The punches had been thrown, the helmet had been swung and the ejections had been levied. And after all that, the Browns could leave it to their polarizing 24-year-old quarterback to put the Fracas by the Lake in perspective, and in its place in the story of their 2019 season.
Baker Mayield told Fox’s Erin Andrews at about 11:30 p.m. ET that he didn’t really get a great look at how everything unfolded. Then, he implied he really need one.
“It’s inexcusable,” Mayfield said. “I don’t care, rivalry or not, we can’t do that. That’s kind of the history of what’s been going on here lately, hurting yourself. And that’s endangering the other team. It’s inexcusable. He knows that. Or I hope does now. It’s tough. We’ll see.”
Mayfield’s was more than a realist’s view of the TNF altercation between Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph and Cleveland pass-rusher Myles Garrett. It was an acknowledgment that what we all saw happen in the final 15 seconds of the Browns’ 21-7 win was no isolated incident. And while that’s not the only reason Cleveland is 4-6 through 10 games—the offensive line’s construction is high on the list, too—it’s certainly one of them.
No, we couldn’t have predicted what we saw at First Energy Stadium on Thursday night. But we can look closely at what Mayfield is saying: the history of what’s been going on here.
Cleveland is first in the NFL in penalties (87), penalty yards (822) and total flags thrown (112). The Browns are also fifth in giveaways (17) and 25th in turnover differential (minus-4). And those crimes of discipline aren’t wholly unrelated to the events of Thursday night.
Does a team’s tendency to jump offsides, or not secure the ball, lead to a propensity to throw hands when a quarterback, like, say, Rudolph, gets chippy with a guy who could tie him in a knot? No. But…would this have happened if Garrett were playing for New England or Seattle or even a young rising team with its act together like Indianapolis?
That’s not to absolve Garrett of blame. He did what he did and got what he deserved.
It’s just that it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that this is the same team that had a player ejected earlier for a head hit on wide receiver Diontae Johnson after that team’s defenders had already celebrated another high shot that left receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster concussed. Nor does it seem like happenstance that this was also the team that earlier in the week had to move on from a former draft pick that arrived with more red flags than Gorbachev’s Moscow, with accountability issues mounting for that player, Antonio Callaway, and a second drug suspension looming.
In so many ways, this is what the Browns signed up for. Cleveland took risk after risk over the last two years, some (Kareem Hunt) more serious than others (Odell Beckham), but it all added to a mix that was going to be a challenge for any coach to keep from boiling over.
GM John Dorsey, for his part, has been here before. He did this plenty in Kansas City. But there, he had Andy Reid, and Reid’s two decades of head-coaching experience, and history having worked with a ton of troubled and/or eccentric players (Mike Vick, Terrell Owens, DeSean Jackson, and so on). In Cleveland, he hired a first-year head coach, in Freddie Kitchens, who’d also be calling plays for a full season for the first time in his career.
So who’s to blame? For Thursday, it’s Garrett mostly and, to a lesser degree, the other players involved in the donnybrook.
But if you place this in the bigger picture, there are plenty of places to look. And it was none other than Mayfield himself, a guy who’s come under fire plenty for his own free-wheeling ways, who was first to publicly make that connection.
“The reality is, he’s gonna get suspended,” he told Andrews, before he even could smudge the eye black off his face, post-victory. “We don’t know for how long, and that hurts our team. We can’t do that. We can’t continue hurt this team. It’s inexcusable.”
The good news for Cleveland is that the Browns did make off with a much-needed win.
The bad news? The way that win ended was no outlier in this particular season for the team. Even a young quarterback, who saw the way a winning program was run in his college years, could identify that. And if the trend that continued Thursday night doesn’t stop soon, there won’t be many more victories like this for the 2019 Browns to celebrate.
Worse, what happens after that could be even more uncomfortable for those involved.
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