CLEVELAND — Following yesterday's 13-10 victory over the hapless Lions, Coach Kevin Stefanski said, "There's no such thing as an ugly win."
But even if we accept that logic and allow that because it was a victory it cannot, by definition, be considered "ugly," can we at least all agree that no one would be fighting to take yesterday's win to the prom?
That was not a relaxing viewing experience from a Browns fan's perspective, and I don't feel like it had to be that harrowing.
The good news is the Browns' defense rebounded nicely after getting destroyed last week in New England, but while Denzel Ward and Malcolm Smith both had nice interceptions, to be fair the real MVP for our defense was Lions backup quarterback Tim Boyle in his first NFL start.
He played very much like it. He was quite bad. The Lions are quite bad.
Speaking of quarterbacks, I don't think it made sense to start Baker Mayfield yesterday.
Let's put all this together: You know that you’re playing against the winless Detroit Lions and that they are very, very bad. You know your quarterback is dealing with a variety of injuries that are clearly affecting his mobility and ability in the game. You have one of the highest-paid backup QBs in the league in Case Keenum, someone who has already proven himself this year by starting and winning a game against the Broncos, a much better team than the lions, who are very bad.
So why start Baker yesterday?
Well, there's a lot of talk of toughness. Baker's tough for sticking it out and wanting to be out there, and that's admirable and unsurprising. We get it, Baker is tough. It's one of the things we love about him.
But there are different kinds of "toughness." It takes physical toughness to play through multiple injuries in the NFL; it takes intellectual and emotional toughness to be able to say to oneself, "Even if I physically can play, maybe the best thing for the team in both the short and long term is for me to take a step back and heal up for a week, so as to put us in a better position for the rest of the season."
But that was not the ultimate decision and Baker played hobbled, and he ended up playing like he was hobbled. This even resulted in hearing some Browns fans actually booing Baker a few times, or at least booing the Browns for leaving a clearly injured Baker in the game when he shouldn't have been in there.
First things first on that: Don't do that, Browns fans. Come on. I get it, you're upset with how they're playing, plus you're full of Miller Lite and White Claws and you feel the need to express your displeasure. Fine, but don't boo the guy who is playing injured who also happens to be the first quarterback to win a playoff game for your team in about 30 years. Relax.
Now some advice for the insanely passionate "Baker Bro" supporters who act like any criticism of their "sacred idol," no matter how minor or logical, is some sort of heresy that needs to be condemned and shamed. You know the guys I'm talking about:
"Don't you dare say anything bad about Baker Mayfield! He is the promised one who was prophesied and we will tolerate no dissent! He is flawless and perfect and he is my oxygen! I have two sons and a daughter and they are ALL named Baker!"
In case I haven't been clear, I don't think Baker should have started yesterday. Not because Case Keenum is a better quarterback than Baker, but because I think he would have been the better quarterback yesterday, because Baker's body is ravaged. He left yesterday’s game more beat up than he came into it. That wasn't necessary.
But I don't blame Baker for playing when he probably shouldn't be. Ultimately, my gripe is with Coach Stefanski, because he's supposed to be the grown up who makes the call to tell his quarterback he's not starting even if he wants to start, for the good of the team. Even if Baker says he's fine, even if the training staff has cleared him and said, "Technically, he still has movement in most of his limbs and can physically play football," that's not a green light. That's a yellow light that's turning red quickly.
Of course, all of this would be so much worse had we lost that game yesterday, which we most assuredly would have under similar circumstances three or four years ago, so I can't be too upset about how that went down. I'll honor Coach Stefanski's wishes and I won't refer to what I saw yesterday as "ugly," but I certainly won't be re-watching that one for fun any time soon.
Heal up, players and fans, because a double shot of the Ratbirds await us. Go Browns.