MINNEAPOLIS — Even after all of his struggles Sunday, Baker Mayfield still had a prime opportunity to put the Minnesota Vikings away late in the fourth quarter.
On third-and-five, he rolled right then heaved a pass to Odell Beckham Jr., who had torched his man by a full four yards. Had Mayfield hit him in stride, OBJ could’ve jogged in for a game-clinching touchdown. Instead, whether due to a miscommunication or just another misfire, Mayfield grossly underthrew Beckham, who couldn’t adjust back in time to keep the ball from bouncing off the turf.
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The Cleveland Browns ultimately escaped with a 14-7 victory behind a suffocating defensive effort, which had to include one last stand following Mayfield’s final incompletion. But as dominant as the defense has been — and most definitely was it ever on Sunday — Mayfield’s “piss-poor performance,” as he put it, raises concerns about the Browns’ true contender status at the quarter-pole point of the season.
“I’m not really happy with myself. But our defense is playing well enough right now to save me,” Mayfield said. “I’ve got to be better. It’s just flat-out simple. There’s not much else I can say.”
To his credit, Mayfield did avoid committing a crucial mistake, which allowed the Browns defense to continue controlling the game. Otherwise, he played perhaps his worst game since Week 6 of last year — and the incompletion to Beckham was hardly the only inexplicable miss.
Mayfield wound up connecting on just 15 of his 33 attempts for 155 yards while taking three sacks. His QBR for the afternoon was just 15.6 (scale 0-to-100), the eighth-worst outing of any quarterback this season (the Browns defense, by the way has now forced three of the seven worst performances: Davis Mills, 12.9, Kirk Cousins, 9.8, and Justin Fields, 6.0).
As a result, Mayfield’s overall QBR has sagged to 26th, a season after he finished in the top 10.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski tried to take the blame Sunday, saying he didn’t do a good enough job calling plays to get Mayfield’s receivers open. But in reality, Mayfield had plenty of open receivers. No one more than Demetric Felton, who on a third-and-three in the third quarter had, according to Next Gen Stats, 8.2 yards of separation in the flat. Somehow, Mayfield didn’t see him and took a sack instead.
Later in the quarter, Mayfield had an opportunity for a touchdown to Beckham, who had a couple steps on his man. But like he would later, Mayfield left the pass short.
“Just didn’t get into a rhythm,” he said. “A lot of easy throws there I missed. I pride myself on being extremely accurate. And today I don’t know what the hell that was.”
Mayfield refused to admit that his left non-throwing shoulder might be a culprit for a sudden bout of inaccuracy. In Week 2, he had to have the shoulder popped back into place after making a tackle following an interception.
“It’s attached,” Mayfield dismissively said of the shoulder. “I’m all right.”
The Browns have to hope so. And they have reason not to panic.
After all, Mayfield got off to a rough start last season. That culminated in Week 6, when he threw a pick-six on his third snap, which ignited the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 38-7 rout.
Mayfield, however, immediately rebounded, and from Week 7 to 15 posted the third-highest QBR in the league, fueling the Browns’ run to the playoffs.
Like with then, Mayfield has plenty of time still to work through whatever is ailing him now. And if he can, the Browns could indeed become a legit contender.
They already owned a championship-caliber running game. And apparently, they now boast championship-caliber defense, too.
But whether Cleveland can go that far ultimately hinges on Mayfield. And whether he can bounce back once again.