Good Baker edges out Bad Baker, barely, as Browns take down Texans

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Start with this: the Cleveland Browns won on Sunday. Yes, Cleveland’s a playoff team and projected to remain that way, but Cleveland is still, you know, Cleveland, so we still have to note when the basic boxes get checked.

The Browns beat the Texans, 31-21, a victory that was both expected and a bit unwieldy. Despite the fact that Cleveland was favored by 12.5 — surely one of its largest spreads in the 21st century — the game was tied at 14 at halftime.

The two key moments for the Browns came just before the half. At the 9:54 mark, Baker Mayfield threw an interception right into the arms of Justin Reid. No shame in that, interceptions happen. But as Reid wound his way back up through the Browns, Mayfield made the unfortunate decision to go in hard for a tackle.

He hit his left shoulder hard on Reid, and jammed it again on the ground when Reid shrugged him off like a light jacket. Mayfield struggled to his feet, and his left arm hung limply at his side.

If you’re a Cleveland fan, you’re forgiven if you threw out a few family-unfriendly words at that point. Here, after all these lean years, Cleveland has itself a quality quarterback, and he goes and injures himself? It seemed too cruel for any franchise but Cleveland.

Mayfield headed straight to the locker room and his return was listed as QUESTIONABLE, but he answered that question in a hurry. He returned to the sideline, began warming up, and didn’t end up missing even a snap. Eight game minutes later, he would scramble into the the end zone to even the score at 14, and Houston would never lead again.

Baker Mayfield toughed out a shoulder injury and led the Browns to a Week 2 win. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Baker Mayfield toughed out a shoulder injury and led the Browns to a Week 2 win. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

That right there sums up the challenge the Browns face with Mayfield, who’s due for a big extension very soon. Mayfield, like Lamar Jackson, is playing in the final year of his rookie contract, and before long the Browns are going to have to decide whether to commit a substantial percentage of their future salary cap to him.

Mayfield’s numbers through the air were respectable enough — 19 of 21 for 213 yards, with a touchdown and that interception, for a passer rating of 105.0. That’s enough at the moment for Cleveland to justify signing him to a long-term deal — again, this is Cleveland, which has a less-than-sterling rep for developing quarterbacks.

But what about that injury? Browns coach Kevin Stefanski wouldn’t offer up any info other than that it was an “injury.”

Mayfield was a little more forthcoming, saying the "Kind of popped in and out, but (I"ll) be good. Nothing serious." If that’s the case, if Mayfield somehow dislocated his shoulder and then popped it back in, he’s in the running for toughest dude in the NFL.

He tried to downplay the severity of the injury to his non-throwing shoulder, saying “It’s my left. God gave me two.”

“He’s sore,” Stefanski said, “but he gutted it out.”

Hopes are high in Cleveland for a repeat of last season’s playoff run, and Mayfield is the centerpoint around which all those hopes revolve. He’s proven he has the capability to take the Browns into the postseason, but can he take them deep? He’s efficient — over 80 percent completion rate for the season — but he struggled against the Chiefs last week and didn’t obliterate the Texans this week.

Ahead, the Browns have an NFC North duo of Chicago and Minnesota, both challenging but winnable games. The way Mayfield handles those games will give more of a clue as to whether Cleveland will be ready to lock him up for the long term.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.

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