The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns squared off at Heinz Field on January 3rd, 2022. It was set to be the final home game of Ben Roethlisberger‘s career. A win over the hated Steelers would eliminate them from playoff contention on top of ruining Roethlisberger’s going away party.
Roethlisberger wasn’t going to go out a loser at Heinz Field, though. He and Najee Harris willed the Steelers to score some points. Enough points to win. But it was the Steelers defense that stole the show, sacking Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield 9 times. NINE TIMES. TJ Watt recorded 4 by himself. Mayfield had been playing hurt all season for the Browns, but their organization continued to trot out their ‘franchise quarterback’ week in and week out while they were losing 7 out of their last 11 games prior to playing the Steelers.
Do you think the Steelers would do that? No, I don’t think so either. Now it’s become a tradition for the NFL to schedule divisional games the final week of the regular season. The NFL’s hope was that by playing divisional games the final week, more teams would have things to play for, and in return there wouldn’t be as many teams resting their starters for the playoffs. But with that usually comes a final regular season game against the Browns for the Steelers.
Hue Jackson, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Rod Chudzinski, and Mike Pettine were each fired following losses to Cleveland’s historic rival. But for the first time, it appears the Browns sacrificed their quarterback to the Steelers by purposely allowing him to get pummeled by All-Pro TJ Watt.
“When you’ve got [NFL defensive player of the year] T.J. Watt over there, and we’re not giving our rookie tackle [James Hudson] a whole lot of help, it’s not going to be good for us,” said Mayfield, who at one point had thrown 10 consecutive incompletions in the 26-14 loss.
Jake Trotter of ESPN wrote a piece this past week detailing what went on behind the scenes in Cleveland as the demise of Mayfield happened gradually throughout the season. In his story, he says that after the Browns 15-10 loss to the Steelers on Halloween weekend, the Browns began to look into replacements for Mayfield.
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“Following a 15-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 31, Mayfield’s season would get even rougher. And behind the scenes, his future in Cleveland would gradually become tenuous as the Browns quietly began exploring a potential replacement.
Hours before the Nov. 2 trade deadline, Beckham’s father posted a video on Instagram highlighting all the times last season Mayfield didn’t throw Beckham’s way, or missed him when he was open. Odell Beckham Sr. trashed Mayfield in the comments as well.”
But after that Monday night loss to the Steelers is where Mayfield started to wonder if the Browns were purposely trying to make him look bad in hopes they’d be able to save face while dumping him.
“According to multiple sources, those close to Mayfield — who to that point had missed one game because of his shoulder injury — wondered at the time if the Browns were trying to make Mayfield look as hapless as possible in prime time, to potentially pave the way for the franchise to more easily explain why it might be moving on from him in the offseason.”
After the Pittsburgh loss, Mayfield told reporters he would be conferring with his family and agent — not the team — about whether he would play in the season finale against Cincinnati.
“I’m an extremely competitive guy,” he said then. “Now it’s time for me to start looking at what’s in the best interest of me and my health.”
Since then, the Browns have continued to do the wrong thing in regards to their quarterback position. They traded for accused sexual predator Deshaun Watson and gave him $230 million guaranteed. NFL owners were reportedly not happy with that decision by the Browns brass. In a last ditch effort to convince Watson to come to Cleveland, they handed out the first ever fully guaranteed contract. Thus taking more money out of NFL owners’ pockets, and into the hands of players.
For all those times the Browns’ fans told Steelers’ fans that their time had come, and that Mayfield ran the AFC North, the fact that Pittsburgh likely was the end of Mayfield should be extremely satisfying.