On Wednesday, the Browns guard was asked if, despite the losing, there was a good feeling because Baker Mayfield provided a sense of long-lost clarity to the most important position on the team.
“It’s not everything,” Bitonio said, “but it’s everything.”
Which pretty much sums it up.
“You’ve got to have a quarterback to win in the NFL,” Bitonio said.
The Browns have proved that. They have struggled through 30 different starters since 1999 along with 17 seasons of losing records. Since the 2015 season, the Browns have gone 6-50-1.
Selecting Mayfield first overall in the draft was supposed to solve the quarterback issue. So far, things have not been Patrick Mahomes-great, but they have been encouraging.
Mayfield’s Total QBR of 40.2 ranks 28th in the league, but it is the best among rookie starters, as is his passer rating of 81.5. Mayfield’s 10 touchdowns are one fewer than Sam Darnold has, but Mayfield’s seven interceptions are half of Darnold’s -- in the same attempts.
There is plenty of room for improvement -- his passer rating is 29th in the league -- but barring a collapse of epic proportions, Mayfield will go into 2019 secure as the starter.
“We have his back,” interim coach Gregg Williams said. “Now, let’s go. You are a smart enough quarterback, instinctive enough quarterback. We understand that mistakes are going to be made. Do not be afraid of making mistakes. Just cut it loose and play, and make faster and faster decisions.”
From this point, any game Mayfield plays, any snap he takes, any pass he throws should benefit him as he points toward the future. The Browns will try to win while this happens -- “We do not do this to earn a scholarship,” Williams said -- but this season primarily has become about the quarterback’s growth and potential.
“It hasn’t been perfect, you know, but to have him out there with you, there’s always that hope that, ‘Hey, we have a chance to win this game,’” Bitonio said.
Mayfield has never lost four in a row, so the losing is difficult, but that is a hurdle all Browns players have had to learn to clear the past few years. Bitonio sees a quarterback who goes on to the next play whether the previous one was good or bad, a necessity at the position. And Mayfield will keep doing his best to not let it get him down.
“If I was down about it,” he said, “I wouldn't be the man for the job.”
“He’s doing all the things right,” Bitonio said. “Just to see the work he’s put in, the talent that he has and the pieces we can put around him to keep improving with ... there’s no limits on what we can be in the future.
“Now our goal as an offense is to protect this guy and keep improving and letting him play and letting him do his thing. That’s what we’re going to try to do the rest of the year.”