BEREA — As Browns captain Joel Bitonio reflected on the 2018 season Monday, the starting left guard concluded the future of the franchise is bright because it finally found its long-term answer at quarterback.

Baker Mayfield went 6-7 in his 13 starts, broke the NFL single-season rookie record with 27 touchdown passes and finished sixth all time in passing yards by a rookie with 3,725.

"In this era, you need a quarterback to win a Super Bowl, and he is the face of our team. He’s what our team’s going to run on for hopefully the next 10 or 15 years," Bitonio said during locker clean-out a day after the Browns ended the season with a record of 7-8-1 and a 26-24 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

"You’ve got to find that franchise quarterback in this league, and I think we’ve found that. Obviously, he knows he needs to improve on some stuff, and he’s working at that. I already know he’s going to come back better next year. But he’s a guy you want in your corner, and I’m happy he’s here."

Mayfield's 63.8 completion percentage ranked fourth in Browns history. He threw 14 interceptions, took 25 sacks and finished with a passer rating of 93.7.

In the finale against the Ravens' No. 1-ranked defense, Mayfield went 23-of-42 passing for 376 yards and three TDs with three interceptions for a rating of 79.1. With 1:02 left, linebacker C.J. Mosley intercepted a pass from Mayfield on fourth-and-10 from the Ravens' 39-yard line to clinch the AFC North title for Baltimore.

"He's still a rookie," Browns General Manager John Dorsey said of Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft. "There's still a lot of nuances of the National Football League. He threw three interceptions last night. He can still work on those little things, understanding certain things, but he also broke an NFL record [for rookie TD passes] last night as well, so you applaud him for that. You would hope that he can grow exponentially and by year three he is what we all thought he'd be."

Bitonio said Mayfield's "bounce-back mentality" impressed him more than any other trait.

"Even last night, when you throw three picks in a game, usually you don't have a chance to win," Bitonio said. "We obviously didn't win, but we had a chance last night."

Mayfield thrived despite waiting to start until Week 4 and going through training camp without taking first-team snaps.

"When rookies are thrust into certain situations, all of a sudden they begin to show who they really are," Dorsey said. "I think that Baker has done that. I’m the eternal optimist. I believe in those guys in that locker room, and I have high expectations for this team moving forward in ’19."

Who can blame Dorsey for being excited? After all, his top pick made a strong case to become the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year.

"I'm not worried about that," Mayfield said after Sunday's game. "For me, there's a lot of room for improvement, and that's promising for our team going forward."

Self-evaluation

Defensive end Myles Garrett gave his second NFL season a grade of B-minus.

"[Finishing with] 13.5 [sacks] is all right," he said. "I had a couple of [tackles for loss] to go along with it. It's a good year. It was not great. It was not bad. Right there in the middle."

Garrett fell a half sack short of tying the single-season franchise record of 14 sacks set by Reggie Camp in 1984.

"It happens," Garrett said. "I know that I'll take it out eventually, whether it's next season or years down the line. Preferably next year."

Garrett played all 16 games after missing five as a rookie (four with a high-ankle sprain and one with a concussion). He also dealt with a high-ankle sprain during his final season at Texas A&M.

"I knew I could always do it," he said. "Really the injuries have been a surprise for me, knowing that I've been healthy for most of my life and not having any injuries to hold me back. But it was really just kind of showing everybody else this is the usual me, this is what you're going to get and even greater further down the line."

Garrett is a prototypical D-end for a 4-3 scheme. Asked how he would react if the Browns were to switch to a 3-4 system as a result of a coaching change, Garrett said, "I guess I'll just have to go play safety. I mean, I'll play wherever he puts me at."

Notable free agents

Left tackle Greg Robinson and wide receiver Breshad Perriman resurrected their careers in 2018 with the Browns, but they're scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 13.

"Would I like to have them back?" Dorsey said. "You bet."

Bitonio said he believes Robinson could be the team's long-term left tackle.

"This eight-game sample was pretty impressive for him," Bitonio said. "I think he improved throughout the time. I think he showed why he was the second overall pick [in 2014]. He's athletic. He's strong.

"If he can continue to push himself and if he does re-sign here, which I hope they do, and he just still has that mentality of trying to improve himself, I think he'll be fine."

Recovery time

Starting center JC Tretter and starting defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi played all 16 games despite dealing with significant injuries.

Tretter suffered a high-ankle sprain Oct. 14 against the Los Angles Chargers, and Ogunjobi suffered a fully torn biceps Dec. 2 against the Houston Texans.

"It wasn’t easy, but I went into every game with the thought that I wasn’t going to miss a play," said Tretter, who thought he had his best NFL season yet. "Then once you kind of rule that out, you find a way to make that a possibility. If you say, ‘I’ve just got to find a way to keep playing,’ you’ll find a way."

Ogunjobi said he couldn't raise his arm after games because of the pain.

Tretter and Ogunjobi said they'll rest to recover and won't need surgery.

"If you get surgery, they've got to drill a bone," Ogunjobi said. "I didn't want to do that. There's a chance the bone might break because it gets brittle."

Ogunjobi said he expects to be ready in time to participate in spring practices.

Agonizing finish

Rookie running back Nick Chubb finished the season with 996 yards and eight touchdowns on 192 carries (5.2 average). Chubb's goal was to reach the 1,000-yard plateau, and he did in the first quarter against the Ravens before losing yardage later in the game. He wound up with 24 yards on nine carries (2.7 average) in the finale.

"I'm crushed for him, man," Bitonio said. "I thought we had it. Obviously, we didn't run the ball quite as much as we could've.

"He didn't start until Week 7, so we just told him we have to get 2,000 next year. Joking, but, no, he's a special guy, man. He will never say it to us, but I think it crushed him a little bit last night. He's going to put in the work, though, and he's going to be a good back for us for the foreseeable future."

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.