The season did not end with a coronation.
In the end, that might prove to not be a terrible thing for Mayfield or the Browns. Get past the disappointment, and angry Browns fans can take solace in one not-so-small truth: Mayfield now has another chip to place on his shoulder.
Add it to the one that said he was too small and couldn’t make it. The one that made him walk on at two colleges and earn his spot. The one that said he would never be the first overall pick. The one that led him to say last week on Sirius XM radio: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
Players and coaches find motivation in all corners and crannies. If this one gives Mayfield more juice, the Browns will simply say, so be it.
The Giants’ Saquon Barkley won the honor both times — and it’s impossible to quibble about him being recognized. Mayfield and Barkley both had historic rookie seasons. Whose was better comes down to the prism through which each player is viewed and the prism through which the game is viewed.
Case in point: In a survey at the Super Bowl conducted by Cleveland.com on Friday, Michael Irvin said he’d have favored Mayfield if Mayfield had played all 16 games like Barkley did. Former Browns coach Hue Jackson and general manager John Dorsey decided early that they were not going to play Mayfield initially, so the quarterback had no say in that. Then he went out and set the rookie record for touchdown passes (27), though he did not start three games.
The prism matters.
What cannot be denied is that Mayfield had a Rookie of the Year-quality season. He did what he has done all his life: Beat the naysayers and deniers.
Mayfield was not supposed to start a game in 2018. That plan changed in Week 3, when Tyrod Taylor was hurt, and Mayfield seized the job like he was holding on to his life savings. Once he had it, he was not giving it up.
He finished with 3,782 yards and a touchdown pass in every one of his starts. More importantly, he turned around a team and has hopes bubbling in Cleveland that the Browns will be playing in January 2020 — from winless in 2017 to the playoffs in 2019.
Visions of Mayfield from his rookie season linger. There was his celebration of touchdowns, racing downfield with arms flailing. There was his pregame “air drumming” to Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight.” There was his wacky confidence and brashness, which spread to teammates. And there was his blunt “bring it on” statement when asked if he could be the one to salvage the Browns’ season.
More than anything, there was his leadership on the field, his ability to read defenses and his arm strength, which accounted for big play after big play. Mayfield made the Browns relevant — no small task for a team coming off one win the previous two seasons.
He has beaten the odds before, and now bigger things await.
Mayfield challenges anyone to doubt him.