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Baker Mayfield ready to lead Browns into 'crunch time' of regular season

After a week of rest, Mayfield is ready to lead the Browns toward a playoff run

Baker Mayfield checked all of the boxes he hoped to accomplish throughout the Browns' bye week and believes his best football is ahead of him to finish the regular season.

The main bye week goal, of course, was rest. Mayfield, the fourth-year QB veteran who battled shoulder, foot and knee injuries in recent weeks, undoubtedly will benefit from having his first weekend off since the Browns rested him in Week 7 against the Broncos. 

"(The bye helped) quite a bit, to be honest with you," he said. "I haven't had any major setbacks the past few weeks, and then having another week off (helps). Looking forward to getting better as the weeks go on."

That last sentence represents the other goal Mayfield and the rest of the offense needed to achieve over the bye week. No one on the offense was satisfied with the way they entered the week off but the time off gave them a valuable opportunity to review their mistakes and find ways to be more efficient.

Mayfield spent plenty of time reviewing film and discussing with teammates and coaches on how to do just that.

"We absolutely are looking to overall be better on offense, score more points, convert on third downs and be better in those critical situations," he said. "Anytime you are on a bye week – this goes for every team around the league – you do a self-scout and kind of look at the bigger picture of what you are doing well, what you are not doing well, tendencies and all of that. 

"It's not necessarily deconstructing as it is just overanalyzing it, seeing what you're good at, trying to expand on that and fix the corrections you need to."

The Browns have a great stage Sunday to judge how far their adjustments will go. That's because they're playing the Ravens once again — Cleveland is the first team since 1991 to play consecutive regular season games against the same opponent — and will need more production than the 16-10 loss in Baltimore from Week 12. The Browns have scored more than 17 points just once in their last seven games, and they know that trend can't continue in the final month of the regular season for them to crack the playoffs.

A heavy load of that responsibility will be on Mayfield. He's 24th in the league with 2,413 passing yards and has thrown 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. Both Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski, however, expressed their beliefs that Mayfield will play his best football in the final five regular season games.

"I think that is the expectation for all of us – coaches and players – of where we are in our season," Stefanski said Monday. "We all understand what's at stake and those types of things. We're all looking forward to the challenge that we have in each one of these weeks, starting this week versus Baltimore."

Mayfield has always stressed a one-game-at-a-time mantra, and that mentality will be stressed even more as the Browns enter the final leg of the season. Cleveland could need to win all five of its remaining regular season games to control its playoff destiny, but Mayfield won't allow himself to look that far ahead.

The most he can do is focus on the next opponent. This week, it's Baltimore, and Mayfield believes the Browns will be in a much better position to win after having two weeks to prepare for the same opponent they last played.

"Everything that we can accomplish is still in front of us," he said, "so if we handle it correctly, that will happen that way. Just have to do so accordingly."

Even though they didn't expect to be 6-6 at this point of the season, the Browns are still playing meaningful December football. That's the goal every team hopes for at the beginning of a season, and the Browns believe they're in prime position to make it their best month yet.

"I feel confident with where I am, where we are and where we are headed," Mayfield said. "Now, it's crunch time. We need to have that singular focus, block out everything else and realize that we need to take care of business one day and one week at a time."

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