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Baker Mayfield is tough. He’s proved it. But having to prove it repeatedly may be hurting the Browns.

Baker Mayfield
Posted at 7:08 PM, Nov 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-22 10:23:06-05

CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Browns have a motto: “Smart, tough and accountable.” That’s what they preach to their staff and their players. But on Sunday, as the team took on the lowly Detroit Lions at FirstEnergy Stadium, they seemed to be once again focused a little too much on one of those words in particular—toughness.

Since Week 2 when he was trying to make a tackle on an interception, Mayfield has been fighting through injury. The shoulder injury was exacerbated against the Cardinals when he was sacked by defensive end J.J. Watt.

Mayfield is dealing with a torn labrum in his left shoulder and a fractured humerus bone in the same arm. He strapped his arm up into a shoulder harness and later a brace to limit the range of motion to help the tear heal and took the field every game aside from one.

But it's no longer just his shoulder injuries he's fighting through. Mayfield also is dealing with a foot injury and a knee injury that he's playing through.

The knee injury was one that Mayfield thought might be more serious than it ended up being but is still something that causes discomfort despite the scans on his knee ruling out any structural damage.

"Caught the nerve on the outside of my leg, made it go numb, so the outside of my knee is sore and tender but that numbness where you can't feel your leg is pretty scary. Hadn't had that before," Mayfield previously said of the injury.

Those injuries have limited Mayfield in multiple practice sessions and, quite honestly, in some of the Browns games as well, as seen in some of his outings.

Against the Patriots, Mayfield was 11 for 21 with 73 yards, one touchdown and an interception. That game is when he injured his knee, which topped the pile of his other injuries after a game against the Bengals when Mayfield looked to be getting more comfortable as he completed 66% of his passes, notched two touchdowns and 218 yards and posted an 132.6 quarterback rating.

But after the loss to the Patriots and even in the win over the Lions Sunday, the impact of the injuries Mayfield is dealing with reared its ugly head, with Mayfield throwing 15 for 29 with 176 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions and a quarterback rating of a dismal 53.2.

Mayfield limped around the field in pain all afternoon. He looked stiff in between plays. Yes, he scrambled some, but his mobility is forced as he continues displaying his toughness. Backup quarterback Case Keenum was seen on the sideline warming up in the fourth quarter as Mayfield's performance continued to struggle, but he never took over for Mayfield, who took the field without missing a snap after being cleared to keep playing.

“He was cleared to go in there. I think you guys know, he is toughing it out, and he is battling," head coach Kevin Stefanski said after the game.

Mayfield is not having an easy go right now, and he's made that clear when he talks about his injuries.

“This is probably the most beat up I’ve ever been in my career, and it’s not like it’s one particular thing, it’s multiple," Mayfield said on Wednesday before the Lions game.

But how Mayfield is feeling after the win is anyone's guess. Mayfield took his helmet off after the game and walked straight off the field. He didn't celebrate the win with his teammates. He didn't acknowledge fans on his way out. And then he declined to comment at the Browns post-game media availability, leaving the stadium without a word.

The topic of Mayfield's health has become so prominent, it's starting to turn into drama as fans booed the quarterback after an interception and bad pass, and Mayfield's wife Emily shared a fan's post on her Instagram story that read:

"No one better say anything bad about @bakermayfield after this game. I don't think I have seen toughness like this in a while. Maybe the rest of our team should take the hint and get tougher."

After the game, running back Nick Chubb said, “We’re all playing for each other and to see him battling, he’s banged up pretty bad, he’s out there at practice and during the game. It gets us going, we want to win for each other."

None of this is to say that Mayfield is not the guy for the Browns. Sure, it's hard for some to separate these conversations about sitting him with the conversations about an extension decision looming overhead, but the two topics at this point should be seen as mutually exclusive.

The Browns' bye week is just two weeks away, and they may opt to allow Mayfield to battle his injuries out and keep taking the field until the scheduled week of rest. But it might be time for the Browns to hold themselves accountable, be smart and stop relying on Mayfield's toughness—because he's proven he can play through anything. Now it's just a matter of if he should.

Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.

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What Happened Now?

BROWNS 2021 SCHEDULE

Preseason

WEEK 1 · W · Sat 8/14 · 7:00 PM at Jacksonville Jaguars (23-13)
WEEK 2 · W · Sun 8/22 · 1:00 PM vs. New York Giants (17-13)
WEEK 3 · W · Sun 8/29 · 8:00 PM at Atlanta Falcons (19-10)

Regular Season

WEEK 1 · L ·Sun 9/12 · 4:25 PM EST at Kansas City Chiefs (33-29)

WEEK 2 · W · Thu 9/19 · 1:00 PM EST Houston Texans (31-21)

WEEK 3 · W · Sun 9/26 · 1:00 PM EST Chicago Bears (26-6)

WEEK 4 · W · Sun 10/3 · 1:00 PM EST at Minnesota Vikings (14-7)

WEEK 5 · L· Sun 10/10 · 4:05 PM EST at Los Angeles Chargers (47-42)

WEEK 6 · L· Sun 10/17 · 4:05 PM EST Arizona Cardinals (37-14)

WEEK 7 · W · Thu 10/21 · 8:20 PM EST Denver Broncos (17-14)

WEEK 8 · L · Sun 10/31 · 1:00 PM EST Pittsburgh Steelers (15-10)

WEEK 9 · W · Sun 11/7 · 1:00 PM EST at Cincinnati Bengals (41-16)

WEEK 10 · L · Sun 11/14 · 1:00 PM EST at New England Patriots (45-7)

WEEK 11 · W · Sun 11/21 · 1:00 PM EST Detroit Lions (13-10)

WEEK 12 · Sun 11/28 · 8:20 PM EST at Baltimore Ravens (NBC)

WEEK 13 · BYE

WEEK 14 · Mon 12/12 · 1:00 PM EST Baltimore Ravens (CBS)

WEEK 15 · Dec. 18/19 · TBD Las Vegas Raiders (TBD)

WEEK 16 · Sat 12/25 · 4:30 PM at Green Bay Packers (FOX/NFLN/AMZ)

WEEK 17 · Mon 1/3 · 8:15 PM EST at Pittsburgh Steelers (ESPN)

WEEK 18 · Sun 1/9 · 1:00 PM EST Cincinnati Bengals (CBS)