BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Baker Mayfield went from scowling at Hue Jackson to glaring at critics.
Three days after he tried to embarrass his former coach with a prolonged stare down in the closing minutes of Cleveland’s win over Cincinnati, Mayfield owned up to his actions and then said he doesn’t regret them.
“I don’t get why people have a problem with football being a competitive sport,” Mayfield said Wednesday as the Browns (7-7-1) prepared for their season finale in Baltimore. “You’re supposed to play with emotion. You’re supposed to play with passion. Quite honestly, if you don’t like it, whatever. Football is not meant to be a soft game. I could care less.”
With the Browns clinging to an eight-point lead Sunday, Mayfield connected with tight end David Njoku for a game-sealing 66-yard gain. As he ran past Cincinnati’s sideline, the rookie quarterback looked directly at Jackson, who was fired earlier this season by the Browns. Mayfield then kept his eyes trained on Jackson as he shuffled and backpedaled his way down the field.
Following the game, the No. 1 overall pick, who has guided the Browns to the biggest one-season turnaround in franchise history, said “No idea what you’re talking about” when asked about his antics, which came a few weeks after he gave Jackson the cold shoulder following a game in Cincinnati and called his former coach “fake” on social media.
The glowering gaze — and an earlier crude gesture he performed on the sideline after throwing a touchdown pass — drew criticism that Mayfield simply dismissed.
He’s not going to change his act.
“I’ve said it, I’m not a cookie-cutter quarterback, but everybody is different,” Mayfield said. “Everybody leads a different way. Everybody is competitive in a different way. I’m not trying to be anybody else. I’ve been who I am and that’s gotten me here. I’m going to continue to do that because I try to improve every week. I’m not trying to get anybody’s approval. I’m trying to win football games and do this for as long as I can. That’s the goal.
“And the guys inside this locker room know that. They know I’ll fight for them. They know I’ll take a bullet for them, and to me that’s what matters. I don’t have to make any friends outside this locker room. I’m not trying to do that. Once they’re in there, they know exactly what they’re going to get and that’s what really matters.”
Of course, Mayfield’s on-field behavior is nothing new.
He earned something of a bad-boy reputation while at Oklahoma, where among other things, he grabbed his crotch while taunting Kansas players; tried to plant a Sooners flag in the middle of Ohio State’s field after a win; and got arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct during the offseason in Arkansas.
Mayfield has apologized for those incidents. But as for his behavior as a pro, he said he’s not concerned that he’s pushing things too far.
“That sounds like the exact questions I got before the combine,” said Mayfield, who earlier in the day was voted the team’s Joe Thomas Player of the Year and AFC offensive player of the week. “No. Not one bit.”
There’s no denying what Mayfield has meant to the Browns (7-7-1), who in addition to spoiling the Ravens’ playoff hopes can clinch their first winning season since 2007. He’s 6-6 as a starter, thrown 24 touchdown passes — two shy of the NFL rookie record — and has an entire city believing that pro football is finally back.
Mayfield has almost singlehandedly revived the Browns, who are willing to deal with the consequences of his conduct.
“If he talks a little bit more or has a little bit of swagger to him, that’s what makes him special and we’re going to roll with that,” said guard Joel Bitonio. “If he ever gets a penalty or something, then we can get after him a little bit, but right now he’s our quarterback and that’s what we got to roll with. … It’s something that I’m sure people are going to target him for.
“Hopefully it doesn’t lead to a cheap shot or something like that.”
NOTES: Rookie CB Denzel Ward remains in concussion protocol and could miss Sunday’s finale. … DT Larry Ogunjobi (biceps), C JC Tretter (ankle) and LB Tanner Vallejo (hamstring) also sat out practice. … Bitonio was selected the team’s “Good Guy” award winner for his cooperation with the media for the second year in a row.