National Football League

Danger Zone

December 28, 2020

Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns are skating on thin ice.

Following a stunning 23-16 loss against the New York Jets, the Browns have exhausted what little wiggle room they had to end an 18-year absence from the playoffs.

Mayfield looked to be turning the corner prior to the loss, adding to the shock of the surprise result against the now 2-13 Jets.

In Weeks 12 through 15, Mayfield completed an average of 70.2 percent of his passes for 308 yards per game. He averaged a passer rating of 117.7 and threw 10 touchdowns with just one interception over that span, which saw the Browns go 3-1.

Sunday was a different story, as Mayfield completed 52.8 percent of his 53 attempts for 285 yards and no touchdowns, marking down a passer rating of 68.5.

Mayfield also fumbled three times, two of which were recovered by the Jets and a third that resulted in a turnover on downs in the game's closing minutes.

It must be noted that the Browns were woefully shorthanded on offense Sunday, after four of the wideouts on the roster were sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols, including Jarvis Landry.

That didn't stop Cleveland from throwing the football, however, and Mayfield took full blame for the outcome following the loss.

"There's no excuse. Plain and simple, I failed this team ... We had exactly what we needed to win this game and I didn't do good enough. That's it."

Colin Cowherd gave Mayfield a bit of a pass on Monday's episode of The Herd.

In Cowherd's eyes, Cleveland's decimated offense bears a striking similarity to what Mayfield's counterpart on Sunday, Sam Darnold, has dealt with for years.

"This is not to take a shot at Baker Mayfield ... There are only two quarterbacks in the NFL, maybe three, that can carry a bunch of 'meh.' Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and I still think Tom Brady can do it on some Sundays ... This league is about what you're surrounded by."

Taking the team aspect out of it, and looking solely at Mayfield, ESPN's Ryan Clark doesn't see enough in the 2018 No. 1 overall pick to get the Browns to the playoffs in a pivotal Week 17 clash against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I don't know that they pull it off. I don't think Baker gets it done ... And so they just fall short. The season is not a failure but it is a disappointment ... He's shown that he can be their guy, but he won't be the guy that takes them to the playoffs this year."

Now, with their backs against the wall, Mayfield's Browns do have the luxury of controlling their own fate.

If they can beat the Steelers, they're in.

Barring that, there is a large number of permutations that could see the Browns make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

The simplest path remains to win.

If not, Cleveland's 18-year wait for playoff football will likely creep closer to a two-decade wait.

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