CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Four minutes after he first walked out of the tunnel Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, Carolina Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield headed toward midfield to greet some of the Browns who molded him.
Senior offensive assistant Kevin Rogers was the first Mayfield spied and hugged, followed by defensive run game coordinator Ben Bloom, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt and running backs coach Stump Mitchell, who got a double clutch.
“Those are the people that I know are in my corner for life, that have seen the work that we all put in together for years,” Mayfield said. “It’s always great to see those guys. Those are the only people that know the ins and outs and everything that goes on within that building, and those are the relationships that really matter.
“The equipment staff and some of those trainers there that I have built friendships for life, that’s always great to see, so I’m thankful for that.”
The coin flip was just as amicable as Mayfield briefly hugged defensive end Myles Garrett along with the other Browns captains — Nick Chubb, Anthony Walker Jr., Charley Hughlett and game captain Ronnie Harrison.
Before and after the Browns’ 26-24 victory over the Panthers, Mayfield revived friendships and savored another chance to be together.
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“It’s always good to see familiar faces. Emotional? No, I wouldn’t get too much into that,” he said. “It was good to see some people. Obviously, disappointed with the way things finished. I would have loved to have bragging rights against those guys, but we didn’t finish, mostly ’cause we didn’t start fast.”
After the Browns won on rookie Cade York’s 58-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining, the spotlight was on Mayfield again.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said they did not speak. That went along with the fact that Mayfield did not make an attempt to talk to anyone from the Cleveland front office during pregame warmups, when General Manager Andrew Berry and assistant GM Glenn Cook were on the field.
Kareem Hunt and Perrion Winfrey, a rookie from Oklahoma, were the first to Mayfield, followed by Garrett, Joel Bitonio, Wyatt Teller, Walker and Van Pelt. Then Mayfield headed to the midfield prayer circle, the majority Panthers players, and David Njoku knelt beside him.
Garrett discussed his rocky relationship with Mayfield in an interview with Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, saying their issues went back to Mayfield’s remarks on national television after Garrett hit the Steelers’ Mason Rudolph over the head with the quarterback’s helmet in 2019.
Asked about approaching Mayfield after the game, Garrett said, “Two competitors. Player to player, man to man.
“I go to most of the guys I was competing against on the field. Maybe I’ll see the offensive linemen, I’ll go see them. The wide receivers, half backs, tight ends. It’s a privilege to be able to step on this field and play against these guys. We’re some of the world’s best athletes and America’s best. I’m just happy to be out here and tell the guys to be grateful for it.”
Asked if he earned more respect for Mayfield after he rallied the Panthers from a 20-7 deficit to take a 24-23 lead with 1:13 left, Garrett said, “No. He didn’t lose my respect. I don’t think I ever had a problem with him as a football player. He was playing injured [in 2021] and that earns a lot of respect in my eyes as well.
“Him being able to lead those kind of drives, I’ve said it before against multiple teams, I just didn’t want to be on the opposite end of that.”
When Mayfield was asked about his post-game exchange with Garrett, Mayfield said, “He just said, ‘Keep going.’”
Garrett revealed a little more about how he felt about Mayfield when discussing defensive end Jadeveon Clowney batting down Mayfield’s pass on the first play of the game. The Browns got at least four of those, two by Clowney.
“I mean, the tone was set with the attitude of some of the guys on the other side,” Garrett said. “We were just ready to go out there and finally put things to bed.”
Asked if he meant things said before the game, Garrett replied, “It had us a bit off the leash.”
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Mayfield insisted he had nothing to do with the “Off The Leash” T-shirt his marketing people designed for the game. Mayfield also gave some of the Browns fuel when Buffalo Bills sideline reporter Cynthia Frelund said during a podcast that Mayfield said, “I’m going to [bleep] them up,” in reference to his former team. Mayfield denied using those words, saying he only agreed with Frelund.
Mayfield completed 16 of 27 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown with four sacks and an interception for an 84.6 rating. He seemed glad the pregame hype was over.
“Everybody made this out to be the Super Bowl, but despite what everybody’s going to make this, there’s 16 more games….” he said.
Mayfield did get the wish he voiced Wednesday, saying he wanted a hug from Nicholas Chubb.
“Nicholas Jamaal Chubb gave me a big hug. It felt good,” Mayfield said. “I would have liked to have been on the other side of that hug, but it’s good to see some of your best friends.”
The feeling was mutual.
“It was cool. It was great to see him,” Chubb said. “Obviously he wasn’t in the best of mood because they didn’t win the game, but [at the] end of the day off the field it’s bigger than this and he’s still one of my best friends.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Panthers Baker Mayfield downplays emotion of Browns reunion