CLEVELAND — When the Cleveland Browns made the unprecedented moves to fire both coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley with half the season remaining, general manager John Dorsey and owner Jimmy Haslam sighted “internal discord” as the reason for the changes.
Before the moves were made, the Browns were on a two-game losing streak and had lost three of their previous four games, and rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield said there were no shortage of reasons why the team struggled through October.
“There’s a lot of things that happened behind the scenes that I don’t even need to get into because that’s in the past and I’m focused on the future, but I think everything happens for a reason,” Mayfield told USA Today’s Sports Pulse host Trysta Krick on Radio Row at Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
“There’s a reason why we weren’t playing well when all that was going on. If you have that many distractions and all that drama within the building, how are you supposed to go out on Sunday and compete? To be able to eliminate distractions, focus on doing your job, having guys that believe in it is the best thing, and that’s what we have right now with Freddie.”
Mayfield let it be known in the days following the first meeting of the season with the Cincinnati Bengals that he was not happy with Jackson for accepting an offer to remain in the AFC North Division after his dismissal from Cleveland on October 29.
Mayfield shook hands but did not say much to Jackson following the Browns’ first win over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati on November 25, and when criticized for his actions, responded to an ESPN First Take Instagram post by calling Jackson “fake.”
Just in case those words were forgotten, Mayfield served up a reminder after sealing a 26-18 victory over the Bengals with a 66-yard pass to second-year tight end David Njoku with 1:48 to play in the fourth quarter of the December 23rd meeting in Cleveland.
Following the completion, Mayfield appeared to stare down and smile at Jackson while looking toward Cincinnati’s sideline, and then, backpedaled his way down the field before taking three snaps out of the victory formation to exhaust the clock.
“If you’re not in our locker room, if you’re not on our team, you’re against us,” Mayfield said to Adam Schein on Mad Dog Sports Radio. “That’s always been my attitude. It doesn’t matter who it is. You know what, that makes it more fun.
“That makes it more passionate when you know somebody on the other side. That’s how it’s always been. That was how it was playing against guys in college. That’s how it is when I’m playing against other rookies who I went through the draft process with, and so, that’s how it is. If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
The Browns attempted to clean up the internal discord with the changes, and placed Mayfield’s development into the hands of former running backs coach/interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens, who was hired as head coach on January 12.
Under Kitchens’ direction, Mayfield completed 180 of his 263 attempts (68.4 percent) for 2,254 yards and 19 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Mayfield averaged 281.75 yards and 2.375 touchdowns per game with Kitchens calling the plays.
“He talks about anything and everything,” Mayfield said to USA Today’s Sports Pulse. “He relates to everybody.
“We had a great, open communicating relationship about what he wanted to get accomplished, and he helped me on how to eliminate quicker reads, where to get my eyes and things like that. It was great on the field, but then, off the field is why I think it was successful.”