INGLEWOOD, Calif. — As Baker Mayfield walked off the podium and into the locker room after his postgame news conference, he stopped and turned to a member of the Los Angeles Rams‘ PR staff.
“Where the hell do I go?” Mayfield asked.
Given this was the quarterback’s first time in the SoFi Stadium home locker room, the question wasn’t much of a surprise. Mayfield, a member of the Rams for just two days after being claimed off waivers, had just led them to a thrilling 17-16 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders after entering the fourth quarter trailing by 13 points.
Mayfield came into the game ready to play, but didn’t know he’d be going in until after starting quarterback John Wolford was taken out after the first series.
There was a shortened list of plays Mayfield was studying leading into the game, but it didn’t take long before the Rams “dipped out of that little list and got into some other things,” he said.
The comeback win capped an “emotional” and “hectic” three days for Mayfield.
“I don’t know if you can write it any better than that,” Mayfield said. “Obviously, we’d like to be a little bit more stress-free, but it’s a pretty damn good story, I’ll be honest with you.”
AFTER LANDING ON Tuesday night and making it to the Rams’ facility around 9 p.m., Mayfield got a “crash course” in Sean McVay’s offense.
He leaned on McVay, offensive coordinator Liam Coen, quarterbacks coach/pass game coordinator Zac Robinson, and also quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, Wolford and Bryce Perkins to learn the offense.
“I’ve felt good about his ability to come in and do some of the things that we were asking because I’ve seen him do it previously, but you never know,” McVay said. “… But I think he plays fast. You could see, when he sees things, he can speed it up.
“I was really impressed. I don’t know if I would say surprised, because I’ve always been a fan of the things that he was capable of, but to say that I expected this, certainly exceeded our expectations. But it was a lot of fun watching him go to work tonight.”
Mayfield, who was at the podium wearing a hat that said “not my first rodeo” on the side, laughed when he was asked about it.
“That was my first rodeo doing that,” Mayfield said. “I’ll say that.”
But really, Mayfield leaned on his own experience while learning at least a portion of the Rams’ playbook in the past two days. He noted how many different offensive systems he’s had to learn during his first five NFL seasons: four years in Cleveland and then half a season in Carolina. It all came in handy, Mayfield said, because it allowed him to be able to relate to certain things from McVay’s system.
“Sean’s protection scheme is similar to [Browns offensive line coach] Bill Callahan’s, who I had in Cleveland,” Mayfield said. “So the terminology with that, that knocks out a big chunk of the learning curve.”
Mayfield said his new teammates and coaches “did a great job of helping me out and communicating when I got off the field on the sideline and just talking about the plays that were coming up.” And center Brian Allen was “screaming in my face what the cadence was for that because we didn’t cover it, and Sean’s yelling in my ear as well.”
“There were still definitely some, what looked like rookie errors with formations in motions,” Mayfield admitted. “Obviously, it hurt us late, but it worked out.”
It was during that final two-minute drive that McVay realized something. Trailing 16-10 with no timeouts remaining, the offense had to be careful to clock the ball to make sure they had enough time to go 98 yards down the field.
“Those are parts of Day 1 or your early parts of training camp install that you go through situationally,” McVay said. “On a short week, him coming in, you can only cover so much. So it was impressive. But football’s football. This guy’s a competitor. He’s a gamer. So many great plays by a lot of guys tonight and Baker led the way.”
MAYFIELD’S EFFORTS DIDN’T go unnoticed, even before the Rams rallied late on Thursday night. Wide receiver Ben Skowronek, who led the team with seven catches for 89 yards, including 32- and 22-yard catches on the final drive, described Mayfield as a “damn good football player.”
“Whatever happens from here on out, I’ve got nothing but respect for Baker Mayfield,” Skowronek said. “To have a guy come in like that, work his tail off for 48 hours during the game plan, learn our names … stuff like that. Hats off to him.”
McVay pointed to the details he saw Mayfield writing in his notebook as one reason he was able to quickly get himself up to speed. Mayfield had one practice, McVay said, with two 10-play periods. A typical Friday practice for the Rams, but held on a Wednesday.
“He came in and he worked right away,” wide receiver Van Jefferson said. “He got out on the practice field and was just slinging it.”
Mayfield’s game-winning touchdown pass went to Jefferson, someone he actually was familiar with before becoming his teammate. In fact, he was hoping to be his teammate a lot earlier.
“Van and I go back,” Mayfield said. “I’m not very happy with Van until now. I was trying to get him to come to [play college football at] Oklahoma. He wouldn’t text or call back. He owes me one. And he got me right there.”
Mayfield and his new head coach go way back too. The pair sat next to each other on a Southwest flight to Indianapolis for the NFL combine in 2018. The Rams weren’t in the quarterback market that year, as they were coming off a Super Bowl loss with Jared Goff as their quarterback, but when McVay saw the future No. 1 pick sitting on the flight, he couldn’t resist joining him.
“I think I ended up seeing him right there and I said, ‘I’m going to prevent you from having to talk to somebody,'” McVay said. “… I had about 30 minutes where I kind of let him have his quiet time and then said, ‘All right, let’s talk some ball man.'”
McVay left a good impression.
“That guy loves football,” Mayfield said. “I mean, he’s ball, ball, ball, all the time. And you can tell he’s so much of a relationship guy too. … We just got to know each other a little bit and just philosophy-wise and on a personal level as well.”
Thankfully, McVay and Mayfield have a little more time to workshop the Rams’ playbook.
Between the Thursday night game in Week 14 and a Monday night game in Week 15, Mayfield now has 11 days to continue to learn before the Rams go to Green Bay to play the Packers.
That time will give the Rams an ability to “give him the totality of some of the different things that we can utilize with his skill set and the 10 players playing around him,” McVay said. “So it’ll be fun.”
And though it was a whirlwind for Mayfield, his Rams teammates are looking forward to seeing what comes next.
“I’m excited to go to war with him,” Skowronek said. “I’ll go to war with him any day. He’s the type of competitor that you want to play with.”