It’s hard to believe it’s almost over.
What a ride it’s been with Baker Mayfield under center.
His 13th start Sunday in Baltimore will be his last of 2018. He’s been one of the league’s top rookies ever since he made his debut Week 3 against the Jets and has been one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, period, over the past six weeks. One more opportunity awaits for Mayfield and the Browns to build even more optimism heading into 2019.
ClevelandBrowns.com caught up with Mayfield to look back on his rookie season and ahead to the future.
CB.com: It’s hard to believe your rookie season is almost over. How would you sum up what you’ve been able to accomplish?
Mayfield: There’s been a lot of ups and downs, but as of recent a lot more ups. That’s just because of the team. There’s guys making plays and they’re executing and focused on the task at hand. They’re able to block out everything else and just go to work on Sundays. It’s been fun, but there was a lot of work put in since I got here in the draft and the groundwork was laid even before that. Just for our guys to use a lot of the things to come together and focus on our job has been a lot of fun.
CB.com: A lot of people point to the midseason coaching change as the moment everything changed for you and the offense. Was there any other moment where things started to click?
Mayfield: I think the easiest way to put it is that midseason change when we decided to make sure we handled all the little details. That was the biggest change. Even though that first game against the Chiefs wasn’t our best, it was progress. We were playing a really good team. We played the Falcons after that, and ever since then, we’ve been getting better every week. That’s been our goal and the guys have been able to do that.
CB.com: What’s the difference between Week 1 working with Freddie Kitchens as offensive coordinator and Week 8?
Mayfield: Just the comfort between he and I of what we want to get accomplished, how we want to call it. I definitely have a lot more freedom as the weeks have gone on. He’s trusted me the whole time but I feel a lot more comfortable on changing things and getting us in a good position to win. It’s been a good relationship ever since.
CB.com: How close were you before the change and how much has this brought you together?
Mayfield: I like Freddie a lot. I was rarely around him, though. During practice I never got to talk to him one on one outside of things. Ever since he’s taken over and been around the quarterbacks a lot more, it’s been a good relationship.
CB.com: Our cameras were watching and listening to your reaction when Jarvis Landry threw a 63-yard pass to Breshad Perriman. Walk me through that experience.
Mayfield: It takes a lot of courage to call that play. It takes a lot of trust from Freddie to trusting us to get it accomplished and executed and not have it go really bad. For him to call it is one thing, and for Jarvis to sit back there and throw it to a guy he’s never thrown it to in practice -- not on that play, at least -- and just let it fly. It was an absolutely perfect pass. I think it caught Breshad by surprise how perfect it was that far down the field. It’s one of those things that not many guys can do.
CB.com: At the end of the game you were really revving up the crowd. They’re feeding off you, you’re feeding off them. What goes through your mind during those moments?
Mayfield: When we’re winning, it’s a lot easier to get the crowd into it. Just seeing how hard we worked and how badly the fans wanted us to play good and win the games, it’s easy to do that. When good things happen, you’ve got to keep them into the game and keep them excited. They play a factor in it. If they can get loud for our defense and get excited when we score, it’s momentum. Although it might not seem like much, it really is.
CB.com: That play call at the end, when you completed the long pass to David Njoku, was another one that might have caught people by surprise. Is that a reflection of how much trust Freddie has in you?
Mayfield: Absolutely. It’s about trust, it’s about confidence knowing in critical downs and situations that he can call anything and I’m going out there and get it executed somehow, some way. Obviously it wasn’t how it was drawn up, a semi-scramble play. It’s just trusting our guys to make plays and get the ball in David’s hands and let him make somebody miss and go all the way to the goal line.
CB.com: You’re at 24 touchdown passes on the season, two away from the NFL rookie record. Is that something you take pride in, especially when you don’t play the first two games?
Mayfield: That’d be fun to break but at this point I’m just trying to win this last game. If it happens, it happens. If not, no big deal. Winning is the most important thing to me. We’ll see what happens Sunday.
CB.com: There’s a couple of players with four touchdown catches, a bunch with three and some others with two. Has it been good for you to see so many different guys get in the end zone?
Mayfield: Absolutely. If we had one guy that scored all the touchdowns, then a defense would be able to shut that down and key in on it. We have guys making plays all over the field at every position. It makes our offense hard to cover, hard to defend. We have a lot of trust in our guys because of that.
