Killing me softly, Baker makes my Brown eyes blue

Killing me softly, Baker makes my Brown eyes blue

Venture to say the majority of us hacks allowed to comment on the NFL have never possessed the athletic prowess or mental mettle to play even one down of organized football. We’ve never taken a snap at any level. Our number has never been called for a hand-off. We’ve left the tackling and all the other bone-jarring contact to others.

Yet during the countless seasons we’ve spent in every kind of stadium press box imaginable, we haven’t just been sitting on our duffs. We’ve been watching, learning, asking questions, listening and making an honest effort to put our best foot forward when making informed judgements.

That doesn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, make us experts. It does, however, give us a degree of insight others might not have. And like the average fan, we do have opinions, which, by the way, are neither right nor wrong. By design opinions can guide us to a better overall understanding.

Can we truly understand what a guy like Baker Mayfield is feeling? Is it possible to put ourselves in his shoes? Certainly, the Cleveland quarterback has been the target of criticism and blame in the wake of the Browns’ loss to Green Bay a week ago. He hasn’t been able to escape the finger-pointing after his four-interception game against the Packers on their home turf.

Everyone proclaimed it was a must-win game. They said the same thing five days earlier when the Browns played the Raiders — and lost. The truth is they were not must-win games at all because Cleveland can still seize the division title and make the playoffs. We’ll know by kickoff Monday night if a path to the postseason still exists.

By the time Mayfield and his teammates take the field against the self-destructing Steelers, we’ll know whether the Browns still control their own destiny or not. If they do, then it’s truly a must-win, survival scenario.

But back to Mayfield, for whom I choose today to voice compassion over disdain. He’s been more fun to watch in commercials than between the white lines but give the man props for giving the team the type of commitment that must be applauded.

Consider that for the 10 days prior to facing the Packers, Mayfield was under COVID protocols and unable to practice. Add in that for most of the 2021 season, he’s stayed on the field despite a series of painful injuries that couldn’t measure up to the size of his heart. Could you play football with your shoulder in a harness, with tender ribs, a trick knee, a flimsy ankle?

Could you undergo repeated COVID tests and then agree to be flown privately to Green Bay to be reunited with your fellow Browns? With no practice in two weeks, could you be thrown like red meat to the league-leading Packers in a do-or-die environment?

Mayfield sought out this challenge, knowing he might have to answer some tough questions once Saturday’s game was over. He pointed no fingers, admitting his play hurt the team. He took ownership of his ruin, understanding accountability was his only acceptable call.

Now the Browns have much bigger calls to ponder. Regardless of the outcome of the 2021 season, management will be forced once again to size up the big picture at the QB position. Is Mayfield the franchise QB of the future? If not Mayfield, then who?

Maybe it’s an unfair comparison, but I see others — most notably, Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow — as the prototypical franchise quarterback. Just look at Burrow’s pinpoint accuracy, at his no-frills demeanor. Look at how a healthy Lamar Jackson can will his team to victory. Look at Justin Herbert of the Chargers, Kyler Murray of the Cardinals, Mac Jones of the Patriots, Daniel Jones of the Giants, Justin Fields of the Bears.

And don’t forget about that Trevor Lawrence fella, who has grown exponentially even though the rancid Jaguars have not.

If there’s doubt about Mayfield’s future in Cleveland, many will say it’s all his own undoing. He is 24th in the NFL with an 86.1 rating and tied for 23rd with only 15 TD passes. He’s gone 0-5 with a chance to win or tie the game in the fourth quarter, throwing interceptions on the final drive twice.

Others will choose to second-guess and rant against head coach Kevin Stefanski, who is blamed for failing to find the right balance and timing of run vs. pass given the resources available.

Maybe an overhaul of the receiving corps is a solution.

Will Mayfield, with all his lovable traits and documented liabilities, be the Browns’ starting QB next season? Or will “At Home with Baker Mayfield” need a different mailbox? With apologies and purely from my “outsider” vantage point, I’ve seen enough of number 6.

Baker makes my Brown eyes blue.