First the Mannings shake their heads, then Baker Mayfield disappears from the conversation

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The season of pain wound to Monday night on the Monongahela.

Peyton Manning's voice creeped into Baker Mayfield's bad dream.

"The batted balls are not as bad as the interceptions," Manning said while the Browns staggered to a 26-14 defeat at Pittsburgh.

Mayfield, who couldn't have been more pestered by bats had the game been in a cave, was walking off the field after an interception.

It was closing night for the Manning brothers in their new Monday night schtick on ESPN2.

All night long, Peyton and Eli treated Big Ben like their little brother.

"Ben (Roethlisberger) is the best all-time at pumping one way, pumping the other way, then throwing a completion while taking a hit," Peyton said.

And later: "Ben throws that little slant as well as anybody all-time."

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes against the Cleveland Browns during the first half an NFL football game, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) passes against the Cleveland Browns during the first half an NFL football game, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The brothers tried to be nice to Mayfield.

"That-a baby!" one of them said after a completion to Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) scrambles as he plays against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half an NFL football game, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) scrambles as he plays against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half an NFL football game, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

It was hard to be nice while Mayfield threw 10 consecutive incompletions.

After one, Peyton shook his head and looked annoyed while Eli said, "Baker was obviously a little off."

Later, Peyton got more annoyed, saying, "You CAN'T take that sack on third down."

"I'm not sure what Baker saw there, Peyton," Eli said.

Flash back a year. The 2020 season was down to its last episodes.

Mayfield, if one were to imagine him in the Marvel universe, was Hawkeye.

The physically underwhelming Mayfield, like Hawkeye, didn't really have a superpower.

Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85), left, celebrates with quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after making a touchdown catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half an NFL football game, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku (85), left, celebrates with quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after making a touchdown catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half an NFL football game, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

But, Hawkeye-like, he was turning into an Avenger. He was getting it done in an impossible snakepit.

The game was in Pittsburgh last Jan. 10. It was Cleveland's first playoff game in 18 years.

Everyone remembers the luck, the early snap over Roethlisberger's head.

Remember how good Mayfield looked while the Browns fast broke to a 35-7 lead? No. 6 shot bull's-eyes all over Pennsylvania.

He dispatched on-the-money balls to Austin Hooper and Nick Chubb, to Jarvis Landry and Hollywood Higgins, to Donovan Peoples-Jones and Kareem Hunt. He didn't take a sack. He didn't throw an interception.

Big Ben awoke in time to realize he wasn't catching a Browns team on its way to 48 points.

It was the Browns' best game in 30 years.

Mayfield is never going to be Patrick Mahomes. But maybe he was breaking toward the top 10 at his position, with top-five potential.

The world turned when Mayfield's left shoulder got converted to hamburger in the second week of 2021.

He finally was held out of a game, in Week 7. Another rest a week later at Pittsburgh would have amounted to better late than never.

But he played. The offense was awful. He was terrible. Pittsburgh won 15-10. The Browns fell to 4-5. The season was never the same.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6), right, talks with head coach Kevin Stefanski on the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6), right, talks with head coach Kevin Stefanski on the sideline in the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

Mismanaged and misfiring, Mayfield has been a bottom-10 quarterback for most of 2020. Gardner Minshew's passer rating is higher. Daniel Jones' completion percentage is better. Mayfield has thrown the same number of interception as Zach Wilson. He trails Trevor Lawrence in passing first downs.

Add an ouch with no name: He took nine sacks Monday.

With a loss at Cincinnati, Mayfield's record as the starter would be 6-10, back to where it was in the year that got Freddie Kitchens fired.

That's two foul turkeys sandwiched around an 11-5 treat.

Mayfield's play during the push to the 2020 playoffs had people imagining him as "enough quarterback" for the Browns to roll in 2021.

USA Today projected the top two teams as Tom Brady's at 14-3 and Mayfield's at 13-4.

The annual Athlon magazine said of Cleveland, "All the pieces are in place ... the hype is real."

One recalled these things. And then one glanced back to the field where the Monday night game unfolded.

Another Mayfield pass got batted, followed by another sack.

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) sacks Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) during the first half an NFL football game, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt (90) sacks Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) during the first half an NFL football game, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The 2022 Browns aren't going anywhere with the mangled Mayfield who has grimaced through 2021.

They need an improved and healthy version of the former No. 1 pick who turned heads in 2020.

Can he be that? How would anyone know?

The moment the year was lost was the first game against Pittsburgh. Mayfield shouldn't have played.

An unsatisfactory version of him has played out the season. Team-wide injuries have been brutal. COVID has been toxic. Kevin Stefanski's game-day style went timid.

Midway through second half, Peyton Manning called out Stefanski.

"Can we get Nick Chubb in the game?" he said in a huff.

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) breaks a run away from Pittsburgh Steelers safety Miles Killebrew (28) during the second half an NFL football game, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb (24) breaks a run away from Pittsburgh Steelers safety Miles Killebrew (28) during the second half an NFL football game, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Aaron Rodgers joined the Mannings in the fourth quarter. None of them seemed to be watching the game they were analyzing.

At the end they wished Roethlisberger happy trails.

Mayfield disappeared from the conversation, a quiet twist to his months-long nightmare.

Reach Steve at steve.doerschuk@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @sdoerschukREP

This article originally appeared on The Repository: Browns QB Baker Mayfield ill used by coach Kevin Stefanski

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting