And so, the Cleveland Browns are turning to journeyman backup Case Keenum, whom they signed last year for this very moment.
Yes, the Browns believed Keenum would serve as a terrific mentor for Mayfield. And to be sure, he has to this point. But Cleveland didn’t hand Keenum $10 million guaranteed in a three-year deal merely to be a sounding board. The Browns, general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski included, believed Keenum, when called upon, could win a game or two in a pinch. And with Cleveland’s season of playoff expectations already teetering after consecutive losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals, that’s exactly what Keenum will be asked to do Thursday.
“I feel very ready. I have been ready,” Keenum said Wednesday after being announced as the starter. “You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready, and I’ve been ready since I got here.
“I’m excited. I’m ready.”
Indeed, Keenum has forged his career on always being prepared to play. And that was the case in Minnesota four years ago.
Then, Stefanski was the Vikings quarterbacks coach when another former Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Oklahoma -- this time Sam Bradford -- was the starting quarterback. In Week 2, Bradford attempted to play, but ultimately couldn’t due to a knee injury after warming up. That propelled Keenum into the starting lineup.
Keenum didn’t just keep the Vikings afloat that season; he quarterbacked them all the way to the playoffs, culminating with his “Minneapolis Miracle,” 61-yard touchdown completion to Stefon Diggs as time expired -- a play that catapulted Minnesota to a stunning victory over the New Orleans Saints and into the NFC Championship Game.
“I’m built for this,” said Keenum, who noted that he’s been getting “millions of reps” mentally during practice over the past two seasons, even while Mayfield has gotten them physically. “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 is out there with me, to introducing myself to players while I’m calling a play.”
It’s unclear what the Browns’ quarterback situation will look like after Thursday. According to a league source, Mayfield could return as soon as Cleveland’s next game -- against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 31 -- if the inflammation in his left shoulder subsides.
Either way, the Browns, despite numerous injuries elsewhere -- including their top two running backs, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt -- desperately need a victory if they’re to keep their preseason aspirations of a division title and playoff berth alive. They need Keenum to do what he’s done before. And do what they brought him in to do.
“What better chance to take advantage of an opportunity than on Thursday Night Football?” Keenum, whose backup against the Broncos will be Nick Mullens, said. “I know these opportunities don’t come around very often, to be a starting quarterback in this league.
“So I’m ready to take advantage of it.”