The burden of raised expectations is clearly weighing on Baker Mayfield as the second-year quarterback tries to get the Cleveland Browns back on track Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
When: Sunday, Nov. 3
Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Live Stream: fuboTV (try for free)
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Mayfield brought the city of Cleveland something it had been sorely lacking last season: hope. His aggressive style helped them to a 7-8-1 record last season, their best finish since winning 10 games in 2007, and led to an offseason and summer filled with hype as the AFC’s new “it” team. Those expectations only grew when the Browns acquired Odell Beckham Jr. via trade from the New York Giants
The on-field results, however, have yet to match the hype. Cleveland (2-5) is third in the AFC North, ahead of only winless Cincinnati, and looking to snap a three-game losing streak after being outclassed 27-13 by the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots last Sunday. The Browns committed turnovers on three consecutive plays in the first quarter, contributing to a 17-0 deficit that proved too much to overcome.
Mayfield grew testy during Wednesday’s media availability, going back and forth with a Cleveland reporter discussing the final possession of the first half of that game. He walked away from the lectern after the exchange, before following up with the reasoning of his frustrations on Twitter.
The biggest difference from Mayfield’s rookie season has been the steep falloff in touchdown passes. He has just six in his first seven games of 2019 after throwing 27 in 14 contests in 2018. While interceptions are inevitable given his aggressive style, the 12 he has thrown thus far are two shy of matching his total for all of last season.
Cleveland’s offense has yet to find a balance on a week-to-week basis despite having Mayfield, Beckham, running back Nick Chubb and wide receiver Jarvis Landry. Chubb is third in the league with 738 yards and is seeking a third straight 100-yard game after racking up 135 against the Patriots.
Denver (2-6) has had more than its share of issues on the offensive side of the ball under first-year coach Vic Fangio. Brandon Allen, a sixth-round pick by Jacksonville in 2016, will make his NFL debut in this game, as Joe Flacco is sidelined with a herniated disk in his neck and expected to miss at least a month.
Flacco reached a boiling point with the lack of aggressive play-calling and vented his frustrations postgame after last Sunday’s, 15-13, loss at Indianapolis. The veteran quarterback, who has moved the chains without much in the way of points in his first season in Denver, was outspoken after the game about how the team is afraid to lose a game even given its record.
None of the three quarterbacks available to Fangio—Allen, Brett Rypien and second-round pick Drew Lock—have played a down of NFL football heading into this game.
Mayfield helped the Browns snap an 11-game losing streak to the Broncos last season in a 17-16 victory at Denver in Week 15. He had a go-ahead touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway with 11:44 to play and finished with 188 yards and a pair of scoring touches. Chubb added 100 rushing yards for the Browns, who have not won back-to-back games over the Broncos since 1989-90 when Bernie Kosar outdueled John Elway.