Freddie Kitchens defends leaving Baker Mayfield exposed for late hit in blowout win

Late in the Cleveland Browns’ 23-3 win over the New York Jets on Monday, head coach Freddie Kitchens faced the winner’s dilemma on how best to run out the clock during a blowout.

He chose to remain aggressive. With the Browns facing 3rd-and-8 coming out of the two-minute warning, he had quarterback Baker Mayfield line up in shotgun for a pass play at New York’s 33-yard line.

Mayfield takes scary hit late in game

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Mayfield took the snap and quickly found himself surrounded by Jets defenders. He was hit high and low, with his knees tangled up in a pile of defenders and offensive linemen before he was dragged to the ground for a sack.

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Mayfield quickly got up from the play with no issue.

His Jets counterpart Trevor Siemian couldn’t say the same earlier in the game after a hit from Browns pass rusher Miles Garrett resulted in a season-ending ankle injury.

Mayfield is fortunate he didn’t meet a similar fate.

Freddie Kitchens explained his reasoning for exposing Baker Mayfield to injury risk in meaningless game time. (Reuters)
Freddie Kitchens explained his reasoning for exposing Baker Mayfield to injury risk in meaningless game time. (Reuters)

Why did Kitchens leave Mayfield exposed?

The decision by Kitchens to keep Mayfield in the game in vulnerable pass situations led to the Browns head coach answering questions on Tuesday.

Kitchens, a rookie head coach apparently intent on proving his old-school, grind-it-out bonafides, told reporters that he never considered taking his prized quarterback out of the game.

“No. He’s our quarterback,’’ Kitchens said, via Cleveland.com. “I wanted to make that last third down. Not to say that (backup) Garrett (Gilbert) couldn’t, but I wanted Baker to do it.’’

‘We’re going to finish the game’

He chalked the call up to a philosophy of pushing through until the clock reads zero.

“We’re going to finish the game,’’ Kitchens said. “That’s what we preach is finish the game, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We were trying to get a first down.”

There’s something to be said for not wanting to give the ball up in those moments and putting defenders at risk if the opposition decides to put its foot on the gas.

There’s also something to be said about not risking the health of the franchise quarterback in a zero-leverage situation. It’s the exact time for Gilbert to be in the game, whether the call is to run or pass.

If the opposition is intent on stopping the clock and getting the ball back, then so be it. You control what you can control in the name of player safety in meaningless game situations.

But make no mistake. Player safety is the No. 1 priority in these moments.

Kitchens blames Mayfield

Kitchens had the temerity to place the burden of that safety on Mayfield, suggesting that he should have protected himself better on the play.

“In that situation, you’re either going to hand the ball off and get hit in the backfield three or four yards or you take advantage of what they’re giving you,’’ Kitchens continued. “When they cover it, you just protect yourself. I don’t need (Mayfield) out there taking unnecessary shots.”

If Kitchens is worried about Mayfield taking unnecessary shots, he shouldn’t expose him in the first place.

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