Browns QB Baker Mayfield has win-or-go-home mindset vs. Steelers: 'We’re in our playoffs'
Baker Mayfield has entered do-or-die mode.
The Browns (10-5) would clinch their first playoff berth since 2002 if they defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-3) in the regular-season finale Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, but in the starting quarterback's mind, the postseason has already arrived.
"The mentality here is we’re in our playoffs, just one week early. It’s win or go home," Mayfield said Wednesday on Zoom. "That’s the mentality for our guys. We have the talent. We have the scheme. We just have to go out there and execute it and do our jobs. And when we’ve had success this year, that’s been the case.
"Everybody knows it's win or go home. There's no need to stress it anymore. There's no need to add any pressure. It's just about us going and doing our job.”
Actually, the Browns could still make the playoffs if they lose to the Steelers, but they would need significant help.
The Indianapolis Colts (10-5) losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-14) would do the trick. The Tennessee Titans (10-5) losing to the Houston Texans (4-11) and the Miami Dolphins (10-5) defeating or tying the Buffalo Bills (12-3) and the Baltimore Ravens (10-5) beating or tying the Cincinnati Bengals (4-10-1) would work as well. There are other scenarios in which a tie between the Browns and Steelers (hey, it happened in the 2018 season opener) would allow Cleveland to appear in the postseason.
But don't tell Mayfield any of it. Winning is the only option on his radar, and he believes he thrives in high-pressure situations.
"I’ve had my back against the wall many a times in my life," Mayfield said. "I think I handle that type of stuff correctly.
"These are the moments you ask for. When you're little, you dream of playing in the games where it comes down to you have the ball in your hands and you want to take care of business.”
Mayfield continued to lament his performance in Sunday's 23-16 loss to the New York Jets, though running back Nick Chubb and center JC Tretter said he was sharp during Wednesday's practice, which was delayed by more than three hours because practice-squad center Javon Patterson and an unnamed assistant coach tested positive for COVID-19.
“He was locked in," Chubb said. "He was focused. He was not saying much. He was going out there, practicing hard and leading us.”
“Baker's good. Baker's dialed in. Baker's ready to go," Tretter said. "Had a great, great group of meetings, talked through all of our looks and our checks, and we had a good little shorter practice, but a really crisp practice. I think Baker's ready to go.”
Mayfield was ready to go in a different sense on the heels of Sunday's defeat. He stormed out of his Zoom videoconference with media after taking just one question and speaking for about two minutes.
"It was completely my performance," Mayfield said of the reason for his frustration after the game. "... I said there was no excuse when it came to the COVID stuff. We had exactly what we needed to win, and I addressed it then. I said I let the team down, and I’m not going to change that now."
Browns fans won't soon forget "the COVID stuff." The Steelers defeating the Colts 28-24 on Sunday opened the door for the short-handed Browns to secure a playoff spot with a victory over the Jets, but it didn't happen.
On the eve of the game, the Browns had their top four wide receivers placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list as close contacts of starting linebacker B.J. Goodson, who tested positive for the virus. They were also without two starting offensive linemen, left tackle Jedrick Wills (illness) and right guard Wyatt Teller (ankle), against the Jets (2-13).
Mayfield went 28-of-53 passing (52.8%) for 285 yards without a touchdown or an interception. He posted a rating of 68.5. He took four sacks.
But the most glaring problem was Mayfield fumbled three times, losing two on strip-sacks. The other fumble occurred on a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak and resulted in the game-clinching turnover on downs with 1:18 left to play.
“You take each one of those plays and you talk about what technique you can use — two hands on the ball in the pocket, tucking it away and all of those things," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "You constantly harp on that and then you have to practice it, and you have to make sure that you're practicing it so it becomes just rote memory."
The Steelers pummeled Mayfield in Week 6, a 38-7 rout of the Browns on Oct. 18 in Pittsburgh. They sacked him four times. They racked up seven quarterback hits. He threw two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown on his first pass of the game. Stefanski pulled him from the game late in the third quarter to protect him from injury.
"We are a much different team, just based on scheme and the things that we have learned about ourselves as the season has gone on," Mayfield said. "You want to continue to improve, and we have done that gradually as the season has gone on. We have to play our best ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. That's all that matters.”
Yes, the Steelers captured the AFC North title this past weekend and will start backup quarterback Mason Rudolph in Cleveland instead of Ben Roethlisberger, who's 23-2-1 as a starter against the Browns. The Steelers will also reportedly rest starting center Maurkice Pouncey and defensive stars T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward.
Mayfield is still concerned about a defense ranked second in the NFL in fewest points (19.2) and fewest yards (302.3) allowed per game. The Steelers are tied for first in the league with 27 takeaways (18 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries). They have a league-high 52 sacks.
Facing another tough AFC North defense in the Sept. 13 season opener, Mayfield and the Browns lost 38-6 to the Baltimore Ravens. The offense rebounded in a Dec. 14 rematch, but the Browns still suffered a 47-42 setback.
Now Mayfield and Co. will have another chance to get over the hump against a divisional foe. An opportunity to end the NFL's longest active playoff drought is hanging in the balance.
"Winning is a hell of a lot more fun than the situations I've been in in the past," Mayfield said. "Instead of having vacation scheduled, we're focused on taking care of business this week and seeing what happens after that.
"Everybody here has worked so hard for these moments right here and for these games to truly matter. So we just have to seize the moment.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steelers at Browns
Time: 1 p.m. Sunday
TV: CBS (Channel 19)