Skip to main content

Cup of Joe: Baker Mayfield giving Browns the QB play they need in loaded AFC North

In his weekly column, Joe Thomas explains what he’s loved seeing from Baker Mayfield in recent weeks

Catch Joe Thomas TONIGHT at 6:30 p.m. when he co-hosts "Browns Live" powered by FirstEnergy with Nathan Zegura. The 100 percent fan-focused show, which will stream on all of the Browns social platforms, will feature multiple segments with Coach Kevin Stefanski, interviews with players, film breakdowns and more.

Each game week, Joe will share his insights, memories and more in this weekly column, "Cup of Joe."

The Browns and Baker Mayfield, in particular, answered a big question Monday night even if they didn't get the win.

The second-half comeback — both of them — told us more about who they are as a team and the progress and growth they've made. More specifically, it was about Baker's ability to lead a team back from a two-score deficit when the Ravens and everybody in the stadium knew they had to drop back and throw and couldn't lean on the running game.

That was a big question mark, and Baker and the Browns answered that in spades. He overcame the adversity of that interception, which is something that earlier in the season the team wouldn't handle as well. Showing that resiliency at the quarterback position is so encouraging, especially in primetime, especially on Monday Night Football in a huge game like that against the Ravens.

And, for my biggest "especially" … especially in the AFC North.

With Baker in Cleveland, Big Ben in Pittsburgh, Lamar Jackson in Baltimore and budding star Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, the AFC North is absolutely LOADED at the quarterback position. It could be that way for years and years to come, and the Browns appear to be in great hands with Mayfield, whose performance Monday reflected all of the big strides he's made this season.

The biggest thing that stands out: You can see that confidence in him. And, in turn, you see that confidence his teammates have in his ability to lead. I think earlier on in the season there may have been some trepidation being in the kind of situation they were in Monday night, being that they were behind and knowing they have to throw the football to catch up. But they did it Week 7 against Cincinnati and, on Monday, they proved to themselves and proved to the NFL they can play that kind of game if they have to against one of the league's best defenses. I think that's going to pay dividends moving forward.

The mark of a great franchise quarterback is your ability to lift the performance of the 10 guys around you. They play at their best because they know at any moment the quarterback could come to them and deliver them the football in a tight window. The expectation from everybody on that offense is they're going to also be great.

You have that quarterback right now with Baker, who is raising the level of all the guys around him. Look what Donovan Peoples-Jones is doing. Look what Rashard Higgins is doing. You're getting the best version of those guys because Baker is playing great football. The expectation in that huddle when your quarterback is playing great is that everybody else is going to play great and do their 1/11th of the puzzle. They don't want to be the one who let down the team. They don't want to be the one to let down their quarterback who is expecting great things from them.

Here's what's tough about the AFC North: That will be the atmosphere in the huddle for all of the division's quarterbacks in 2021 when Burrow returns and the Bengals have a chance to recalibrate their roster.

If you have that franchise quarterback, you can reasonably expect you're going to be .500 or better every year. And when there's four of them in one division it can make for quite a bloodbath because you're going to expect those teams to be pretty good every year. Sometimes their defense will be a little bit better, sometimes the cast will be a little bit better, sometimes a little worse, but you're going to get the same kind of consistency the Steelers have had for a long time. You're always going to be above eight wins and you're always going to be in that playoff hunt in December. Unfortunately in the AFC North you don't have those easy victories right now and you won't for the foreseeable future depending on what happens with Pittsburgh and their quarterback.

The biggest advantage for Baker? This is just his first year in Kevin Stefanski's system, and we've already seen big improvements within the season. Just imagine how much better it will be with multiple years in the same offense.

Just like anything, practice makes you better at something. Not having to go back and re-learn algebra with a new offense, you're able to go to Calc 2 next year and build on the concepts you were working on this season. That's why these offenses that have been together for so long are so successful because they're so difficult to attack. You can't throw something at them they haven't seen and they don't already know the answers for. There's never a time when you're playing against the Saints with Drew Brees or when Tom Brady was with the Patriots where you throw something out there they didn't plan for.

That's why all of these quarterbacks who have been with their head coach and offensive coordinator for so long are consistently successful. Maybe not every single game, but year to year, they're having this high level of success week in and week out.

With more performances like Monday, the Browns can expect it on their side of the field and should be ready for it on the other side of all six of their AFC North matchups.