BEREA — Life with Baker Mayfield is never boring.
A typical Wednesday in December was anything but typical.
The day began with the NFL announcing the rookie quarterback had been named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his three-touchdown performance in the 26-18 win over the Bengals on Sunday. Ninety minutes later came the announcement he was voted Joe Thomas Player of the Year by the local chapter of the Football Writers of America for his starring role in the biggest turnaround in Browns history.
“I think he’s the guy,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “When you find a quarterback that’s right, you kind of get that feeling. He’s what you want in a quarterback. He’s prepared and then he has the talent.”
The feel-good day got sidetracked in the afternoon by questions about the backlash Mayfield received for his behavior against the Bengals. He doesn’t understand why some people don’t approve of his long stare-down of former coach Hue Jackson on the Cincinnati sideline, and denied making a lewd gesture in front of offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens on the Cleveland sideline, despite video evidence.
He offered no apologies.
“I don’t get why people have a problem with football being a competitive sport,” Mayfield said, referring to the stare-down. “You’re supposed to play with emotion. You’re supposed to play with passion.
“Quite honestly, if you don’t like it, whatever. Football is not meant to be a soft game. I could care less.”
After a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Darren Fells in the second quarter, Mayfield stopped in front of Kitchens and made a below-the-waist gesture seemingly to signify his ample courage.
“I honestly couldn’t tell you. I don’t know,” Mayfield said. “We have a lot of stuff within our locker room, within what we have going on in the offense, a lot of inside jokes. Who knows what it was?”
Mayfield said he didn’t know it had generated social media buzz and was told the gesture was being interpreted as exposing himself.
“Oh, well, I didn’t, so,” he said.
The stare-down was the latest example Mayfield holds a grudge against Jackson and came after a 66-yard catch-and-run by tight end David Njoku to seal the victory. Mayfield found Jackson on the sideline and stared at him while joggling, shuffling sideways and backpedaling down the field for at least 25 yards.
Mayfield was asked if he’s pushing things too far with his brash tactics.
“That sounds like the exact questions I got before the combine,” said Mayfield, referencing discussion about a crotch grab against Kansas and planting the Oklahoma flag at midfield after a win at Ohio State. “No. Not one bit.”
The Browns loved his spirit and drafted him with the No. 1 pick. His critics often point out the behavior isn’t typical of successful NFL quarterbacks.
“I’ve said it, I’m not a cookie-cutter quarterback,” he said. “Everybody leads a different way. Everybody is competitive in a different way. I’m not trying to be anybody else. I’ve been who I am and that’s gotten me here.
“I’m not trying to get anybody’s approval. I’m trying to win football games and do this for as long as I can. The guys inside this locker room know I’ll fight for them. They know I’ll take a bullet for them and to me that’s what matters. I don’t have to make any friends outside this locker room.”
Players who lived through the 1-15 and 0-16 records of the last two seasons have embraced the whole Mayfield experience.
“We love his competitive fire,” middle linebacker Joe Schobert said. “He brings a lot of good stuff to the table.”
Bitonio said he’ll rein in Mayfield if he’s arguing with the officials too much, but otherwise stands back and lets him go.
“The way he plays is passionate and it honestly fires up the defense, the special teams, the receivers, everybody else,” he said. “If he talks a little bit more or has a little bit of swagger to him, that’s what makes him special and we’re going to roll with that.”
After years and years searching high and low for a franchise quarterback, the Browns seem to have found one. Mayfield’s transformed the team since coming off the bench in Week 3, going 6-6 as the starter and rising up the NFL’s quarterback rankings.
His stellar play and seismic impact can’t be overstated, and earned him the player of the year award renamed last year after the retirement of Thomas, a 10-time Pro Bowler. Mayfield received all but one first-place vote.
“A pretty good honor considering Joe Thomas is quite the legend around here,” he said. “I appreciate that one.”
Mayfield said at the scouting combine he was the man to change the losing culture of the Browns and is well on his way. The Browns (7-7-1) have won three straight and five of six. They finish the season Sunday in Baltimore with the chance for a winning record and to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs.
Mayfield has inspired confidence and belief within his teammates.
He went 27-for-37 for 284 yards, three touchdowns, no sacks and a 121.9 rating against the Bengals to earn the player of the week nod. For the year, he’s completed 64.6 percent for 3,349 yards, 24 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 95.1 rating. He’s thrown at least a touchdown in all 12 starts — the third-best streak to start a career — and needs three in the finale to become the all-time rookie leader, surpassing Peyton Manning in 1998 and Russell Wilson in 2012.
Mayfield said he had an idea of the magnitude of the rebuilding task he inherited and brings the same mindset to work every day.
“If you do not have that, it can be overwhelming, but because I had an idea of that and had the right people around me, it has been pretty easy,” he said.
“Those are types of things that your supreme leader is supposed to be able to do and don’t discount that that is what he has been able to do for all of his life whatever level the young man has played at,” interim coach Gregg Williams said.
Mayfield has been at his best in the seven games since Kitchens took over as coordinator. During the stretch, he has completed 71 percent for 1,878 yards, 16 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 111.4 rating, making a late push to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Giants running back Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 pick, had been the overwhelming favorite throughout the year, but the gambling website Bovada.lv listed Mayfield on Wednesday as the 5-to-7 favorite with Barkley at 1-to-1.