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Browns hope to bounce back from bad game
Baker Mayfield hit a speed bump last Sunday after a month of riding smoothly, and now it's time to see if he can get back on the road for Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration.
The Cleveland Browns' first-year quarterback threw three first-half interceptions in a sobering 29-13 loss to the Houston Texans after throwing only two interceptions total in his previous five games. He gets the chance this Sunday to prove it was just a bad 30 minutes of football when the Browns host the Carolina Panthers at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
"I think he already bounced back in the second half (against the Texans)," left guard Joel Bitonio said. "His mentality, I think he forgot about it by halftime. He's going to be ready this week, and I think he's going to want to improve on his overall performance.
"The great thing about him is he can play the next play, but he will come back and be his biggest critic. He knows he's trying to improve everything and he wants those throws back, and he is going to be ready to get out there and improve those."
Mayfield passed for 351 yards and a touchdown in the second half against the Texans after passing for only 46 yards in the first half. He summed up what he must do when facing the Panthers and in the final three games perfectly.
"We're very eager (for the next game), not just myself," Mayfield said after practice Wednesday. "This group has learned exactly how we have to start the game, how we need to attack, so I think everybody's eager."
Meanwhile, the Panthers have their own problems to solve. They are on a four-game losing streak and on Monday made sweeping changes to their coaching staff. Head coach Ron Rivera has taken over the defensive play-calling from defensive coordinator Eric Washington. Defensive line coach Brady Hoak and assistant secondary/cornerbacks coach Jeff Imamura were fired.
The shakeup probably won't mean a drastic change in the way the Panthers will try to get after Mayfield and the Browns defensively; Rivera isn't going to install a new playbook with a month left in the regular season, but it could be a wake-up call for a defense that has given up 52, 20, 30 and 24 pints in the four-game losing streak.
The Panthers, 6-6, are fighting for a wild-card spot in the NFC. They have a much more realistic opportunity to achieve that goal than the Browns do in the AFC. They are 4-7-1 and must climb over four teams to catch the 7-5 Ravens, who currently hold the second wild-card spot in the AFC. It looks bleak, but they won't stop believing they can do it until they are mathematically eliminated. They practiced hard Wednesday in their first full practice after losing to the Texans.
"It's not an act," interim head coach Gregg Williams said. "I want our guys to come in winning every day, winning every single second of every day and let the chips fall where they may, but do our jobs on winning every day.
"They hit the ground running, nobody being late and everybody being anxious to get back in here. That's the mark of the right kind of people. We will keep on pushing the right kind of people."
SERIES HISTORY: 6th meeting. Panthers lead series, 4-1. The Browns beat Carolina, 24-23, on Nov. 28, 2010, behind 131 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns by Peyton Hillis. John Kasay had a chance to win the game for the Panthers on the final play, but his 42-yard field goal attempt was wide left.