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Sep. 5—It is finally here — the first week of the NFL regular season, and for the Browns, that means Baker Mayfield Week has arrived.
The game against the Carolina Panthers set for 1 p.m. Sept. 11 at Bank of America Stadium might be the most anticipated season opener for the Browns since the first of the expansion era. That game, played on Sept 12, 1999, ended with the Steelers embarrassing the Browns, 43-0.
Mayfield is starting for the Panthers after four years starting for Cleveland.
The divorce between the Browns and Mayfield did not end amicably. If there was any doubt about that, Mayfield settled the matter with a T-shirt he is peddling in the buildup to kickoff in Charlotte, N.C.
It's Baker Mayfield week. Who has the advantage? #Browns #Panthers pic.twitter.com/0x024ubWbM
— Jeff Schudel (@jsproinsider) September 5, 2022
"Baker Mayfield" is written in red capital letters at the top of the white T-shirt, and below his name, in bigger, black capital letters are the words, bordered by quotation marks, "Off the Leash," seemingly a direct reference to the Browns' Dawg Pound theme and Mayfield no longer being tethered to Kevin Stefanski's coaching schemes. A spiked dog collar (no dog) attached to a broken chain, is also pictured along with a smiling Mayfield wearing a cowboy hat with his "6" on the front.
The words "One Day Only" in the colors of the Panthers are in the lower right hand corner of the shirt's front. "Live and in Person" on top of a football with "Carolina vs. Cleveland" below the football is in the top right corner of the shirt make.
The entire message makes it very clear Mayfield is determined to show his former employers they misjudged his playing ability when they decided to pursue Deshaun Watson and cast Mayfield aside like a pair of worn sweat socks.
Meanwhile, the Browns at least publicly, are trying to downplay the notion of going against a jilted former teammate out for revenge.
"I feel like we're going to prepare like we always prepare," safety John Johnson said after a light practice Sept. 5. "It's Week 1. Half the teams are going to start with a win, half the teams are going to start with a loss. We want to be that team that has a W, so our preparation is not going to change."
Johnson was one of the loudest supporters of Odell Beckham Jr. last season when a feud between Mayfield and Beckham led to the Browns releasing Beckham.
"I wouldn't say we took sides," Johnson said Sept. 5. "We just wanted to see our guys happy, either side. At a point, Baker decided he didn't want to be here anymore or X, Y, Z. He put stuff out there. So I mean, hey, it's a team game, but there's an individual aspect to it. Unfortunately, guys come and go, so we just have to deal with it."
Stefanski, like Johnson, is all business. The question of who has the advantage when Mayfield knows the Browns' defense and the defense knowns Mayfield has no clear answer.
"Baker obviously is a player that we know well," Stefanski said. "He knows us really well, too, in terms of scheme and those type of things. I think our players and our coaches have a real good understanding of his strengths.
"A lot of times, I think it's overrated in terms of they know that we know that they know and those types of things. He's a really good football player, and we have to get to work preparing to play him."
The Browns are off on Sept. 6. The serious preparation for the Panthers begins Sept. 7.