After the sport was over final month, after one other assembly had ended with one other loss, Baker Mayfield hung again, loitering across the 30-yard line inside M&T Bank Stadium to meet up with the previous buddy in enemy colours.
Lamar Jackson was busy with a postgame interview. He had not performed effectively, throwing a career-high 4 interceptions, however his Ravens had overwhelmed Mayfield’s Browns, 16-10, in a prime-time Week 12 recreation. They had been nonetheless atop the AFC North, nonetheless trying down on a Cleveland workforce that was operating out of time for a turnaround.
As Jackson’s interview carried on for over a minute and a half, Mayfield waited patiently. He’d put up with a lot worse this season. Seeing a Ravens official usher Jackson on from his “Sunday Night Football” hit to his subsequent obligation, Mayfield, helmet off, stepped into view.
“L.J.!” Mayfield shouted at Jackson. “Hey, what’s up?” Jackson mentioned as they embraced. For about 15 seconds, they made small discuss. Mayfield known as Jackson a “baller.” Jackson requested Mayfield how his brother was doing. Mayfield requested Jackson how his mom was doing. They mentioned they’d keep in contact.
“He’s a good guy,” Jackson mentioned final week of Mayfield, whom he bought to know via their shared historical past as Heisman Trophy winners. “A great guy off the field as well. But when we’re playing against each other, we’re trying to win. We’re trying to win at the end of the day.”
And that’s what may make the Ravens’ recreation Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium the final installment of a rivalry that after appeared destined to endure — or no less than the start of the top.
In Baltimore, Jackson’s future appears safe. Ravens (8-4) officers have mentioned they’re assured they’ll signal the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player to a long-term extension, although Jackson’s nontraditional illustration and disappointing 2021 may change the framework of his deal.
In Cleveland (6-6), Mayfield may be taking part in for his job. Like Jackson, he’s signed via 2022. Unlike with Jackson, workforce officers haven’t dedicated to conserving him beneath contract past then. Browns normal supervisor Andrew Berry declined in July to touch upon Mayfield’s contract scenario. Last week, Berry was noncommittal when requested whether or not he noticed Mayfield, who ranks twenty sixth within the NFL in QBR, because the workforce’s quarterback of the long run.
“I think with Baker, especially from a long-term perspective, you really try and take a big-picture approach,” Berry instructed Cleveland reporters. “Really, with any player, it is about body of work, really, over several years and also taking into context the environment or particular individual’s situation. We have seen Baker play a lot of good football here. We have seen Baker play good football this season. I know he is excited and we are excited for the opportunity ahead of us. We expect him to play his best football moving forward over the next five weeks.”
When Jackson and Mayfield first met as starters three years in the past, it was not laborious to think about their battles shaping the AFC North’s subsequent decade in the way in which that Matt Ryan and Drew Brees’ shootouts outlined the NFC South within the 2010s.
In 2018, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing with a career-high 5,129 yards. He was additionally 36 years previous; the next season, he’d want season-ending surgical procedure to reattach three torn flexor tendons in his proper elbow. Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s 2018 season resulted in late November after he tore ligaments in his thumb; he’d final only one extra 12 months in Cincinnati earlier than heading to Dallas.
In Baltimore and Cleveland, nonetheless, there was the promise of youth. After taking on as starter for the injured Joe Flacco, Jackson entered the Ravens’ 2018 regular-season finale towards Cleveland with 5 wins in six begins. Mayfield, a front-runner for NFL Rookie of the Year honors, was on his technique to 27 landing passes, then a league document for a first-year quarterback. The Browns had been 7-7-1 as they headed to Baltimore, their most wins in 4 years.
The rookies’ first matchup performed out like a prizefight. In a 26-24 Ravens win that clinched the franchise’s first division title since 2012, Jackson handed for 179 yards, ran for 2 scores and helped energy a 296-yard speeding assault. Mayfield went 23-for-42 for 376 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, the final of them approaching the sting of field-goal vary with simply 66 seconds remaining.
