CLEVELAND — Editor's note: the video in the player above is from a previous story.
As Baker Mayfield limped toward the huddle during the third quarter of the Cleveland Browns' matchup with the Detroit Lions on Sunday, many fans and observers found themselves asking the same question: why is he still playing?
At this point, the injuries that the Browns' starting quarterback has been dealing with for the better part of the 2021 season have been well documented; in addition to the torn labrum and fractured bone in his left shoulder that forced him to miss Cleveland's Week 7 win vs. the Denver Broncos, Mayfield is now also dealing with bone bruises in his left foot and right knee.
“This is probably the most beat up I’ve ever been in my career," Mayfield said last week. "It's not like it's one particular thing, it's multiple. It's just that time of the year and things add up."
With the exception of the win over Denver -- which came on a short week of rest -- the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft has played through the injuries, although at this point, even he admits that they are affecting his performance. That much would have been tough to deny on Sunday, when he completed just 15 of his 29 pass attempts for 176 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in Cleveland's 13-10 win.
Asked if he ever considered pulling Mayfield from the contest, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said he didn't. As for why he's willing to play his starting quarterback through multiple injuries, Stefanski said that ultimately, it comes down to Mayfield being healthy enough to play.
"We will always defer to the medical staff and making sure that a guy is ready to go," Stefanski said. "Obviously, you have discussions with the players in that same vein. We won’t put guys out there who cannot protect themselves. To say that Baker is not battling -- I think you all know that -- but he is ready to play and ready to help the team win, but we will always have those conversations week to week."
But while Mayfield admitted that his injuries -- as well as the rainy weather -- played a role in his poor performance on Sunday, he also insisted that he won't need to take any games off to improve his health.
"I do expect to be in better condition than I have in the past weeks," he said. "No major setbacks by any means. You are going to be sore on a Monday. That is just the nature of this game. Yeah, I feel good about our plan of attack, everybody being on the same page and where we are right now. I feel positive about everything that we are doing."
The Browns are hoping that Mayfield's prove prophetic as they enter a three-week stretch in which they'll face the first-place Baltimore Ravens twice with bye week sandwiched in between. Cleveland's bye week could prove critical to getting its starting quarterback back on track, but a loss to Baltimore this weekend would leave the Browns with little margin for error in the AFC playoff picture.
As a result, don't expect questions about Mayfield's health to go away any time soon. Ultimately, it appears Stefanski will be willing to play his starting signal-caller through his injuries unless he reaches a point where he feels his performance is holding back the team.
"If he is limited and can’t play up to his potential, those are things that we will discuss," Stefanski said. "He has played pretty well at times in the last few weeks. We will make sure that we have those discussions, and we will never do anything that is not in the best interest of the team."