CLEVELAND — When the Browns collapsed in a 31-30 loss to the New York Jets Sunday, it felt as if the best game of quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s life had been wasted.
Having that thought may still be hard to admit. But it was nearly universal, at least to those outside the drama-filled confines of the Browns’ Cross Country Mortgage Campus.
We were wrong.
Thursday’s 29-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium proved that we grossly underestimated Brissett.
Signed by the Browns on March 25, Brissett was considered a placeholder for Deshaun Watson, a game manager with a 14-23 record as a starter. After Watson’s 11-game league suspension was announced, many believed the Browns would have been better off with Baker Mayfield, traded to the Carolina Panthers. Some longed for Jimmy Garoppolo, whom the San Francisco 49ers wisely decided to keep.
We were wrong on all counts.
In the past two games against the Jets and Steelers, Brissett has shown what he can do when he’s surrounded by some of the top offensive linemen and running backs in the league. His pass rating in those two games is 106.2, his completion percentage 74.1. In three games, those numbers stand at 94.3 and 66.3. His career-best QBR was 88.0 with the Indianapolis Colts in 2019. His best passing percentage was 62.7 in 2021 in Miami.
Since his emotional and clunky Browns debut in a 26-24 victory at Carolina, Brissett had zip on the ball and made plays with his feet.
He showed how much mobility meant to him Thursday, when he picked up 6 yards on a third and 1 from the Pittsburgh 14 with 11:32 remaining in the fourth quarter and responded with a fist pump worthy of Tiger Woods. His gain kept alive an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that put the Browns up 23-14.
Brissett honesty in discussing his emotions about that play gave a glimpse of why his teammates are so devoted to him.
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“I was thinking about that on the sideline because I have never been able to do that in a game,” Brissett said. “Every time I see a quarterback do that in a game, I am like, ‘Dang, that is so sick. I want to do that one time.’
“I told myself if I get a sneak, I am doing it. I almost blacked out. The flow of the game, just being excited, letting my emotions show and not holding things in, just being present.”
The Browns’ Oct. 2 game at Atlanta concludes the confidence-building portion of the schedule before they are thrown into the fire against the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 9. Before Watson’s scheduled return to action on Dec. 4 at Houston, the Browns also take on the Patriots, Ravens, Bengals, Dolphins, Bills and Buccaneers.
Brissett could come back down to earth against teams like the Chargers, Bills and Bucs. But the chemistry he’s building with four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper, who became the first Browns receiver to record back-to-back 100 yards games in nine years, and tight end David Njoku bodes well. No longer does a sub-.500 record with Brissett at the helm look inevitable.
Cooper sees something in Brissett, drafted by New England in the third round in 2016, even though Brissett is with his fourth NFL team, three in the past three years.
“I think he’s proven obviously he can win, but I don’t think he’s proven anything we didn’t already know about him,” Cooper said. “I don’t think he would be in the league if he wasn’t a good quarterback at this point. He’s been in the league a long time, he’s a veteran and he’s a really good player. We’re really glad to have him.”
Running back Kareem Hunt was just as enthused about Brissett.
“He’s doing a great job leading us and he’s hungry, too, man,” Hunt said. “He’s a heck of a football player going out there and showing what he can do.”
After Brissett completed 21 of 31 for 220 yards and two touchdowns without an interception against the Steelers and ran three times for 11 yards, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski found some things to nitpick.
“He was solid. Didn’t start fast,” Stefanski said. “I have to get him going early and get our offense going early. Made some throws and made some big throws in big moments. Battled. He is doing a nice job.”
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But from Brissett’s teammates, the raves kept on coming.
“Under pressure, he’s making the right plays, making the right reads. He’s very calm in the pocket. He trusts us and we trust him,” All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin said.
“He’s done great for us. He’s just a charismatic, natural leader. He has a standard that he wants to play to and that he wants to hold guys to. It’s cool to see,” All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio said. “He’s been around some of the great quarterbacks in the game, and I think he just carries himself that way.”
Brissett even has supporters on the defensive side of the ball.
“He’s poised. He makes phenomenal plays. It’s not like he is just managing the game,” free safety John Johnson III said. “He’s creating things, buying time… He’s running and getting crucial first downs. He’s been unbelievable.
“The thing that sticks out to me is that I look up at the scoreboard, and we had scored like 30 points or 29 so I am like if we can score 30, there is no reason why we should lose games.”
Going into the season, the presumption was that the defense would have to carry the Browns until Watson returned. No one saw 28.3 points per game (seventh in the league) coming. No one outside Browns headquarters, that is.
After the Browns visit the Falcons, there surely will be some rough times ahead. But thus far those have largely been confined to the defense and special teams. The run-heavy offense with Nick Chubb and Hunt has been efficient, especially with Brissett’s 6.5 average yards per attempt ranking 25th in the league. The Browns 378.7 yards per game stand ninth in the NFL.
Brissett has answered a lot of questions and silenced a lot of doubters through three games, even though he doesn’t seem to concern himself with outside perceptions.
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““I am not in this to answer anybody’s questions,” he said. “I am in here to play good football, play for my teammates and enjoy this moment.
“That’s really what it’s all about. I can look at those guys in their faces and tell them I am giving them my best. That is what I look forward to.”
Yes, we were wrong about Brissett. We were very, very wrong. So much so that in games that would be chalked up as a loss without a thought, Brissett may give the Browns a fighting chance.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.