“I’m usually not impressed with rookies, but you saw two rookies out there today that showed this is their league,” Ravens outdoors linebacker Terrell Suggs mentioned after the sport. “Everybody knows the history of football in Cleveland, and that guy [Mayfield] is going to be something for years to come.”
The subsequent two years put the first-round picks on totally different paths. Jackson, the fifth quarterback taken in 2018, was a unanimous MVP choice in 2019 after main the NFL in passing touchdowns and breaking the single-season document for speeding yards by a quarterback. At the top of an up-and-down 2020, after two years of postseason disappointment, he received his first playoff recreation earlier than being knocked out of a divisional-round loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Mayfield, the No. 1 total choose, wanted time to degree up. His accuracy plummeted beneath 60% in 2019, solely to bounce again in 2020, helped by a dominant offensive line and play-action-heavy scheme. Back within the playoffs, Cleveland beat the division champion Steelers for its first playoff victory since 1994 — earlier than Mayfield was even born.
Success towards Jackson’s Ravens, nonetheless, has been elusive. Mayfield is 1-5 within the matchup as a starter, the lone win coming in a 40-25 street blowout in September 2019. After that got here two no-shows in commanding Ravens victories and two crushing prime-time losses. Their “Monday Night Football” traditional final season, a 47-42 Ravens win in Cleveland, was named the sport of the 12 months by the NFL Network.
“Throughout these years, it’s been fun,” tight finish Mark Andrews mentioned Thursday of competing towards Mayfield, an in depth buddy and former Oklahoma teammate. “To be able to play with him in college was a joy for me. But at the end of the day, he’s a competitive person, and I am, too. So it’s all about those bragging rights.”
Mayfield’s fourth 12 months in Cleveland, perhaps probably the most hyped in franchise historical past, has been about as nice because the sad-sack seasons the Browns wish to overlook. In September, he partially tore the labrum in his left (nonthrowing) shoulder. A month later, he reinjured it. In November, he damage his foot and left a blowout loss to the New England Patriots with a knee harm.
“This is probably the most beat-up I’ve ever been in my career,” Mayfield mentioned final month. “It’s not like it’s one particular thing. It’s multiple.”
His ending kick this 12 months may decide what number of AFC North matchups he has left. With Mayfield’s $18.9 million fifth-year choice assured, a return to Cleveland in 2022 is probably going. But his stagnating play and harm historical past have raised questions on whether or not he’s the quarterback to steer a younger, gifted Cleveland roster to playoff success — not solely sooner or later, but additionally this 12 months.
The weak quarterback class in subsequent 12 months’s draft may power Berry to think about options from across the league. Mayfield’s stiffest competitors for the Browns’ job may be veterans at the moment incomes paychecks elsewhere. Jameis Winston and Teddy Bridgewater shall be free brokers. Matt Ryan may very well be. Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins and Drew Lock may all hit the commerce block. Where will Mayfield stand when the carousel stops spinning?
“I do think that Cleveland will bring [Baker] back; I guess there’s always a chance that they don’t,” CBS analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Green mentioned. “I think he’s dealing with a lot of injuries, he’s dealing with a lot of expectations, a lot of personalities in that locker room. There’s a balancing act there, and when you’re not 100% healthy … I just think he’s another guy in this game, like Lamar, who’s trying to do too much.”
With the bye week behind them, Sunday’s recreation may supply a much-needed reset for the Browns and their struggling offense. A win over the Ravens would enhance Cleveland’s playoff odds from 21% to 35%, in accordance with FiveThirtyEight’s projections.
A giant recreation may additionally start to chip away on the narrative surrounding Mayfield, the quarterback who has a lot in frequent with Jackson — besides, maybe, a future within the AFC North.
“Baker is someone that cares deeply about where he is, about that organization and about the players that he’s with,” Andrews mentioned. “Again, like Lamar, he’s a fighter. He does everything he can. I know there may be some discontentment, but I know those fans love him.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker contributed to this text.
Sunday, 1 p.m.
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Line: Browns by 3