Baker Mayfield looked around the visiting locker room Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium and thought the Browns needed to snap out of it.
Turns out the quarterback read his teammates properly, and his speech was needed after the Browns suffered a 33-29 season-opening loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, who had ousted Cleveland from the playoffs eight months earlier in the divisional round.
“Yeah, I think so,” two-time Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb said Wednesday. “I think for me personally, I was thinking like the season was over again ’cause that’s how it ended last year. I had to take a second, step back and realize we have 16 more [games] to go. So it’s not the end of the world. We did lose, but we can correct some things. Me personally, I can correct a lot of things, and we can go from there.”
Now the Browns (0-1) are moving on to prepare for Sunday’s home opener against the Houston Texans (1-0), but Mayfield needed to help them turn the page. Chubb said wide receiver Jarvis Landry also addressed the team with its wounds reopened from the 22-17 playoff loss on Jan. 17 in Kansas City.
Mayfield explained he saw some of his teammates hanging their heads and thought he needed to speak up partly because of the heartbreak the Browns experienced after all of the time and energy they had spent preparing for the Chiefs.
“I think we should beat ourselves up about it because we feel like we should have won that game, but there’s 16 more,” Mayfield said. “So it’s the mentality of, ‘Hey, we’ve got go out next week and go do our job. This one should sting and you need to learn from it because we had that game and we’ve got to close it out.’
“So I think there’s a fine line of walking that, and my message to them was, ‘You know what? We’re going to be really good if we just do our jobs and continue to be efficient and move the chains and help out our defense by staying on the field. But this one needs to sting. You need to remember that, that all the little things matter, and that’s how you need to approach this week of practice.’”
Mayfield also hammered this point: Coming off a record of 11-5 followed by a drought-busting wild-card win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, the Browns are too good for moral victories, so they need to process their most recent setback against the two-time defending AFC champion Chiefs the right way
“Be critical of yourself. Absolutely should be, and I’ll be damned if we’re not because we expect to go in there and win,” Mayfield said. “But there’s also more opportunities, so you have to roll with the punches, face adversity. How do you handle it? How do you handle it the next week? How do you approach the week of practice and how do you know how to show up the next week?”
Mayfield’s awareness of the mental state of the locker room is a good sign he has continued to evolve as a leader.
His growth as a clutch performer will be something the Browns also need to attain their ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl.
Despite all of the problems Chiefs superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes gave the Browns and the major self-inflicted errors Cleveland committed in the second half, Mayfield and the offense got the ball at their own 17-yard line with 2:49 left in the fourth quarter and a chance to produce a game-winning touchdown drive.
But after the Browns advanced to their 48, Mayfield tried to throw the ball away under pressure on first-and-10, when safety Daniel Sorensen dived and grabbed a foot or ankle to trip the quarterback. Mayfield threw as he stumbled, and cornerback Mike Hughes intercepted the pass in front of tight end Harrison Bryant to clinch Kansas City’s win.
“I definitely wasn’t trying to throw it straight to [Hughes]. That’s for damn sure,” Mayfield said. “I was trying to throw it out of bounds. Sorensen just got enough of me to keep it inbounds.
“You can say throw it away earlier, but then [there are] the coaching points of me trying to use my legs and scramble out and take advantage of some of the yards. There’s going to be criticism either way regardless. [I need to] just try and find a way to not have a negative play.”
Mayfield has produced seven game-winning drives, six of which were also fourth-quarter comebacks in his NFL career. But no quarterback has thrown more fourth-quarter interceptions than Mayfield’s 16 since the Browns drafted him first overall in 2018.
Mayfield said he’s harder on himself for making mistakes in crucial situations.
“Those are the moments where you look back and everybody’s going to remember that last play and that can be the difference,” Mayfield said. “No matter what has happened previously, you can throw all of that out the window as long as you have a chance. And whoever has the ball last, if you can make a play, those are the ones that matter.
“The fourth-quarter plays are the ones that truly change momentum, especially when you’re on the road and the crowd was getting into it in Kansas City. Yeah, you’ve got to make the little plays in the fourth quarter just to keep your offense on the field.
“Yeah, I’m going to be critical of my game regardless. There are going to be games— good or bad — where I want plays back, and you want to make all of those plays in the fourth quarter.”
Chubb’s confidence about Mayfield’s ability to deliver in crunch time hasn’t wavered.
“I’m not worried about it all. If that didn’t happen, who knows? It could be a different feeling right now,” Chubb said. “So you never know with Baker. He makes big plays to put guys in the best positions possible. That’s just how it happens sometimes.”
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