After the match ended last month, after another meeting ended in yet another loss, Baker Mayfield stood back, strolling around the 30-yard line inside M&T Bank Stadium to catch up with the old man. friend of enemy colors.
Lamar Jackson was busy with a post-game interview. He hadn’t played well, throwing four career-high interceptions, but his Ravens had beaten the Mayfield Browns, 16-10, in a Week 12 prime-time game. They were still on top of AFC North, still looking down on a Cleveland team running out of time for a turnaround.
As Jackson’s interview lasted over a minute and a half, Mayfield waited patiently. He had endured much worse this season. Seeing a Ravens official pass Jackson from his “Sunday Night Football” stunt to his next duty, Mayfield, without a helmet, appeared.
“LJ! Mayfield yelled at Jackson. “Hey whats up?” Jackson said as they kissed. For about 15 seconds, they chatted. Mayfield called Jackson a “baller”. Jackson asked Mayfield how his brother was doing. Mayfield asked Jackson how his mother was doing. They said they would keep in touch.
“He’s a good guy,” Jackson said last week of Mayfield, whom he has come to know through their shared history as Heisman Trophy winners. “A good guy off the pitch too. But when we play against each other, we try to win. We try to win at the end of the day.
And that’s what could make the Ravens’ game on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium the latest installment in a rivalry that once seemed destined to last – or at least the beginning of the end.
In Baltimore, Jackson’s future seems secure. Ravens officials (8-4) have said they are confident they will sign the 2019 NFL MVP for long-term overtime, although Jackson’s unconventional portrayal and disappointing 2021 may change. as part of its agreement.
In Cleveland (6-6), Mayfield could play his role. Like Jackson, he is signed until 2022. Unlike Jackson, team officials have made no commitment to keep him under contract beyond that date. Browns general manager Andrew Berry declined in July to comment on Mayfield’s contract situation. Last week, Berry was elusive when asked if he considered Mayfield, who ranks 26th in the NFL in QBR, as the team’s future quarterback.
“I think with Baker, especially from a long-term perspective, you’re really trying to take a holistic approach,” Berry told reporters in Cleveland. “Really, with any player, it’s about working together, really, over several years and also taking in context the environment or the situation of a particular individual. We have seen Baker playing a lot of good football here. We’ve seen Baker play some good football this season. I know he is excited and we are delighted with the opportunity that lies ahead. We expect him to play his best football over the next five weeks.
When Jackson and Mayfield first met three years ago, it was not hard to imagine their battles shaping the next decade of AFC North the way the Matt Ryan and Drew Brees shootouts have. defined the NFC South in the 2010s.
In 2018, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing with a career-high 5,129 yards. He was also 36 years old; the following season, he would need end-of-season surgery to reattach three torn flexor tendons in his right elbow. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s 2018 season ended in late November after tearing ligaments in his thumb; he had spent only one more year in Cincinnati before coming to Dallas.
In Baltimore and Cleveland, however, there was the promise of youth. After replacing injured Joe Flacco, Jackson made it to the Ravens’ 2018 regular season finale against Cleveland with five wins in six starts. Mayfield, a favorite for NFL Rookie of the Year honors, was set to collect 27 touchdown passes and then a league record for a freshman quarterback. The Browns were 7-7-1 as they headed to Baltimore, their most winning streak in four years.
The rookies’ first clash turned out like a brawl. In a 26-24 victory for the Ravens that has won the franchise’s Premier League title since 2012, Jackson had 179 yards, rushed for two scores and helped fuel a rushed 296-yard offense. Mayfield went 23 for 42 for 376 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, the last of them coming to the edge of the field goal with just 66 seconds left.
“I’m not generally impressed with the rookies, but you saw two rookies today that showed it’s their league,” Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said after the game. “Everyone knows the history of football in Cleveland, and this guy [Mayfield] is going to be something for years to come.
The next two years put the first round picks on different paths. Jackson, the fifth quarterback taken in 2018, was a unanimous MVP selection in 2019 after leading the NFL in touchdown passes and breaking the single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback. At the end of an eventful 2020, after two disappointing years in the playoffs, he won his first playoff game before being eliminated in a divisional round loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick, needed time to level up. His accuracy dropped below 60% in 2019, only to rebound in 2020, aided by a dominant offensive line and heavy play-action pattern. Back in the playoffs, Cleveland defeated division champion Steelers for his first playoff win since 1994 – even before Mayfield was born.
Success against the Jackson Ravens, however, has been elusive. Mayfield is 1-5 in the game as a starter, the only victory to come in a 40-25 road blowout in September 2019. After that, there were two no-shows in the wins. Ravens and two crushing prime-time losses. Their “Monday Night Football” classic last season, a 47-42 victory for the Ravens in Cleveland, was named Game of the Year by the NFL Network.
“Throughout these years it’s been fun,” tight end Mark Andrews said on Thursday of competing against Mayfield, a close friend and former Oklahoma teammate. “Being able to play with him in college was a joy for me. But at the end of the day, he’s a competitive person, and so am I. It is therefore about these bragging rights.
Mayfield’s fourth year at Cleveland, perhaps the most high-profile in franchise history, has been about as enjoyable as the sad seasons the Browns want to forget. In September, he partially tore the labrum on his left (non-throwing) shoulder. A month later he injured him again. In November, he injured his foot and left the New England Patriots shattering loss with a knee injury.
“He’s probably the most beaten I have ever been in my career,” Mayfield said last month. “It’s not like it’s one thing in particular. It is multiple.
His final kick this year could determine how many AFC North clashes he has left. With Mayfield’s $ 18.9 million fifth-year option guaranteed, a return to Cleveland in 2022 is likely. But his stagnation of play and injury history have raised questions as to whether he is the quarterback to lead a young and talented Cleveland team to playoff success – not only going forward, but this too. year.
The weakness of the quarterback class in next year’s draft could force Berry to consider league-wide alternatives. Mayfield’s fiercest competition for the Browns’ job could be from veterans who are currently earning paychecks elsewhere. Jameis Winston and Teddy Bridgewater will be free agents. Matt Ryan could be. Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins and Drew Lock could all hit the trade bloc. Where will Mayfield be when the carousel stops spinning?
“I think Cleveland will bring [Baker] return; I guess there’s always a chance they won’t, ”said CBS analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Green. “I think he’s facing a lot of injuries, he’s facing a lot of expectations, a lot of personalities in this locker room. There’s a balancing act out there, and when you’re not 100% healthy… I just think it’s another guy in that game, like Lamar, trying to do too much. .
With the week off behind them, Sunday’s game could offer a much-needed reset for the Browns and their struggling offense. A win over the Ravens would increase Cleveland’s odds in the playoffs by 21% to 35%, according to projections by FiveThirtyEight.
A big game could also start to rock the narrative surrounding Mayfield, the quarterback who has so much in common with Jackson – with the exception, perhaps, of a future in the AFC North.
“Baker is someone who cares deeply about where he is, this organization and the players he is with,” said Andrews. “Again, like Lamar, he’s a fighter. He does all he can. I know there may be some unhappiness, but I know these fans love it.
Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker contributed to this article.
RAVENS @ BROWNS
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 13, 9 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Browns by 3