With Baker Mayfield banged up, Browns announce Case Keenum will start Thursday vs. Broncos: 'I'm built for this'
BEREA — Baker Mayfield's streak of 53 consecutive starts with the Browns has come to an end.
Mayfield wanted to continue playing, but the Browns, with input from their starting quarterback and medical personnel, decided he ought to rest his injured left shoulder during a short work week.
With Mayfield banged up, backup quarterback Case Keenum will start for the Browns (3-3) against the Denver Broncos (3-3) on Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns announced Wednesday morning Mayfield had been ruled out and Keenum would enter the starting lineup.
Speaking to Browns beat writers in the afternoon via Zoom, Keenum said he has been ready for the opportunity.
"I’m built for this," Keenum said. "This is what I’ve done my whole career, not knowing if I’m going to start up until game time to not knowing who’s out there with me to introducing myself to players while I’m calling a play type stuff. I’m excited.
"What better chance to take advantage of an opportunity than on 'Thursday Night Football?' I know these opportunities don’t come around very often to be a starting quarterback in this league — only 32 per week. So I’m ready to take advantage of it."
In a season of high hopes and expectations, some Browns players are viewing the prime-time matchup as a must-win game.
“They’re all important, man," Keenum said. "It’s impossible to look big picture right now."
In a prepared statement, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski explained Mayfield did everything in his power to play.
“Case Keenum will be our starter tomorrow night and we have full confidence in him to lead us and do the things necessary to put us in position to win,” Stefanski said. “Baker fought really hard to play, he’s a competitor and obviously wants to be out there but just couldn’t make it on a short week. We know he will continue to do everything in his power to return as quickly as possible.”
After their so-called “mini-bye” this weekend, the Browns will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 31. Mayfield will push to return for Cleveland's first AFC North game of the season on Halloween.
Swelling in injured shoulder interfered with Browns QB Baker Mayfield's comeback attempt in short work week
Mayfield revealed Tuesday he suffered a completely torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder Sept. 19 against the Houston Texans, and the damage became worse Sunday when he crashed to the ground on a sack by J.J. Watt during the third quarter of a 37-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The shoulder dislocated then and again on a non-contact play, Mayfield said Sunday in his postgame news conference.
Mayfield, who has been wearing a harness since the initial injury occurred in Week 2, re-entered the game against the Cardinals and left FirstEnergy Stadium with his left arm in a sling. He practiced Tuesday on a limited basis and insisted he still expected to face the Broncos while acknowledging it might not happen.
“He is a tough, tough, tough, tough dude, and he fought through some serious pain just to practice and just to get going a little bit,” Keenum said. “So I can't speak on the injury and I won't speak because I don't know much about it, but I do know he's tough. It'd take a freight train to keep him out of the game, and I'm assuming that's what it did because that dude plays through some serious pain. It's impressive to be around. It's inspiring.”
Mayfield still has swelling in the shoulder and needs it to subside before he can strengthen the area, a person familiar with the situation told the Beacon Journal on Wednesday. Mayfield is still not expected to undergo surgery during the season, the source said.
“From Week 2, [the left labrum] was actually completely torn," Mayfield said Tuesday. "There was other stuff that was frayed within. So it's just one of those things. With shoulder injuries like that, you try and stabilize. You strengthen the muscles and ligaments around it to where you feel that stability and it doesn't have the likelihood of popping out nearly as much, so that's where I'm at right now.
"On a fall like the game Sunday [against the Cardinals], I mean, anybody's shoulder probably would have popped out how I feel, so it just was kind of a freak deal."
Mayfield, 26, underwent an MRI on Monday. He sought a second medical opinion, with a specialist viewing the images Tuesday. The specialist and the Browns doctors advised against Mayfield playing this week, a source confirmed.
Since the Browns drafted Mayfield first overall in 2018, he has compiled a starting record of 27-26, including 1-1 in the playoffs. He has fought through several injuries in the past, including a cracked rib last season, when the Browns went 11-5, advanced to the postseason for the first time since 2002 and captured their first playoff victory since Jan. 1, 1995.
Mayfield's 53 consecutive starts account for the second-longest streak ever by a Browns quarterback. Brian Sipe started 71 games in a row from 1978-82.
With an unresolved long-term contractual situation serving as the backdrop, Mayfield has been uneven this season. He has completed 67.1% of his passes for 1,474 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions for a rating of 97.8. He has rushed 20 times for 75 yards (3.8 average) and a touchdown, taken 18 sacks and lost two fumbles — both in his three-turnover outing versus the Cardinals (6-0).
Browns QB Case Keenum will reunite with Denver Broncos, who traded him
A 10-year NFL veteran, Keenum has a career starting record of 28-36, including 1-1 in the postseason. He signed a three-year, $18 million contract with the Browns in March 2020 and is on the verge of making his first start as a member of the team, but not his first start with Stefanski.
When Stefanski was the quarterbacks coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, Keenum had his best season, going 11-3 as a starter and 1-1 in the playoffs. Keenum completed a career-best 67% of his passes for 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns with seven interceptions for a rating of 98.3. The Vikings' run ended when they lost in the NFC Championship Game.
Keenum, 33, has a history with the Broncos. He signed with them in 2018, when he started all 16 games, going 6-10 and completing 62.3% of his passes for 3,890 yards and 18 touchdowns with 15 interceptions for rating of 81.2.
In March 2019, the Broncos traded Keenum and a seventh-round draft pick to the Washington Football Team for a sixth-round selection.
Keenum isn't billing this as a revenge game, though.
“No, I mean, it's nice to see some old friends, but I've got nothing but good feelings for my time at the Denver Broncos,” he said. “So it's just another opponent, and a really good one at that."
Keenum's most recent start came with Washington on Dec. 29, 2019. He went 1-7 as a starter for Washington, completing 64.8% of his passes for 1,707 yards and 11 touchdowns with five interceptions for a rating of 91.3.
With Mayfield ruled out for Thursday, the Browns will elevate quarterback Nick Mullens from their practice squad to serve as Keenum's backup. Mullens played for the San Francisco 49ers from 2018-20 and went 5-11 as a starter. The Browns signed him on Sept. 1 after he had been cut by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Browns QB Case Keenum is well aware of former Broncos teammate Von Miller's comments
The Browns have been decimated by injuries on offense. Star running backs Nick Chubb (calf) and Kareem Hunt (calf, on injured reserve) won't play. It's uncertain whether starting tackles Jedrick Wills Jr. (ankle) and Jack Conklin (knee) and wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (shoulder) and Jarvis Landry (knee, on IR) will be available Thursday.
"We've got a tough team from top to bottom, tough head coach and we’re raring to go," Keenum said.
Cleveland Browns injury report:Odell Beckham Jr., Jack Conklin, Jedrick Wills Jr. questionable to face Broncos
None of the injuries to key Browns players will make Keenum's job easier, though, especially with eight-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Von Miller laughing as he vowed to "kill" whoever plays offensive tackle for the Browns. Blake Hance started the past two games for Wills, and rookie fourth-round draft pick James Hudson III started in place of All-Pro Conklin on Sunday.
“I saw Von’s media deal the other day," Keenum said. "I tried to text him. I think we came to an agreement that he’s just going to go out there and not rush the quarterback. I think he’s going to take a knee every time he gets on third down, so I think we’ll be good.
“No, I’m just kidding. He didn’t say that. I think he changed his number. I tried to text him. He’s a tough guy to block in run or pass. So we’re going to know where he's at all times. There’s no doubt about that.”
Keenum's plan is sound because the Browns have enough injury problems without Miller destroying anyone.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.