Walk the talk: Browns' rookie Mayfield playing at high level
By TOM WITHERS
BEREA, Ohio (AP) Somewhat lost and overlooked amid Baker Mayfield's public spat with former Browns coach Hue Jackson is that the rookie's playing at an elite level.
This quarterback isn't all talk.
Mayfield had a November to remember, completing 74 percent of his passes (65 of 88) while leading the Browns (4-6-1) to two wins and the edge of serious playoff possibilities.
The No. 1 overall pick has thrown nine touchdown passes and just one interception in his past three games while earning a 129.5 rating - second only to New Orleans star Drew Brees.
Nothing fake about those numbers.
Mayfield, who threw a season-high four TD passes last week - is the first rookie in NFL history to record ratings of 140-plus in consecutive games, and his efforts earned him rookie of the month honors.
Rookie of the year may be next.
It's not a coincidence that Mayfield's recent rise came after Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley were fired. With running backs coach Freddie Kitchens taking over for Haley and calling plays, Cleveland's offense has played with a faster tempo, has been more versatile and efficient.
Mayfield is getting rid of the ball much quicker, spreading it around to his playmakers and making better decisions.
It would be easy to surmise Jackson was holding him back, but Mayfield doesn't think that's the case.
"No," Mayfield said. "I mean, obviously the easiest answer would be to look on that and say, `Yeah, I've played a lot better since then.' But that's not it. It's just been about me doing my job and doing it at a high level. So it's not about that. I wouldn't blame that at all."
Still, it's worth considering where the Browns would be if Mayfield had begun the season as the starter and not Tyrod Taylor's backup.
But that's irrelevant now as Mayfield has the Browns winning - they snapped a 25-game road losing streak last week at Cincinnati - and playing in meaningful December games, starting with Sunday's matchup in Houston against the Texans, who have won eight in a row.
With his impressive career start, Mayfield has converted numerous doubters who thought he was either too small or too smug to succeed.
Texans star Deshaun Watson isn't surprised by anything Mayfield has done. Watson and Mayfield are friends, their bond beginning as college rivals and strengthened as offseason workout partners.
Watson has been around Mayfield long enough to see how players, teams and cities gravitate toward the No. 1 overall draft pick.
"I saw that when he was playing at Texas Tech and saw it at Oklahoma," Watson said. "That is what drew me closer to him, want to be around him and get to know him a little better because I can feed off of that energy that he gives off. Everyone wants to play with him. The guy is a playmaker.
"He is playing very well. That is the reason why they are having a lot of success because he is leading that team, he is leading that organization and he is going to have a bright future, a bright career, win a lot of games, win championships and do a lot of things for himself and that organization."
Mayfield might be in his first season, but Kitchens said Cleveland's staff isn't modifying any aspect of the game plan because of his inexperience.
No time for that.
"There is not babying him into anything," Kitchens said. "He is doing a good job. He works hard during the course of the week. He puts time in after hours and before hours. He is doing a good job of staying focused on the task at hand inside of one play, inside of one read, inside of one practice and one game. That is how you continue to progress. It is not overwhelming him or anything like that. It is just continuing his progress on a play-by-play basis."
NOTES: Kitchens joined the chorus of Mayfield supporters who had no problem with the QB objecting to Jackson taking a job with Cincinnati or calling his former coach "fake." day. Haley said Mayfield had every right to speak his mind. "If he said it, that's what he feels," Kitchens said. "And I'm standing behind Baker Mayfield. ... Suddenly it's big news if we don't want to turn it into a Kumbaya after the game and turn it into fist bumps and hugs. I don't think Baker disrespected anybody in what he said. He spoke what he felt."
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Updated November 29, 2018