It has gotten so bad for Baker Mayfield that the three losses (against two wins), the eight picks (against four touchdowns) and the 16 sacks (with three fumbles) isn’t even the most obvious sign of his currently falling football star.
It’s gotten so bad for Baker Mayfield that Richard Sherman, of all people, can make up some story about how Mayfield didn’t shake hands pregame and wasn’t displaying proper football “etiquette” … and lots of people will run with it because it confirms their pre-existing opinions of Baker Mayfield.
“What’s amazing, and annoying, was him not shaking hands at the beginning,” Sherman told NFL.com. “That’s some college s- – -. It’s ridiculous. We’re all trying to get psyched up, but shaking hands with your opponent – that’s NFL etiquette. And when you pull bush league stuff, that’s disrespectful to the game He hasn’t earned anything in this league.”
And so on.
Mind you, Sherman made up that non-handshake story despite it occurring at midfield of a huge stadium during a national televised game.
They actually shook hands.
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Then, when video predictably emerged that showed Mayfield indeed shaking Sherman’s hand, Sherman just doubled down by declaring on Twitter that it was a “petty shake” and, well, who knows or cares what else.
That’s how bad it has gotten for Baker Mayfield, who five weeks into his second season in the NFL is a long way from standing shirtless between a Rolls Royce and a tiger, hawking underwear.
That was the offseason, which included bold quotes in magazines, short odds on the Super Bowl and lots of television commercials.
This is the reckoning. Sherman calling him unsportsmanlike. Nick Bosa pretending to plant a flag in the field to troll Mayfield for the time he trolled Bosa and Ohio State in college. The offense looking like a general mess, despite the array of weapons that surround him (Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb).
“Some of it has to do with the lack of protection,” coach Freddie Kitchens, the rookie head coach who certainly hasn’t helped much, said Tuesday. “Some of it had to do with a couple of bad throws, a couple of bad decisions. Overall, we had some drops. You can’t do those things and play the quarterback position at an elite level. If you just want the honest answer, you have to have consistency around you, you have to be consistent yourself and none of that happened [in a 31-3 loss to San Francisco].”
As a result, it seems the entire league, plenty of fans and innumerable media are rooting for Mayfield’s comeuppance. Nothing like becoming the NFL’s new heel.
The question is: Where does he go from here?
It isn’t going to be easy.
Mayfield needs to be better. The offense needs to be better. Kitchens needs to be better.
Yet up next is Seattle, an off week and then New England. The Browns could start 2-5 and its imperative for Mayfield that even if that happens, he somehow retains his confidence in himself and his teammates confidence in him to continue to push forward.
The AFC North is still winnable, the schedule eventually gets easier and, well, it’s too early for the wheels to completely fall off. Or it should be.
The risk of taking on all that attention – interviews, commercials and magazine spreads – isn’t so much what it can do to the player. Mayfield may still be working as hard as ever. It’s also what it can do to opponents, who put a bull’s-eye on the young gun who inspires extra motivation, extra spite, extra everything.
“He hasn’t earned anything in this league,” Sherman said. “How many games has he won? He’s acting like he was the MVP last year. If [Patrick] Mahomes did that, it would be one thing. But he would never do that, because he has too much respect for the game.
“And when you see a guy who doesn’t? You humble him every chance you get,” Sherman continued. “Because eventually, he will have respect for the league – or he’ll be out of it.”
Sherman’s claims about the pregame handshake may have been inaccurate, but the emotion behind his interest in destroying Mayfield any way he can is true. And he isn’t the only one feeling it.
“I think different people find motivation from different things,” Kitchens said when asked Tuesday if Mayfield’s personality was firing opponents up. “I think, ultimately, it is what we do on the field, not off the field in that type of setting that matters. Ultimately, we go to the game with the plan, and if we execute the plan, we are usually successful. … It has nothing to do with things off the field like that. It is all about how you play the game.”
Can Mayfield play this game? He was 8-for-22 for 100 yards with two picks, and had four sacks and two fumbles Monday night. It wasn’t all his fault, but in the end the QB is the QB.
He has, thus far this season, regressed in nearly every statistical category from when he was a rookie.
Mayfield is a self-made man. He was a walk-on who started as a true freshman at Texas Tech. After starting anew at Oklahoma he wound up winning the Heisman and going No. 1 overall in the draft.
He led Cleveland to some dramatic late-season victories a year ago and has inspired a forlorn franchise to believe in itself.
Now he has to get better, a lot better, and quickly. Seattle next. New England coming. The NFL world seemingly against him. It’s time for Mayfield to show what he is … the real deal or just another wild story Richard Sherman will tell someday.
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