Baker Mayfield still felt pain as he watched his teammates take the field last Thursday against the Broncos at FirstEnergy Stadium.
That pain, however, was different from the physical pain aching his left shoulder in the days leading up to the primetime game. Mayfield, the four-year QB veteran, was sidelined for the Browns' Week 7 contest to rest his shoulder, which suffered a completely torn labrum after he attempted a tackle in Week 2. An awkward fall in Week 6 aggravated the injury even more, and the pain was strong enough for him to miss the next game four days later.
His streak of 51 consecutive starts with the Browns since his rookie season in 2018 was over — and he was crushed.
"It was pretty important," Mayfield said. "That was the first game I missed in eight years. I've missed three total games in my life, so yeah, that was a tough decision. That's just not something I'm about. I'm not about missing practice or playing time."
The mental pain Mayfield felt as he watched on the sidelines quickly subsided as he saw the Browns build a 17-14 win and advance their record to 4-3. QB Case Keenum piloted the offense with one touchdown and 199 passing yards, while the run game, bolstered by the emergence of RB D'Ernest Johnson, thrived with 182 yards.
The pain in Mayfield's shoulder has died down, too.
He had three additional days to rest and allow his injury to heal with the 10-day gap between the Browns' Week 7 and Week 8 games. He's back at practice this week and is hoping to test his shoulder again to see if he's ready to return Sunday against the Steelers.
"Similar to last week, I'll see what I can do and just take it day-by-day," Mayfield said. "There's a noticeable difference in range of motion and strength.
"I'm not exactly a doctor. I don't know how long it takes for those things to heal, but it was mostly about the inflammation, so I can get that range of motion and that strength back. That's where we are, and that's what we're continuing to evaluate."
Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Broncos yesterday by the Browns photo team
Mayfield passed for 1,474 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions before sitting out last week. He said he'll be ready to return once he and the Browns feel as though his abilities are back to a level where he can help the offense, but they're not going to rush him back if the pain in his shoulder continues to hamper his throwing abilities.
"He'll get a bunch of the reps," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I don't know the specific number, but it'll be like we normally do."
The Browns have received positive injury news all around the offense to open the week. In addition to Mayfield giving it a full-go in practice, RB Nick Chubb (calf) and OT Jack Conklin (knee), who both missed the last two games, are back at practice as well and gearing up for a possible return Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
A return for Conklin, who said Wednesday he expects to play, would give the Browns full health in their offensive line starters for the first time since Week 4 and offer Mayfield a strong brass of pass blockers if he returns.
"That would be great, obviously," Mayfield said, "but I think if you look at the last two times we've played the Steelers, we've had makeshift starters and different guys plug and play. So I trust those guys no matter who's in there. That's just the way we are, and that's how I'm going to operate."
Mayfield has been working to ensure he doesn't lose any strength around his shoulder and will be able to throw the ball with the same power he had before.
Those throws have been much easier to make after a week of rest. Now, Mayfield is focused on making the most of his practice reps this week and giving himself a true test as to whether he's ready to play.
When he does return, he expects to be the same confident quarterback he was before.
"If you got out there and you're scared or timid, that's how you can really get hurt," he said. "I can't do that. I have to get this strength back and be able to go as close to 100 percent as possible, and if that's not the case, then we trust the guys we'll have out there."