Browns' Baker Mayfield Benched for Case Keenum amid Steelers Blowout

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistOctober 18, 2020

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) calls signals against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Baker Mayfield started Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he won't finish it.

Case Keenum replaced Mayfield at quarterback as the third quarter drew to a close. Rather than signaling a quarterback battle, head coach Kevin Stefanski was probably doing some risk mitigation as Cleveland stared at a 31-7 deficit.

Mayfield was 10-of-18 for 119 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions prior to exiting.

Keenum's involvement did little to initially ignite the offense. He completed four of his first seven passes, but the Browns turned the ball over on downs after his throw to Kareem Hunt on 4th-and-2 was incomplete.

Benching the starting QB amid a blowout—to a division rival, no less—obviously creates bad optics. And the signing of Keenum to a three-year contract was seen as a sort of insurance policy should Mayfield struggle.

Stefanski's decision probably doesn't say anything about the first-year head coach's attitudes toward the third-year passer, though.

The Browns listed Mayfield (chest) on their injury report this week, so he was at less than 100 percent coming in. The Steelers sacked him four times, so it made sense to take him out at a time when a comeback wasn't on the cards.

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Mayfield has not silenced his skeptics in 2020. He was completing 61.2 percent of his passes and averaging 195.2 yards per game through five weeks. Both of those numbers will be going down after his Week 6 performance.

The Steelers shut down Hunt and the ground game, and Mayfield was unable to step up and lead the offense.

Winning cures most ailments, and a 4-1 start for the Browns took some of the pressure off the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner. Should Sunday presage a change in Cleveland's fortunes, a more permanent shift to Keenum could be possible.