What went wrong for the Cleveland Browns this season?

There are plenty at fault but a lot of the issues start, and begin, with quarterback Baker Mayfield.

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Cleveland fans are quick to fall in love with athletes easily, especially if they win. When Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield beat the New York Jets in 2018, it was more than just Mayfield getting his first career NFL win. Before that game, the Browns' last win came on December 24, 2016. Since then, Cleveland had a 19-game winless streak, narrowly defeating the then-San Diego Chargers and losing 17 games in a row before that. Due to the moribund history of the team during that stretch, Bud Light put fridges under lock and chain all over downtown Cleveland. If the Browns were to win, the locks would open and there would be free beer for all of Cleveland to win.

When Mayfield came in for an injured Tyrod Taylor and beat the Jets, the fridges were freed and the good times rolled for Browns fans. Due to the final season of Game of Thrones being so anticipated at the time, Cleveland fans started calling Mayfield "The Breaker of Chains" after that win. It was a nickname shared with Daenerys Targaryen, who was one of the most popular characters on the show at the time.

Mayfield got the moniker for breaking the chains off of fridges stocked with beer while Targaryen earned it for freeing numerous men, women and children from the bondage of slavery. Clearly, it's not the same thing but it's still creative on Cleveland's fans' part nevertheless. But, it also kind of made sense since Targaryen was a character many were rooting for the duration of the series due to her growth and progression throughout the adversity she faced. The same could be said for Mayfield as well. What he faced in college already made him endearing to fans before he came to Cleveland. But, when he beat the Jets, he became a hero and a household nickname on the shores of Lake Erie. Seriously. People were naming their newborns and pets Baker because of his heroics from just one game.

I wonder if those same fans regret that now?

Looking at how this season has gone for Mayfield and the Browns, it's funny to think how the comparisons to Game of Thrones don't stop. Both had nearly unlimited potential and commanded the attention of nearly everyone because of it. But, when it was all said and done, both are going to be remembered for how disappointing it was when things finally wrapped up.

Now, I won't spoil how Game of Thrones ended if you've somehow never seen it. But, the Browns, meanwhile, are currently 7-9 heading into their season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals. Many picked Cleveland to win the AFC North for the first time in franchise history this season. Some even picked them to win their first Super Bowl in franchise history as well. It was completely fair to think that too! The Browns were a few plays away from making the AFC Championship last season and seemed primed to establish a dynasty for the next several seasons.

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It's also fair to wonder how Cleveland, like Game of Thrones, ended up crashing and burning in such spectacular fashion. There's bound to be a lot of blame to go around on the shores of Lake Erie but, most of it falls on the shoulders of Mayfield. Sure, one of those shoulders is injured and that, of course, can be taken into consideration when evaluating Mayfield's season. But, it isn't the only reason why Mayfield went from hero to villain in the eyes of Cleveland fans.

Remember how those same fans fell in love with Mayfield so easily? Well, Cleveland fans are a fickle creature with years of trust issues after being burned so many times before. When the Browns started the season 3-1, it wasn't because of Mayfield – it was because of a strong running game and a stout defense. But, when Cleveland had to turn to their signal-caller to carry them home, he crumbled under pressure. Slowly, but surely fans started to turn and give up on Mayfield. After this disastrous loss to Pittsburgh, it seems like he's giving up on Cleveland as well.

"I'm an extremely competitive guy," Mayfield said following Cleveland's loss on Monday Night Football. "Now it's time for me to start looking at what's in the best interest of me and my health." When asked if that meant he was going to play in the team's finale against Cincinnati, Mayfield said, "that will be a discussion I have with my agent and my family." Not with anyone in the Browns organization, mind you but with those closest to him.

Mind you, Mayfield has every right to do that. This also isn't some lizard-brained conspiracy cooked up by Aaron Rodgers during the broadcast to say head coach Kevin Stefanski was intentionally setting Mayfield up for failure that some fans seemed to run with. Again, everyone shares culpability in this lost season but, again, the majority of the blame falls on the injured shoulders of Mayfield. Monday night's loss could very well have been the last time Mayfield wears a Browns uniform. The idea of Mayfield receiving an extension with the organization seems like a joke at this point. Cleveland only owes him $18.5 million next season and teams like the Los Angeles Rams have shown it's easy to get off of that if motivated, no matter how big of a disaster is under center.

Since returning to Cleveland, the Browns have started 33 different quarterbacks. For a while, Mayfield seemed like he would stop this slide and be the franchise's saving grace. Instead, like the ending of Game of Thrones, Mayfield's time in Cleveland has crashed and burned in spectacular fashion. This Hindenburg-esque downfall is something to marvel at if you aren't a Cleveland fan. But, if you are, it's time to put all your hope in quarterback number 34 and next season.

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