Five times this season Baker Mayfield has had a chance in the fourth quarter to win the game. Five times he has failed.
When the front office sits down to decide whether Mayfield is the quarterback of the future, whether he’s worth a contract extension before, during, or after his fifth year runs out in 2022, 0-for-5 will loom large.
Mayfield threw a career-high four interceptions in Saturday’s 24-22 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. That’s usually a death knell against the best team in the NFC. The Packers extended their streak to 31 consecutive victories when they win the turnover battle.
But the Christmas miracle was still within the Browns’ grasp. They had a first down at the 50 with 61 seconds remaining and three timeouts and Mayfield couldn’t get them in field goal range.
The situation fits a profile that Mayfield can’t be proud of after he had the same chance against Kansas City, the Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.
Mayfield apologists will point to the missed pass interference/defensive holding penalty on cornerback Rasul Douglas against receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones with 43 seconds left that resulted in Mayfield’s fourth interception.
“I have to look at the tape. I did think there was some tugging and holding on Donovan Peoples-Jones,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters in Green Bay. “I understand the officials are not going to get every call, but in big moments like that, that's tough.”
Stefanski was somewhat out of character with those remarks.
Had Mayfield hit David Njoku on two throws when the tight end was open on that drive, the game wouldn’t have come down to an officiating call. Mayfield’s first pass was behind Njoku, the second wide.
There were extenuating circumstances. Mayfield hadn’t practiced in two weeks, testing positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 15. He cleared protocols the morning of the game and flew to Wisconsin, went through a walk-through and spent extensive time with offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and the quarterbacks, with backup Case Keenum activated off the COVID list that morning.
The Browns were short-handed, with 15 players still out due to COVID, including center JC Tretter and left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr.
Mayfield is playing with a torn labrum in his left, non-throwing shoulder suffered in Week 2 and aggravated in Week 6. Fox Sports analyst Troy Aikman, the Hall of Fame quarterback with the Dallas Cowboys, pointed out that Mayfield didn’t have enough on his throws to the left because of the harness he’s wearing.
Stats don't help Baker Mayfield's case
It’s possible that the bad shoulder factors into the damning numbers from ESPN Stats & Info.
According to that site, Mayfield went 2-for-10 for 40 yards with four interceptions on throws of 10-plus yards downfield against the Packers. The same site said Mayfield was 19-of-26 for 182 yards and two touchdowns throwing less than 10 yards downfield in Green Bay.
He became the first Browns quarterback to throw four interceptions in a game since Brandon Weeden in 2012.
According to @Sportradar, in the last four minutes of one-score games, Mayfield is 11-for-26 for 74 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions and a passer rating of 17.8.
Fans may put little stock in such statistics, but analytics-driven Browns executives surely will.
To his credit, Mayfield didn’t use his lack of practice, last seeing the field on Dec. 10, as an excuse.
“No, I don't think it was any mental preparation. I've had a ton of reps and making those throws, and I expect myself to make them,” Mayfield said. “That's why it's frustrating. I'd be sitting up here giving an excuse that I haven't practiced, but I'm a quarterback in the NFL — I need to make those throws, and I have before and time and time again.”
Mayfield praised the defense, the Browns’ skill players, the offensive line, and the running backs.
“That's why it's frustrating for me. I hurt this team,” Mayfield said. “There's no excuse. It is what it is.”
Mayfield also owned what happened on his interceptions, which gave him 11 in 13 games. Two were intended for Peoples-Jones, two for Jarvis Landry, activated off the COVID list Friday.
“I felt that space to Donovan and tried to put it in that window. A little bit of contact, but you can't bank on that being called,” Mayfield last of the last pick. “The first interception, the one to Donovan as well, he's probably 15 yards down the field getting illegal contact.
“But the other two were just bad throws. I didn't follow through on the one in the red zone, which is extremely costly, a red-zone turnover. It just sailed high. You can see if you slow it down, I'm falling back, fighting my own momentum, which is not good. Then the other one to Jarvis on our sideline, I've just got to put it more outside. The guy made a good play on it, seeing it left inside and rotating back and playing it. Just frustrating.”
Kevin Stefanski sticking with Baker Mayfield as Browns starting quarterback
Mayfield finished 21-of-36 for 222 yards and two touchdowns, was sacked five times, and posted a rating of 55.3.
Some coaches would have considered benching Mayfield at halftime after Mayfield’s first three interceptions led to 21 Packers’ points, but Stefanski said that was never discussed.
Stefanski also said the Browns would stick with Mayfield for the final two games.
“He's our starting quarterback, yes,” Stefanski said.
With a 7-8 record, the Browns’ playoff fate is not entirely in their hands, but they must win at Pittsburgh on “Monday Night Football” on Jan. 3 and at home against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 9 to have a chance. The AFC North is still up for grabs, with the race the closest it has been in 44 years.
Players interviewed in Green Bay were still behind Mayfield as the one who can get them where they want to go.
“We still believe in Baker. We’re going to ride with Baker no matter what,” running back Nick Chubb said.
“Whether it’s him, Case, [Nick Mullens] whatever happens, whether it’s COVID or injury we’re going to rock with the guy who’s behind center,” defensive end Myles Garrett said. “Baker, he’s done a great job while he’s been the quarterback for us and I’m going to believe in him as long as he’s got a Browns uniform on. I’m going to roll with him and I’m going to support him, be there for him, for better or for worse.
“He’s made some great plays; he’s made some not-so-great plays. So have all of us, so don’t judge him for when he was injured or coming back from COVID. I mean, the guy can play. Until the end of the season and whatever happens afterward, we’re going to stay together and we’re going to keep on rolling.”
Stefanski sounded virtually the same even as Mayfield’s record as the Browns starter slipped to 30-30, 1-1 in the playoffs.
“With Baker, I know he had four interceptions, but listen, we win as a team, we lose as a team. OK?” Stefanski said. “So he's going to take it hard, and we're all taking it hard.”
The Browns lost for the sixth time by six points or less, most in the NFL this season. That statistic, just like 0-for-5, is a burden Mayfield’s status as an NFL starter requires him to bear.
Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett says playing with groin injury was tough
Garrett suffered a groin injury in Monday’s 16-14 home loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, but vowed he would play against the Packers with playoff hopes on the line.
It wasn’t easy.
Asked afterward how it felt, Garrett said, “It feels like s---.”
Garrett, who said he hadn’t run or tested the injury all week, was credited with one assisted tackle.
“When I got out there and got in my stance for the first time, I knew it was going to be kind of tough,” he said. “I'm just about being who I said I would be and doing it for my guys. Doing it for my teammates, my coaches, everybody who's a part of the Browns organization.
“I have a responsibility and a duty to give it my all, regardless of how I feel, whether I'm sick, while I'm hurt, while I'm injured. If I can go out there and I can play and I can try to be a force on defense, I'm going to try and give every last bit of energy that I've got.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/browns. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns QB Baker Mayfield hurting chances of contract extension