CB.com: It seemed Jarvis was getting double-teamed earlier in the season but no more. Is that because of the support around him.
Mayfield: Exactly. They can’t do that. We’ve got too much speed on the outside with Breshad and (Antonio) Callaway. Then (Rashard Higgins) is consistent. You’ve got Jarvis on the inside and David and our tight ends have been making plays, too. It was great to see Darren (Fells) making plays. Obviously Duke (Johnson’s) play speaks for itself. Getting (Nick) Chubb involved in the passing game as well to go along with his run game, it’s a good offense. We’re explosive.
CB.com: You’ve been sacked just five times since the midpoint of the season and taken the lowest number of hits by far during the second half. What’s the offensive line doing to make things so good for you right now?
Mayfield: They’ve come together. There was a lot of changes, a lot of stuff that happened early on. It wasn’t very pretty. Them trusting in the system and ever since Freddie has been there, just talking about where to get my eyes, eliminate things quickly, get the ball out quick, make it easy on them. Then when we do have our shots, trust those guys to make those blocks, create the time for us to make the plays. It’s just trust in everything and they’re able to do that.
CB.com: How much pride do you take in the team already clinching a winning record in the division?
Mayfield: We took them one week at a time and realized how important the division games were. If you take care of business within the division, it really helps you out in the playoff picture. Obviously if we had some success early on, we’d be in a completely different ballgame right now. Taking care of division games has us with a pretty similar record with everyone else in the division.
CB.com: The team was officially eliminated from the playoffs before Sunday’s game. Did you notice any drop-off in the team’s motivation level, and how did you prevent it from happening?
Mayfield: Absolutely not. We had guys that were very focused. It was one week at a time, didn’t matter, and we have guys that want to win. That’s a good culture to have. We keep trying to build on that.
CB.com: What have you seen from your teammates this week getting ready for what you’ve called a playoff game?
Mayfield: The Ravens are trying to get into the playoffs. They have to win to get in. We’re still trying to win and have a winning record and prove who we are. It’s one of those things that if you don’t have guys’ attention and focus, something’s wrong. This last game of the year, you go through so much in the offseason and now we’re at our last game. It’s flown by. At first it felt like it was dragging on forever but it’s really flown by when you look back at it. Our guys are going to enjoy it.
CB.com: Looking back at when you faced the Ravens in Week 5, was that your first major test against a premier defense?
Mayfield: A defense like that is very talented. They don’t have just one thing they’re going to do. There’s no tendency you can really key in on. They might be doing different things but make it look really similar. It’s pretty hard to play against but you’ve got to trust your job. Do your job, follow the little things and try to execute.
CB.com: You’ve got one more game but a big offseason in front of you. What’s the first thing you look to do?
Mayfield: I’ll take care of business and after that I probably won’t pick up a football for a while. In the season, you’re really focused, all tuned in. To be able to step away from that is important. Stepping away from the game so when you come back to it, you’re fully focused and fully invested. It’s fresh and you’re able to have a healthy relationship with it. There’s so much more than football. Being able to show up back to work and truly love the game and work for it makes a break necessary.
CB.com: Is there anything you look back on during your rookie season where you said, ‘Man, I wish I did this during the offseason?’
Mayfield: No, I think what I did worked. I’ll continue to do similar things but also build on it. Use things I’ve heard about and just learn from being around the guys here, the veterans here, different routines they’ve talked about. I’ll try to use every little thing I’ve learned.
CB.com: When we talked during the midpoint of the season, you were really optimistic about the direction of this team. Now that you’ve won five of the last six, what does it say about the foundation of this team?
Mayfield: Obviously we’ve been building on what we have. Before the season, we knew what kind of team we could have. We had to put it all together. At the same time, we had all the pieces. Going into this last game and going into whoever is the head coach next year, this is going to be our players’ team. Whoever it is needs to realize that we’ve got a foundation and they need to come in and manage that. We’ve got people we trust within the franchise and so we’re going to roll with it. They can join the train because I don’t know who wouldn’t want to do that. It’s going to be really exciting going into the offseason to see what all happens and just roll with the punches. That’s what I’ve done my whole life and I expect for our team to do that, too.