CLEVELAND — On Monday night, the Cleveland Browns spent their evening as house guests for Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s farewell party. It was a fitting scenario created by the NFL when the schedule was released back in May. The Browns deserved to be the team to watch Roethlisberger close out his Heinz Field career up close. After all, they ultimately passed on the Findlay, Ohio native back in the 2004 NFL Draft only to see him amass a 26-3-1 record against them in the regular season.
The scene, was of course, unfamiliar to a franchise that has cycled through starting quarterbacks the way that most people cycle through cell phones. At first, a new phone is user-friendly and carefully taken care of. Over time, operating system bugs are discovered, the battery life begins to lessen, and it becomes clear that it’s time to move on. Roethlisberger is like a Blackberry, loved by a certain set of people -- in this case Steelers fans -- even though it’s obsolete and ready to be retired.
On Monday night, once again, it appeared the Browns' phone doesn’t work for them anymore. There may be too many operating system errors to deal with and a screen cracked so bad texts can’t be read -- and it may be time to move on.
Cleveland’s loss to the Steelers at Heinz Field was certainly the sendoff for Roethlisberger. And from afar, it looked like it could have been the sendoff for Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, too.
On Monday night, Mayfield struggled through the same injuries he’s struggled through since his season was derailed all the way back in Week 2, when he helped to bring down Texans safety Justin Reid after an interception and dislocated his left shoulder. While his health declined throughout the season, so did his performance. Mayfield, now, appears to be a far cry from the quarterback that led the Browns to their first playoff win since the rebirth of the franchise in 1999 last January.
It's become apparent and obvious that there’s been a lot of trust lost inside the building between Mayfield and the Browns. He told ESPN’s Alex Smith that it’s been tricky to deal with some of the internal issues the Browns have had this season and that some of his relationships inside the building needed to be repaired at points.
Mayfield was sacked nine times on Monday night by a below-average Pittsburgh defense and struggled mightily to complete passes to open receivers when he was kept upright. Many are questioning the playcalling of head coach Kevin Stefanski, as Mayfield did after the game, but it can also be framed as Stefanski allowing Mayfield to show what he can do with his arm.
Mayfield obliged, and the results weren’t pretty.
No, the former No. 1 overall pick wasn’t given much help. Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb managed only 12 carries, partially due to a rib injury that was disclosed by Stefanski after the loss, and undoubtedly due to the Browns being eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday afternoon. Rookie right tackle James Hudson III was also kept on an island against All-Pro edge rusher TJ Watt for most of the night.
But those things didn’t directly cause Mayfield to misfire on 10 straight passes, becoming the only quarterback to do so this season in the NFL. They didn’t cause Mayfield to double-clutch and hold the ball when it was supposed to come out, opt to throw into coverage instead of the open man, or abandon a clean pocket.
What caused those things could very well be a lack of trust that Mayfield seems to have in his teammates, his coaching staff, and even himself.
After the game, Mayfield questioned why Hudson was left alone to block Watt, and admitted his left shoulder needs surgery, telling reporters that he would have a conversation with his family and his agent about the timing of it all. It could be in the best interest of Mayfield to have it done as soon as possible, even as early as this week. Not playing in the season-finale against Cincinnati is clearly on the table for the signal-caller. The damage has been done to his shoulder, and possibly to his future as the quarterback of the Browns.
This season, Mayfield needed to show what he was capable of in order to solidify his stature as a long-term franchise quarterback. He may not have always been put in the best position, but he was ultimately given that chance by Stefanski.
Based on the result, it just may mean that Monday night wasn’t just the last time that Browns faced off with Roethlisberger, but the last time Mayfield played for them, too.