CLEVELAND — One day after the Cleveland Browns' 2021 season came to an end with a 21-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, head coach Kevin Stefanski met with reporters via Zoom for a year-end wrap-up.
And as one might expect, Baker Mayfield was one of the primary topics of conversation.
In particular, Stefanski was asked if he had any regrets about continuing to play his starting quarterback through the torn labrum in his left shoulder that he suffered in the Browns' Week 2 win over the Houston Texans. Mayfield ultimately only missed one start due to the injury -- after it was reaggravated in a Week 6 loss to the Arizona Cardinals -- before opting to sit out Cleveland's Week 18 finale on Sunday as he prepares to undergo surgery later this month.
Despite Mayfield's struggles, Stefanski refused to deal in hindsight.
"Baker fought through those injuries, was medically cleared to play each of those weeks and practiced throughout those weeks and felt good," Stefanski said. "I don't think Baker's using any of that as an excuse. And also, not denying that guys play through injuries. He pushed through it. I know there are plays and moments that he's going to want back. That's part of football and the quarterback position."
Asked specifically how much Mayfield's injury impacted his play, Stefanski replied: "It's just hard for me to speculate. He battled through this injury like a lot of the guys do. I don't say that to minimize how he did that. He pushed through it."
Regardless of how much Mayfield's injury impacted his performance, it would be tough to view 2021 as anything but a step back for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Appearing in 14 games, the 26-year-old signal-caller completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 3,010 yards, 17 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and an 83.1 quarterback rating -- numbers that each represented a decline from his 2020 campaign.
Speaking to reporters following Cleveland's Week 17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mayfield admitted to being "pretty damn beat up" and said that he didn't feel like he was always put in the best positions to succeed in 2021. Yet despite speculation to the contrary, Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network have reported that the Browns plan to move forward with Mayfield as their starting quarterback in 2022
"I know he wants to perform better," Stefanski said of Mayfield on Monday. "I've seen him perform better. He played winning football for us [in 2020]. I fully expect him to bounce back next year."