After days of debating the pluses and minuses of Baker Mayfield’s “swagger,” the most absurd NFL controversy of 2019 — Dap Gate — mercifully ended this week with a whimper.
All it took was Richard Sherman, the man who started all this with a scathing critique of Mayfield’s attitude following their Monday night showdown, admitting that things didn’t quite happen the way he remembered them and he owed Mayfield an apology.
Good for him and Mayfield as both sides are moving on. The NFL was surely glad to see this become a “thing” as opposed to perennial hot-button topics like the national anthem or domestic violence. The only other side effect of Dap Gate, aside from Sherman reclaiming his title as the NFL’s Most Outspoken Defender, was it allowed the Browns to avoid an avalanche of criticism following their 31-3 loss to Sherman’s undefeated San Francisco 49ers, a game in which Cleveland’s much-ballyhooed offense (which now ranks 23rd in total offense) again looked disjointed.
It was a disappointing step back, especially coming one week after an impressive 40-25 road win over Baltimore in which the Browns leaned on the run as stud running back Nick Chubb racked up 165 yards and three touchdowns. It was an identity, one Mayfield said they could work with going forward.
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But against the 49ers, while the Browns ran the ball — Chubb had 16 carries for 87 yards — Mayfield stumbled, completing only eight of 22 passes for 100 yards and two interceptions, while star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was held to only two catches for the second straight week.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for that, starting with the problems up front as Mayfield was sacked four times and hit an absurd eight times. And while there are moments when Mayfield holds the ball too long, there are other times you can’t help but wonder if he’s seeing ghosts in the pocket, which would be understandable due to his leaky line.
Whatever the problem is, the Browns are about one more loss away from attracting the attention of everybody, both nationally and locally, for all the wrong reasons. They did too much talking this offseason to be subpar, and they seem to know it.
“Right now, the season can go either way,” Beckham said. “We are at that fork in the road. It is funny we are all having these conversations where as I feel like in the past this team might have been 1-4, 0-5 and now we are all upset because we are 2-3.”
That’s the downside to having swagger, fellas. People can’t wait to rub your nose in it when you fail to back it up. Remember when the ‘86 Hurricanes lost in the Fiesta Bowl to Penn State? Everybody remembers the fatigues the undefeated and heavily favored Canes wore before losing. Only die-hards remember they came back the next season, ran the table and won the national championship.
This is not a “rub-your-nose-in-it” column. Not in the least bit. If anything, it’s a plea for the Browns to play better.
Mayfield’s outspoken nature is good for the buttoned-up NFL. He’s interesting, and the Browns are interesting, and as someone who makes his living writing about interesting people in pro football, I’m willing to do everything short of needling the Browns like Clubber Lang did Rocky Balboa in the beginning of “Rocky 3” if it gets them to play better.
So hell yes, I bought into the preseason hype on Cleveland, and hell yes, I want it to be real. I even went there in August and learned about the leadership lessons their new coach, Freddie Kitchens, took from Nick Saban and Bill Parcells.
Unfortunately, the one thing Monday’s game proved was that whatever Kitchens took from those two coaching legends, he better start implementing it — and fast. Beckham is right that there’s angst at the moment in Cleveland, a city that has seen so much bad football that it is preconditioned to expect the worst. Perhaps he hasn’t seen anything yet.
The Browns got lucky this past week when Sherman drummed up a harmless controversy that dominated the headlines and stripped attention from their subpar offensive play. If they lose at home to a 4-1 Seattle team on Sunday and drop to 2-4 before the bye week they won’t get lucky again.
“Our sense of urgency is at an all-time high right now,” Mayfield said. “I think we have guys that are locked in. We realize exactly what we need to do. We are going to take this short week and see what we can do on Sunday.”
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