'Going to come back with a vengeance': Browns' Baker Mayfield receives votes of confidence from coach, teammates

Marla Ridenour
Akron Beacon Journal
A Cleveland Browns fan shows support for quarterback Baker Mayfield during the first half against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Cleveland.

Browns coach Kevin Stefanski might have offered a window into his positive message to Baker Mayfield during Friday’s exit meeting.

In his season wrap-up press conference, Stefanski gave Mayfield his best vote of confidence since the quarterback tore the labrum in his left shoulder in Week 2.

“I fully expect him to bounce back next year,” Stefanski said Monday.

“He pushed through it. I know he wants to perform better. I have seen him perform better. He played winning football for us.”

Mayfield is scheduled to undergo surgery on Jan. 19 in Los Angeles. The No. 1 overall pick in 2018, Mayfield will have much to prove in the final year of his Browns’ contract after gutting through multiple injuries, including a fractured humerus in the same shoulder suffered in Week 6. Statistically, Mayfield turned in the second-worst of his four seasons as the Browns followed up a 12-6 playoff season in 2020 by finishing 8-9.

“I have seen Baker play at a very high level. I am confident he will get this surgery and he is going to work real hard this offseason to bounce back,” Stefanski said.

Mayfield sat out Sunday’s season finale, a 21-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium, as backup Case Keenum improved to 2-0 this season. The only other game Mayfield missed came against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 21, when Mayfield had only three days to rehab in between games, and Keenum directed a 17-14 home victory.

Players who spoke Monday did not have an issue with Mayfield shutting himself down Sunday. He was with them on the sideline, going over plays on his tablet alongside Keenum and third-string quarterback Nick Mullens.       

Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield chats with tight end Harrison Bryant before a game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Cleveland.

“No. I couldn't imagine anybody is upset,” Pro Bowl right guard Wyatt Teller said. “Baker is extremely competitive. I know that he wants to be out there, but I don't see any point in getting touched again this year, right?

“I want to win games, and I want Baker to be out there. I don't want Baker to get touched, but that's not always the case. That's why we had Case. Baker has to take care of his body. If that's playing the last game or not, that's a decision he makes and the coaches make.”

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Stefanski didn’t say if he had second thoughts on how Mayfield’s injury was handled, perhaps resting him after Week 2 or Week 6.

“I just felt every single week I tried to make the best decision for the team with the information available,” Stefanski said.

While expressing his faith in Mayfield, four-time Pro Bowler Joel Bitonio acknowledged that other players might have undergone surgery sooner. Mayfield also fought through left heel, right knee, and groin injuries this season.

“The way he finished last year, we had all the confidence in the world that he was going to be able to replicate the finish last year, helping lead the team to their first playoff win and just the way he was performing,” Bitonio said. “He got banged up. He got injured. He's an ultimate competitor, and he wanted to be out there with his teammates and he wanted to play through an injury, multiple injuries that other guys in the league were out for the season with, had surgery right away.

“You can never question that guy's toughness, and I think when you get hit enough times and things aren't going right, your shoulder's hurting … There were some tough stretches, especially the last couple games.”

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Teller said his brother played baseball, so he knows the part the non-throwing shoulder plays in Mayfield’s motion.

“Just like pitchers … You're aiming with your front arm and you're throwing over, so if that's not feeling good it's going to be difficult,” Teller said. “But it’s hard man. There's the best of the best.”

Mayfield was injured trying to make a tackle after an interception against the Houston Texans. Teller said the season might have gone differently if Mayfield hadn’t tried to bring down safety Justin Reid.

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“Tackling is hard, OK? I got in trouble for tackling yesterday,” Teller said. “I wish that that never happened, but that's a part of the game. We can always have our opinion now, but in the moment, you're looking at Baker and you're saying, ‘Hey, can you push through this?’ and of course, Baker's going to say, 'Yeah, this doesn't hurt, what's this?'

“His shoulder went out, they popped it back in and he went in the next play. That's who Baker is. He's tough as nails.”

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) rolls out to pass during a Nov. 28, 2021 game.

Teller has obviously heard the debate over whether Stefanski should have saved Mayfield from himself and forced him to sit, even though Mayfield was playing for a contract extension that is now uncertain.

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“Hindsight is, ‘Hey, should we have put him down, should we have let him heal?’” Teller said. “We don't know. And would he have let that happen, anyway? No. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, it sucks man.

“But offensive line inconsistencies, playing well, sometimes not playing well, injuries, there's a lot of things we can point to, but at the end of the day, every team has to roll with those. Every team has to deal with a bum shoulder, every team has to deal with a sprained ankle. Your shoulder's hurt? No one cares. Your hand's hurt? Everybody's hand’s hurt. I wish that it ended up differently. I wish that he didn't hurt his shoulder and he was 100% all year, but that's not the case.”

Running back Nick Chubb was also aware of the debate about Mayfield’s injury.

“He kept fighting. He had every reason to quit and he could have rested, he could have had surgery Week 2 and not played much this year,” Chubb said. “But he stuck it out for us and he fought for us every game, every day.”

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Teller and Bitonio are confident that Mayfield will get back to the form he showed during the 2020 season in leading the Browns to their first playoff victory since Jan. 1, 1995.

“I love Baker and he's my guy,” Teller said. “I pray that this offseason is good to him and he gets back to 110% and ready raring to go.”

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Bitonio was even more upbeat.

“I know one thing — the guy's a fighter, and I know he's going to bounce back. He's going to have this surgery, and I think he's going to come back with a vengeance and he's going to be confident in himself again,” Bitonio said.

“That's one thing you love about Baker — he's going to play for you, and he's going to play with energy. I really do have all the faith in the world in him.”

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