Antonio Callaway laid face down in the end zone, hands on his helmet.
He’d just fumbled away a momentum-swinging scoring chance, the Browns’ best chance at a comeback slipping away with the ball Justin Reid punched out of Callaway’s hands.
But Baker Mayfield made sure Callaway understood that play didn’t decide anything. As Callaway stood up to jog back to the sideline, Mayfield ran toward him, praised Callaway’s catch-and-run leading up to the fumble, and told Callaway to be ready for the next play. That was it —no mention of the fumble.
“It means everything,” Callaway said of Mayfield’s consolation. “I told you: He’s the leader, the leader of the offense.”
That’s what leaders do, and Mayfield’s gesture wasn’t lost on the rest of his teammates. Joel Bitonio didn’t see Mayfield’s pep talk live, but he saw it on film the next day. Bitonio was impressed, saying that’s what the Browns want out of their quarterback. But he was far from surprised.
“That’s how (Mayfield has) been the whole year,” Bitonio said. “No matter if it’s good or bad, he wants (his teammates) to play the next play. It’s been impressive the way he handles himself.”
That praise came less than 24 hours after Mayfield threw three first-half interceptions against the Texans. Bitonio believes Mayfield bounced back from his first-half performance the second Mayfield left the field for halftime as evidenced by Mayfield’s 351 second-half passing yards.
Again, Bitonio wasn’t surprised. Mayfield possesses an unceasing fountain of confidence and charisma, a characteristic center JC Tretter said Mayfield shares with Aaron Rodgers, whom with Tretter played four seasons in Green Bay. That comparison is sure to inspire confidence for the future in fans.
But the players support Mayfield because Mayfield doesn’t care for comparisons. They follow him for his authenticity.
“His leadership — especially as a rookie coming in — it’s so genuine,” Tretter said. “People want to be around him; people gravitate toward him. And that’s big because you gotta take a big step being a rookie in the locker room as well as leading older, veteran players. It’s one of those things if you push too hard, if you are deemed fake, then people are gonna push back on you. But Baker’s such a natural leader, such a genuine good person, it’s made it easy to have older guys kinda gravitate toward him, work with and be excited to play with him.”