Baker Mayfield injury woes threaten to derail Cleveland Browns’ Super Bowl aspirations

Vincent Frank

The last two weeks have not been kind to Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns. Their defense blew a 27-13 lead against the Los Angeles Chargers back in Week 5, bringing back memories of less-than-stellar defenses of the past.

Then, in Week 6 against the undefeated Arizona Cardinals, pretty much anything that could go wrong actually went wrong. Star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter with Cleveland down 20-0.

While he did return to action, it was not enough for Cleveland to overcome its recent struggles. The team lost to what seemed to be a vastly superior Cardinals squad at home by the score of 37-14 with the lone highlight being a Mayfield Hail Mary at the end of the second quarter.

Unfortunately, the former No. 1 pick wasn’t able to complete the game after suffering a shoulder injury late in the fourth quarter.

Mayfield, who was replaced by Case Keenum under center, noted after the game that he suffered a dislocated left shoulder. In the process, the young quarterback vowed to play through it. He also seemed to be optimistic about the outlook of the team moving forward on the season.

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“We are 3-3. That is not where we wanted to be right now, but the pure genius of the NFL, we have 11 more games instead of 10 now,” Baker Mayfield said, via the team’s official website. “We have 11 more games to go show who we are, play for each other and get better as each week goes on because nobody makes the playoffs right now. You have to not let up and you have to peak at the right time. We will handle this correctly. We will do that, and I know that because of the guys we have in the locker room. We will get better. That is just a fact.”

Unfortunately, it appears that this injury will linger throughout the remainder of the season. Remember, it also comes after Mayfield suffered a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder back on September 19.

Can the Cleveland Browns overcome Baker Mayfield injury woes?

baker mayfield injury concerns, cleveland browns
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) hangs his head as he walks off the field following a 37-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in an NFL football game at FirstEnergy Stadium, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]Browns 10

There’s a lot more to it than simply indicating that said injury is not to Mayfield’s throwing arm. Playing with that much pain impacts a quarterback, regardless of what arm is the focal point.

While Mayfield confirms that he plans to play Thursday night against the Denver Broncos. It remains to be seen how it will effect playing on a short week.

But this is about more than the quarterback himself. Star running back Nick Chubb missed Sunday’s game against the Cardinals with a calf injury. His replacement, Kareem Hunt, exited the game on a cart due to a calf injury of his own.

In a vacuum, each of these injuries would impact the Browns’ championship aspirations. When added together, the effect will be felt even more.

When Baker Mayfield plays well, the Cleveland Browns are hard to beat

cleveland browns baker mayfield
Sep 26, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) and tight end Austin Hooper (81) and wide receiver Rashard Higgins (82) celebrate a touchdown during the first half against the Chicago Bears at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

This is a major backdrop to it all. Following Cleveland’s Week 4 win over the Minnesota Vikings, the quarterback called himself out for poor play.

“I pride myself on being extremely accurate, and today I don’t know what the hell that was. [The defense played] good enough for us to win when I’m playing quarterback like that,” Mayfield said. “Thankful they played like that. That’s a really good offense [the Vikings have], so for [our defense] to play lights out like that, we’re lucky to have them on our side.”

Mayfield completed a mere 15-of-33 passes for 155 yards without a touchdown or an interception in the 14-7 victory. With that said, it’s been an outlier during his up-and-down short career with Cleveland. In fact, Mayfield’s splits tell us a story of a team that can be dominating when the quarterback plays well.

Baker Mayfield stat splits

  • In wins: 65.9% completion, 6,463 yards, 47 touchdowns, 12 interceptions (105.0 rating)
  • In losses: 59% completion, 6,106 yards, 34 touchdowns, 34 interceptions (76.1 rating)

These numbers are magnified even more since Cleveland became more relevant on the broader NFL stage a season ago. Mayfield threw 22 touchdowns against four interceptions in the Browns’ 11 wins last season. He had four touchdowns and four interceptions in Cleveland’s five losses.

Mayfield might not want to admit it, but his previous injury has impacted his performance. Whether that’s the case with this most-recent ailment remains to be seen.

Cleveland Browns behind the eight-ball

By virtue of Baltimore’s blowout win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 5, Cleveland finds itself two games behind its divisional rivals in the AFC North. It is also tied with the Cincinnati Bengals at 3-3.

The expectation for these Browns heading into the 2021 season was a division title and battling for home-field advantage in the AFC. After losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1 while being mired in a two-game losing streak, we’re not sure that’s remotely possible right now.

It’s no small thing for Baker Mayfield and the Browns. Even if he is 100% healthy heading into a potential playoff push, the quarterback’s splits at home compared to on the road are eye-opening. He boasts a 17-9 career record at home compared to a 10-16 mark on the road.

We’re not ready to rule the Browns out when it comes to the AFC title race. Kansas City has struggled to a 3-3 start to the season. The Buffalo Bills appear to be the elite of the elite. After that, there’s not a lot to write home about in the conference.

It’s now going to be all about Mayfield getting healthy and proving his worth. If that doesn’t happen, a season that started with championship aspirations could very well be derailed in short order.