last six games, the risk was not worth the reward. Now it’s too late to rest Mayfield and he heads into the make-or-break part of the schedule in less than optimal condition.

4. On my review of the 13-10 win on NFL GamePass, it did not appear that Mayfield’s multiple injuries impeded him at all in the first half. He moved out of the pocket, right and left, and made a couple keeper runs. He was just terribly off with most of his throws. His comments on a Zoom call on Monday confirmed this. He said he was frustrated with his own play and that’s why he blew off media after the game. “I would be the first to tell you I played like [expletive],” Mayfield said. “For me, decision-making was great. It was the lack of execution. I think there were some plays … I am not going to make every throw – nobody does that – but very, very frustrated with where I was going with the ball compared to how the results were. That is very, very frustrating. I have always been an accurate guy, and that was not the case yesterday. That is 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 did not. That is the very frustrating thing.” One of Mayfield’s worst passes was a very low throw for Jarvis Landry over the middle with 9:44 to go in the third quarter. Landry tumbled to the ground reaching for the ball. He got up slowly and limped to the sideline after aggravating his left knee injury.

5. Mayfield might have aggravated his foot injury on his only sack of the game with 5:11 left in the third quarter. On his next series, he limped noticeably after an errant lob for David Njoku on first down, more so after a scramble and incompletion for Rashard Higgins, and then was decked on third down by linebacker Charles Harris, after which he labored to the sideline. In the second half, Mayfield’s drives ended in punt, punt, punt, interception, punt. Nick Chubb iced the clock on the last possession. In the second half in particular, yes, he played like [expletive].

6. Right guard Wyatt Teller had another highlight block when he pulled to the left and decleated linebacker Alex Anzalone on a Chubb run for 6 yards in the second quarter. But Teller also was penalized three times in the game for holding, a false start, and an illegal block. All of these occurred in the second half and joined an illegal shift, a holding on Blake Hance, and a holding on Harrison Bryant to grind the offense to an absolute halt. In the second half, the offense ran 32 plays for 146 yards against the 0-9-1 Lions. Pathetic.

7. Everybody loves Demetric Felton for his passion to do whatever the coaches ask of him and his love of the game. But any handoff to Felton is a wasted play.