The Cleveland Browns are a mess. Saturday's Christmas day two-point loss to the Green Bay Packers delivered a catastrophic blow to Cleveland's postseason chances. Per Five-Thirty-Eight, the soul-crushing defeat saw the Browns' playoff chances plummet to a grim 11%. A rambunctious and demanding fan base entered 2021 largely expecting a second consecutive postseason berth, but those hopes are now looking likely to go unsatisfied.
Starting quarterback Baker Mayfield was abysmal and largely responsible for the defeat. Mayfield completed 21-of-36 passing attempts for 222 yards, two touchdowns, and four back-breaking interceptions. The fact that Cleveland lost this game to an excellent Packers opponent by just two points despite losing the turnover battle by four really showcases how much of an impact Mayfield's interceptions directly had on its outcome.
It unfortunately accurately represents a larger issue with the 2021 iteration of Mayfield, who has held the Browns back from competing at a more effective and efficient rate. Saturday's loss is on Mayfield, but the problem extends far beyond Cleveland's latest failure.
The former No. 1 overall selection has not taken the desired step forward in his ever-important fourth season. While Mayfield's completion percentage and yards per attempt remain in line with his 2020 performance, his TD-to-INT ratio has suffered greatly. Mayfield has thrown 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2021, which pales in comparison to his totals (26 TDs, 8 INTs) last season. Mayfield has already surpassed last year's interception totals despite playing in three fewer games this season. He's literally giving the ball away frequently and Sunday's four-interception performance brought things to a boiling point.
Mayfield's interception issues seem to be getting worse as the year goes by. He's thrown eight of his 11 interceptions in his last five appearances—while Saturday's four-interception showing may inflate those numbers, he's thrown at least one interception in four of those five showings, including two multi-turnover games within that time frame.
Mayfield is holding Cleveland back this season and it's difficult to figure out why. It likely comes down to a variety of issues. Mayfield has undeniably played through several injuries throughout 2021, including a partially torn labrum and more recently, a right knee contusion. Upper and lower-body injuries have taken their toll on Mayfield while directly impacting his performance. Cleveland's lack of weapons in the passing game may shoulder some of the blame as well, but a late-season resurgence by Odell Beckham Jr. in Los Angeles shifts more of that blame toward Mayfield as opposed to away from him. Beckham Jr. went through a messy breakup with the Browns mid-season and Mayfield's play was at the center of that drama. Since heading to the Rams, Beckham has recorded four touchdowns in six appearances, which is more end zone visits than he secured as a Brown in 2020-21.
Mayfield deserves *some* slack for his 2021 play. It's OK to acknowledge this while also acknowledging his current form is holding the Browns back. Injuries are piling up and Cleveland's season appears destined to reach its end sooner rather than later. It’s a bitter disappointment for a franchise that delivered such long overdue joy to their fans a year ago.
The Browns have already exercised Mayfield's fifth-year option for 2022, but his long-term future in Cleveland is muddier than ever before.