The Browns on Wednesday dialed up their focus on the task at hand as outside speculation swirled about what Odell Beckham Jr.'s excusal from Wednesday's practice would mean for his future in Cleveland.
That, of course, is Sunday's game with the Bengals, a pivotal AFC North showdown for two teams coming off disappointing Week 8 losses.
"We work really hard in this building to concern ourselves with things that are going on in this building and concern ourselves with the Cincinnati Bengals," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "That's really where we get laser-focused on the task at hand."
Beckham was not among those who took the field for Wednesday's practice, the first of the week at the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. He was excused for the day while his representatives and Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager Andrew Berry continued their ongoing conversations. Late Monday, Beckham's father, Odell Sr., posted a video on Instagram that highlighted moments in which his son appeared to be open for a pass but didn't get the ball.
Asked if the Browns were preparing to play without Beckham on Sunday, Stefanski said he was just worried about what was on his plate for Wednesday.
That's because the Browns have a big challenge ahead of them Sunday in Cincinnati, no matter who is or isn't on the field. Cleveland is looking to rebound after a disappointing loss to the Steelers against a resurgent Bengals team that is also looking to bounce back. The Bengals, who boast one of the league's most dynamic offenses, are coming off a surprising 34-31 loss to the New York Jets that sent them out of first place in the AFC North and dropped them to 5-3 on the season.
"I think there is a legit feeling that we need to get a win this week," Stefanski said. "We have a big game against the Cincinnati Bengals, a really good team and another division opponent. I think the guys are laser-focused."
Check out exclusive photos from the practice fields at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus of the Browns preparing for their Week 9 game against the Cincinnati Bengals
Mayfield fielded numerous questions about the social media post that triggered all of the outside noise leading up to Wednesday's practice. He said he was "surprised" but not hurt by the video while stressing "our focus needs to be on winning."
"Just need to [focus on the] task at hand," Mayfield said. "We are having to multitask right now. That is just the unfortunate circumstance of what is going on. We are having to multi-task instead of just being able to focus on winning, and it has been created by something on the outside. We need to find a way to do that.
"We have had pretty big challenges before considering what we went through last year during COVID and having people out and having to be online during virtual meetings. This group has been challenged before. This is nothing different. This is a time for us to stick together as a team and not let anything else divide us. That is how I am going to handle it. I was brought here to do that, to bring people together and to win. That is exactly how I am going to handle it."
Since returning to action Week 3 — his first games since suffering a serious knee injury Week 7 of last season — Beckham has 17 catches for 232 yards. The Browns are hoping to get more production from Mayfield and all of their pass-catchers as the team hits the midpoint of the season. Cleveland's passing attack, which ranks 26th in the league in passing yards per game and is tied for 31st with seven touchdowns, has struggled in recent weeks and dealt with inconsistency throughout the season.
The goal was to be even better than how it finished the 2020 season. That hasn't happened, but Stefanski and Mayfield are confident they can turn things around as soon as Sunday.
"It is little details and things that we have not done well enough," Mayfield said. "It has hurt us in big moments to get to this point.
"There is a lot of frustration built up because we have not been as successful as we expected or we thought, but that does not change the work and the grind. These are all fixable things."