BEREA — Not only did Baker Mayfield publicly acknowledge for the first time he stared down Hue Jackson while the former Browns coach stood on the sideline of the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, but the rookie quarterback also defended his actions.

"I don’t get why people have a problem with football being a competitive sport," Mayfield said Wednesday as the Browns (7-7-1) prepared for Sunday's season finale on the road against the Baltimore Ravens (9-6). "You’re supposed to play with emotion. You’re supposed to play with passion. Quite honestly, if you don’t like it, whatever. Football is not meant to be a soft game. I could care less."

After Mayfield connected with tight end David Njoku for 66 yards late in the fourth quarter to seal the Browns' 26-18 win over the Bengals in the home finale at FirstEnergy Stadium, the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft stared at Jackson while jogging, shuffling and backpedaling down the field.

Asked about the staredown in his postgame news conference, Mayfield said, "No idea what you’re talking about." He didn't play coy Wednesday, though.

Mayfield has treated Jackson like an enemy ever since Nov. 25, when the Browns defeated the Bengals 35-20 in Cincinnati. The Browns fired Jackson on Oct. 29 after he went 3-36-1 in 2½ seasons with them. He began his third tour with the Bengals on Nov. 13, as a special assistant to coach Marvin Lewis.

Before and after the game at Paul Brown Stadium, Mayfield avoided hugging Jackson and limited him to quick handshakes. Afterward, Mayfield said he didn't feel like talking to Jackson and explained the coach quickly switching sides in the AFC North rivalry rubbed him the wrong way. The next day, Mayfield called Jackson "fake" in an Instagram post and later said he did so because of "things that happened inside the building that I’m not going to get into detail with."

In light of the staredown, Mayfield was asked whether he's worried about pushing things too far because he's the face of the franchise.

"No, not one bit," he replied.

Mayfield denied he made a crude gesture earlier in the game. After he threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Darren Fells to give the Browns a 13-0 lead in the second quarter, Mayfield approached offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens on Cleveland's sideline and made a motion many fans on social media interpreted as the quarterback pretending to expose his privates.

At first, when Mayfield was asked about making an off-color gesture in front of Kitchens, he said he didn't know what the reporter who asked the question was talking about.

"I honestly couldn't tell you. I don't know," he said. "We have a lot of stuff within our locker room, within what we have going on in the offense, a lot of inside jokes. Who knows what it was?"

Told it was interpreted that he pretended to expose himself, Mayfield replied, "Oh, well, I didn't."

Regardless, Mayfield vowed to continue to be himself, even if it ruffles feathers.

"Everybody leads a different way," Mayfield said. "Everybody is competitive in a different way. I’m not trying to be anybody else. I’ve been who I am and that’s gotten me here.

"I’m not trying to get anybody’s approval. I’m trying to win football games and do this for as long as I can. That’s the goal, and the guys inside this locker room know that. They know I’ll fight for them. They know I’ll take a bullet for them.

"I don’t have to make any friends outside this locker room. I’m not trying to do that. Once they’re in there, they know exactly what they’re going to get, and that’s what really matters."

Browns left guard Joel Bitonio said he reins in Mayfield during games when he gets too aggressive while talking to officiating crews but otherwise lets him do his thing.

"If he talks a little bit more or has a little bit of swagger to him, that’s what makes him special, and we’re going to roll with that," Bitonio said. "If he ever gets a penalty or something, then we can get after him a little bit, but right now, he’s our quarterback, and that’s what we got to roll with.

"It’s something that I’m sure people are going to target him for. ... Hopefully, it doesn’t lead to a cheap shot or something like that."

Browns linebacker Joe Schobert acknowledged Mayfield isn't everybody's cup of tea

"If people are upset by that style at times, maybe they wouldn’t like it as much," Schobert said. "But, obviously, as the quarterback of our team, we all love it. We love his competitive fire. He brings a lot of good stuff to the table."

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.