CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Baker Mayfield finds himself in a familiar position — entering a football game seeking revenge.
How he handles it is anyone’s guess.
But at least one teammate said he expects the Carolina Panthers flamboyant quarterback will be “jacked up” on Sunday when he faces his former team, the Cleveland Browns, who traded him after replacing him with Deshaun Watson.
“When Baker is out there, swinging (his arms) with his chest out ... that’s what we want to see — him talking his talk, and walking his walk,” said Carolina wide receiver Rashard Higgins, who spent four years as Mayfield’s teammate in Cleveland.
Added Higgins: “When he’s jacked up, he plays good. So I want to see it from him.”
Chances are, he will.
Mayfield admitted Wednesday he’s looking forward to “smack talking” with his former teammates on Sunday, but again declined to say anything negative about his former team.
“I'm grateful for my time in Cleveland," Mayfield said. “I started my career there and it ended abruptly and unexpectedly, but we're here now and everything happens for a reason. I'm rolling with the punches."
Mayfield has thrived in revenge-type settings during his career.
He got it returning to Texas Tech after transferring from the school to Oklahoma, outdueling Patrick Mahomes for a wild 66-59 victory. He did it again on the road at Ohio State, celebrating a Sooners upset by planting an OU flag at midfield in Columbus — one year after the Buckeyes won in Norman, Oklahoma.
And with the Browns, Mayfield paid back former Cleveland coach Hue Jackson in 2018 with a win against Cincinnati. Jackson had joined the Bengals midseason as an assistant coach and he and Mayfield had a cold exchange following the game. Mayfield stared down the Bengals’ sideline during the contest after a 66-yard TD pass to tight end David Njoku.
“We all know Baker, so I don’t know what to expect,” Browns running back Nick Chubb said looking ahead to Sunday's game in Charlotte.
The Browns are doing their best to downplay this becoming the "Baker Bowl".
They know the fiery QB better than anyone and are very familiar with his on-field antics as well as his reputation as a trash-talker.
While the divisive quarterback left Cleveland on bad terms with the organization and perhaps with a few teammates and coaches, linebacker Anthony Walker said he’s got no hard feelings toward Mayfield.
“I’ve always been cool with Bake,” Walker said. “I actually saw him this offseason when I was in Austin. Always been a great person. So, again, no hard feelings from me.”
What will Walker’s first words be to Mayfield?
“What’s up my guy?” he said.
But the Browns fan base is already fired up.
Last week, Mayfield caused a commotion in Cleveland when he allegedly told a reporter that he was going to “(mess) them up” in the season opener against the Browns. Mayfield denied making the comments, but that story added external fuel to the matchup.
And this week Mayfield’s camp began selling T-shirts depicting the fifth-year QB in a cowboy hat with the words “off the leash,” showing him breaking free of a chain on a dog collar. Mayfield said the T-shirts had “subliminal messages,” but that he didn’t have anything to do with the design.
The Panthers knew what they were getting when they traded a conditional fifth-round pick to the Browns on July 6 to land Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft.
Coach Matt Rhule has repeatedly said he likes Mayfield's fiery personality and wants all of his players to “be themselves.”
Rhule doesn't believe Mayfield's emotions heading into this week will be a distraction — and said if he sees that change before the game he'd have a talk with the quarterback.
But right now he said Mayfield is “locked in” on the game plan.
Higgins said if Mayfield gets overly excited during the game he has no plans to try to settle him down.
“Let him go, let him eat,” Higgins said. “A dog has to eat. Let him do his thing. This is where he gained his confidence building up to the season. It’s going to be fun, man.”
And who knows, perhaps if Carolina wins Mayfield will plant a Panthers flag at midfield.
“Nah,” joked Panthers guard Austin Corbett, “that’s only at away games he does that.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed.
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