With such a crazy off-season for the Browns, the thing the franchise was invented for has finally arrived: playing games that count.
Now fans can concentrate on the game of football instead of depositions, grand juries, settlements, civil suits, hearings, former judges and prosecutors, and other wild rumors (which, some of them were true).
On to Charlotte, North Carolina and their marvelous stadium to play the Panthers.
To start things off, it is the opening game for both clubs. As an aside, and probably the most logical issue about this game, is that the starting quarterback for Carolina will be none other than the Browns’ former quarterback Baker Mayfield.
This will be the first NFL game that Mayfield has started that he will not be in orange and brown. Let’s hope he doesn’t wake up dangerous that morning.
The game will be a Catch-22 for most Cleveland fans. Mayfield remains a fan fav among Browns followers – and he should be. He commandeered a playoff appearance in 2020 plus was the field general in that playoff victory over the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. Fans remember that, and love Mayfield for being the leader for that one spectacular season.
It will be interesting to pan around the stadium and see just how many brown/white #6 jerseys are in attendance. Probably the same number of blue/white #6 jerseys now that he has been named the starter.
The hit item in Charlotte are the “Off The Leash” T-shirts. The shirt displays Mayfield’s head along with a dog collar with some broken chain with wordage “Live & In-person Carolina vs. Cleveland.”
Mayfield addressed the new threads at his weekly presser:
“Oh, man, I wish I could say I came up with the T-shirts. Got a good team behind me and they put a few little hidden messages of like just my history, subliminal stuff in there. They do a good job and I just think people back home and people that have been following me for a long time like it. You know, I don’t get paid to make T-shirts. I get paid to play football and have fun with my buddies. So that’s what I’m doing.”
Perhaps the Browns fans in attendance should come up with their own chants. “Need more cheese for the book club” as a reference to that Progressive commercial with Mayfield and Jedrick Wills. “I bought Jedrick’s shoulder pads” for the one where the offensive tackle’s equipment was available for sale at the stadium’s yard sale.
In case you missed it, Mayfield did well for Carolina during the preseason. He is playing completely healthy. Vegas gives the Panthers a 2.5 point advantage.
Mayfield played a total of 37 plays in two preseason games and went 13 for 22 for 135 yards with two touchdowns. There wasn’t any familiar drive-killing fumbles or picks in either game.
The defensive secondary for the Browns will be ready for their old teammate, and have jelled nicely since last year. They should up to the task.
At the very least they are quite familiar with his habits as expressed by safety John Johnson to the Akron Beacon-Journal:
“I caught a few of those preseason games live actually and I have watched a couple things. Just stuff you see on social media, stuff like that, but we’re going to put together a good plan. Like I said, we’ve got a couple bonus days so that helps us and I think we’ll be ready.”
Needless to say, Mayfield will be wearing a pair of chips that will be stuffed under his jersey but resting on top of both shoulder pads. He plays better geared-up and wanting some symbolist of revenge. Do not be surprised when Mayfield will give the Browns sideline another version of his “Hue stare-down” that will instantly go viral and become the talk of every sports show for a solid week.
Vegas probably has odds on the quarter and minute in which he does this. Or perhaps odds on how many gestures and such he will perform. Maybe there is an over-under.
Cleveland’s defense has not only improved but should be Top-10 this year. The cornerback room alone will give Mayfield fits. And if Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney can flush the former signalcaller into making throws on the run, then the passing game may not become much of an issue all game.
Johnson explained these actions:
“It’s one of him and 11 of us. So we can move all around and disguise things and different guys play different spots. So I think we’ve got that.”
Plus this defense went against him every single day during practices. For some players, every single game for several years. That is like playing chess with the same person every day for months and months. You know their opening moves right off and how to counter because it is the same thing that was shown the day before - and the day before that.
This familiarity gives the advantage straight to the defense.
It will be interesting to see just how much of the Panthers’ offensive playbook Mayfield has been able to absorb. He is known for being a quick learner as he had a different offensive coordinator for his first three seasons in Cleveland.
Having said all that, on the flip side Mayfield knows the Browns defense in terms of scheme. More importantly, he understands which Browns defenders are weak at pass coverage and which he should just avoid. There are tendencies with certain down-and-distance which Mayfield can certainly exploit that other QB’s may not notice.
Mayfield noted about him having just as much of an edge as the Browns defense has:
“For me it’s the familiarity. Any time you’re playing guys you know, it makes it more interesting, more fun. You get to smack talk with your buddies that you’ve been with for a little bit and you know how to poke and prod and get the best out of ‘em. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
The very fact that Mayfield is playing on the other side of the field and is trying his best to beat the Browns has a sharp edge on both sides of the sword.
Johnson knows this one is all too familiar:
“I feel like we’re going to prepare like we always prepare. It’s Week 1, we’ve got to win the opener, we’ve got to go 1-0, that’s what everyone wants to do. Half the teams are going to start with a win, half the teams are going to start with a loss. So we want to be that team that has a W, so our preparation is not going to change.”
Then there is the story of which NFL Network analyst Cythnia Frelund who shared this past week that Mayfield told her “he’s going to f--- up” the Browns in their opening contest.
Here is what transpired. Last week in the Panthers 21-0 win over Buffalo at home, Frelund walked over to Mayfield on the field and stated, “I’m so excited to see you. Go kick some ass, especially Week 1. I cannot wait.” She said that he then used some cuss words. She then told him she hoped he was ready. He then told her, “I’m gonna f--- them up.”
Frelund then reported that story, then confirmed it when asked. Mayfield then had his retraction and denial of the on-field confrontation.
Baker Mayfield: “Well first, I didn’t say it.” pic.twitter.com/fjjiTNiGC1— Sheena Quick (@Sheena_Marie3) August 31, 2022
Did Frelund’s remarks resemble what Mayfield feels about the Browns? The fact is, why in the world would she report this? As a member of the media, your trust is gold. If players, coaches, front office or whomever believes that what they say is going to be front page news and bulletin board ammunition, nobody in this league will tell her anything any longer regardless if Mayfield told her “off the record” or not.
You just don’t report on private conversations. Especially one that reflects poorly on Mayfield. After a game every player is ramped up anyway. But to relay their innocent meeting is just wrong. What’s next? This player told me this about that at a party?
Players in the NFL are competitors - especially Mayfield. As Browns fans we all know this. Certainly he will display an attitude in this Week 1 game. But let’s allow the emotions on the field to dictate a portion of the outcome.
And Mayfield is not a bad quarterback. Recently, ringer.com released their starting QB rankings for the 2022 season. They have Mayfield listed at Number 20.
Mayfield realizes that there will be Browns fans who now hate on him and noted his feelings about his former city:
“I’m grateful for the time I had in Cleveland. I started my career there. The fans there, a football town. Like I’ve mentioned multiple times, it ended abruptly and unexpectedly. But we’re here now. Everything happens for a reason and I’m rolling with the punches and I’m happy to be a Panther.”
Certainly not to capture a win against Cleveland. Cheer for him to do good but not win the game and everything will fall into place. Hope he has a great season, makes his first Pro Bowl and remains healthy.
Maybe for Mayfield, that would prove everyone wrong. Then Progressive Insurance will call back for a new set of commercials.