CHARLOTTE — There are so many words. Words that don't mean anything. Words that weren't even said. Words about words that weren't even said. Just a constant, babbling stream of words.
And they all mean approximately the same thing.
If you want to know what this season — which is way bigger than any one game, no matter which game — means to Baker Mayfield, none of the words matter, no matter how hard you listen for cheap motivational material or profound insights.
Don't listen to the words. Look at the actions.
Mayfield was reeling in March, hurt by the wandering eye of his first professional love, not knowing what would come next, or when. He was months from the trade that brought him to the Panthers, weeks from the time it almost happened the first time during the draft.
All he knew was that he was still recovering after surgery on his non-throwing shoulder in January, but that he needed to throw. So he got on the phone, and called the guy he believed could help. Got on the phone, and lined up his old high school field. Got on the phone, and recruited some receivers who had no reason to join him other than it seemed like a righteous cause.
And at that point, there were no words. Just a series of regularly scheduled, and very meaningful actions.
Jeff Christensen had met Baker Mayfield before. But this guy was different.
The Chicago-area passing coach, himself a former NFL quarterback, was referred to Mayfield by his then-Browns teammate Drew Stanton years ago. They talked, they worked together for seven or eight days. It seemed to help, as Mayfield went onto his best season, leading the Browns to a rare playoff win.
The Mayfield that Christensen talked to this offseason was different, and he could tell how much from his first session.
Christensen, who has also worked with Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, was asked how much the events of this offseason changed the way Mayfield approached their fine-tuning of his mechanics.
"Probably beyond, . . . the number is probably too big to talk about," Christensen said. "A physical injury. Severe physical injury. Rehabbing. Going through what he went through with the organization in Cleveland. How he went through it. How the media, at times, piled on him. Every possible reason why you would have self-doubt as a player, and a human being, was put on his doorstep.
"As I worked with him, you got none of that. Not one negative comment about Cleveland or the organization. Not one negative comment about any player he played with in the past. Not one statement about him being in a tough situation and being screwed over. Not one, not nothing. It was just, 'Here's what I'm going to do, I'm going to control what I can control, and I'm going to get great.' That's it."
From where Mayfield was even a few weeks earlier, that was an incredible journey in and of itself.
After his 2020 season, when he led the Browns to their first postseason win since 1994, things went south in a hurry for the former No. 1 overall pick.
The left shoulder injury was painful; playing through it and not playing as well as he had the year before was painful in its own way. And then came this offseason. As the Browns were meeting with quarterback Deshaun Watson on March 15, the precursor for the eventual trade, Mayfield tweeted out (he has since stepped away from social media) that he had "no clue" what was coming next. The next day brought a report that the team was looking for an "adult" at the position — his position. The next day, he asked for a trade. Thinking they weren't going to land Watson, the Browns initially said no. And then the Browns agreed to a new deal and acquired the former Houston quarterback, and Mayfield was effectively without a home.
So he did what he knew how to do.