Baker Mayfield Displayed Leadership and Character in Loss to Steelers
Coming out of halftime against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens wasn't sure if Baker Mayfield was ready to go for the second half as he was getting his injured throwing hand evaluated and treated. The CBS sideline reporter was live saying Garrett Gilbert was going to start the second half as cameras showed Baker Mayfield come out of the tunnel with the white glove on his injured hand. He was going down the sideline firing teammates up and taking snaps in preparation to play. Mayfield started the second half and finished the game. That's who he is.
On the lone touchdown drive of the game, Mayfield took a hit from T.J. Watt's helmet that struck him in the shoulder and elbow. After running down the play clock, the Browns called timeout to essentially give Mayfield an extra minute or two to recover. Coming out of the timeout, it was a pivotal moment in the game, 3rd-and-5 at the Steelers 15-yard line. Mayfield found Kareem Hunt on a quick pass that saw him knife through the Steelers defense for the touchdown.
It's difficult not to appreciate what Mayfield was doing in that game, taking a beating behind a pair of offensive tackles that allowed Steelers edge rushers to hit their quarterback at full speed on multiple occasions. Mayfield kept playing, kept trying to find ways to beat the Steelers and they had their opportunities, but couldn't finish.
When Mayfield hit his hand on Dupree's face mask and immediately went to the sideline grabbing his hand, it felt like the Browns' season was over. Garrett Gilbert would finish out the season, but rather than at least being able to build on Mayfield's growth after the bye week, it would simply be playing out the string until the offseason.
Coming out for the second half, the reaction was a combination of relief and excitement as Mayfield wasn't sitting there messing with his hand. He was rallying teammates and getting ready to play the second half. Other than the glove, he looked unfazed. He wasn't favoring the hand and he threw the ball well in spite of whatever discomfort he was enduring. Mayfield was wholly focused on the game, sending a message to his teammates to do the same.
After the game, Mayfield with a giant compression wrap on his hand, talked in terms of the team needing to do their jobs, doing their one eleventh, the same sentiment he's been emphasizing all season. He didn't blame his hand, teammates or any contrived distractions for the loss. They simply have to figure out how to be consistent and play better throughout the game. That's who he is.
The game in Pittsburgh and largely the season have been disappointing for the Browns. Mayfield's first six games were extremely forgettable. These last six, including both games against the Steelers and the fallout from each have not only revealed Mayfield's character and leadership in difficult moments. Combined with his immense talent, Mayfield showed why he's the quarterback this team has been desperately trying to find.