The Cleveland Browns pulled a tire-screeching U-turn, going from laughingstock to hyped Super Bowl contender in an offseason.
The unique flip has players going from digging themselves out from the avalanche of refuse, to contending with the pressure of expectations that seem to rise with each week. There was no middle ground in Cleveland.
In an interview with Complex Sports, quarterback Baker Mayfield said the Browns will deal with the expectations the same as they did last year.
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"I’d say the chatter doesn’t matter," Mayfield said. "The expectations for us within the locker room last year were higher than what we accomplished. Outside the locker room, people threw us in the trash before the season. They didn’t expect much out of us just because, the year before that, [the] Browns were 0-16. So, you know, you can only go up from there. And I think now we need to have the same mentality. It stays within that locker room."
Mayfield said the growing expectations don’t add any on-field pressure but stem from those in the media who want to see him, and the Browns, lose.
"You’ve got to believe in it and take it one week at a time. Because I wouldn’t say that everybody wants to beat us," he said. "I think in the media and everything that comes with the hype around our team right now, people want to see us lose, just because the hype is so real. But we’ve got to go out there and take it one week at a time. We’re trying to win every week."
Mayfield added: "It went from having excitement over Bud Light coolers being opened to now people waiting to see us lose so they can say, ‘Oh, they got too hyped up.’ That’s why you’ve got to have an even-keel mindset when it comes to that stuff.”
Mayfield playing the ‘us against the world card’ came out earlier than expected.
Sure, a few aging critics who have consciously picked a fight with the quarterback because it’s good for ratings might be rooting for the Browns to fail. Perhaps those in Baltimore or Pittsburgh hope to keep Cleveland under its thumb. The majority of people outside those realms, including in the media, aren’t in that boat. Anyone who knows someone who is a Cleveland football fan wants the Browns to succeed. A person from a city whose sports team has been dreadful for decades wants the Browns to be good, if only because it might open the possibility that it could be their team turning it around one day. NFL Network was at Browns’ camp seemingly every other day during Inside Training Camp Live with nothing but glowing praise for Mayfield, Myles Garrett and others — signaling that Cleveland being good is good for business.
Athletes need to steel themselves against the vocal minority, which leads to comments like Mayfield’s — I get that — but most people aren’t rooting for the Browns to fail. A drastic turnaround behind a rising star QB, a WR traded away by his former high-profile team, a first-time coach, a defense that on any other squad would be the hyped band, would be a story for the decade. People love good stories.
A few might caution that the hype could spiral out of control, but right now they are the minority.
If Mayfield chooses to focus on the few to provide some type of motivation, that’s his prerogative. The rest of us can block out the noise and enjoy the coming show.
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