CLEVELAND — As the Browns collapsed in a 31-30 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday, it felt like the best game of quarterback Jacoby Brissett’s life had been wasted.
Having that thought may still be hard to admit. But it was almost universal, at least for those outside the dramatic 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 are grossly underestimating Brissett.
Signed by the Browns on March 25, Brissett was considered a placeholder for Deshaun Watson, a games manager with a 14-23 record as a starter. After Watson’s 11-game suspension in the league was announced, many believed the Browns would have been better off with Baker Mayfield, who was traded to the Carolina Panthers. Some longed for Jimmy Garoppolo, who is the San Francisco 49ers have wisely decided to keep.
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We were wrong in every way.
In the past two games against the Jets and Steelers, Brissett has shown what he can do when surrounded by some of the best offensive linemen and running backs in the league. His passer rating in those two games is 106.2, his completion percentage is 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 pass rate was 62.7 in 2021 with the Miami Dolphins.
Since his emotional and clumsy Browns debut in a 26-24 Carolina win, Brissett had the ball and played with his feet.
He showed how much that mobility meant to him on Thursday when he took 6 yards on a third-and-1 of the Steelers 14 with 11:32 left in the fourth quarter and responded with a fist pump worthy of Tiger Woods. His win kept an 11-play, 80-yard touchdown drive alive that gave the Browns a 23-14 lead.
Brissett’s honesty in discussing his emotions about that game gave a glimpse of why his teammates are so devoted to him.
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“I was sitting on the sidelines thinking about that because I’ve never been able to do that in a game,” Brissett said. “Every time I see a quarterback do that in a game, I think, ‘Dang, that’s so sick. I want to do that one day.’
“I told myself that if I get a taste, I’ll do it. I almost blacked out. The flow of the game, just being excited, showing my emotions and not holding onto things, just being there.
The Browns’ October 2 game in Atlanta rounds out the confidence-building portion of the schedule before being thrown into the fire on October 9 against the Los Angeles Chargers. Before Watson returns to action on December 4 in Houston, the Browns will also face the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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Brissett could come back to Earth against teams like the Chargers, Bills and Bucs. But the chemistry he builds with four-time Pro Bowler Amari Cooper, who became the first Browns receiver to play in nine consecutive 100-yard games, and David Njoku’s tight end bodes well. A sub-.500 record with Brissett at the helm no longer seems inevitable.
Cooper sees something in Brissett drafted by the Patriots 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 clearly proved that he can win, but I don’t think he’s proven anything that 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 right now. He’s been in the league for a long time, he’s a veteran and he’s a really good player. We’re really happy with him .”
Walking back Kareem Hunt was just as excited about Brissett.
“He’s doing a great job guiding us and he’s hungry too, man,” Hunt said. “He’s a great footballer who goes out and shows 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. I didn’t start fast,” said Stefanski. “I have to get him going early and get our attack to start early. Made some pitches and made some big pitches on big moments. fought. He’s doing a good job.”
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But the raves kept coming from Brissett’s teammates.
“He makes the right plays under pressure, he makes the right reads. He’s very calm in the bag. He trusts us and we trust him,” said All-Pro right-tackle Jack Conklin.
“He’s done a great job for us. He’s just a charismatic, natural leader. He has a standard that he wants to play to and that he wants guys to hold to. It’s cool to see,” said All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio: “He’s had some of the great quarterbacks in the game, and I think he just behaves that way.”
Brissett even has supporters on the defensive side of the ball.
‘He’s ready. He makes phenomenal plays. It’s not like he’s just running the game,” said free safety John Johnson III. “He creates things, buys time… He runs and gets crucial first downs. He’s been incredible.
“What strikes me is that I look at the scoreboard, and we would have scored 30 or 29 points, so I think if we can score 30, there is no reason why we should lose games.”
Going into the season, the assumption 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. Nobody outside Browns headquarters, at least.
After the Browns visit the Falcons, hard times are bound to come. But so far, those have been largely confined to defense and special teams. The heavy offense with Nick Chubb and Hunt was efficient, especially with Brissett’s 6.5 yards average per attempt ranking 25e in the competition. The Browns 378.7 yards per game are ninth in the NFL.
Brissett has answered many questions and silenced many doubters through three matches, even if he doesn’t seem to care about outside perceptions.
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“I’m not here to answer anyone’s questions,” he said. “I’m here to play good football, play for my teammates and enjoy this moment.
“That’s what it’s really about. I can look those guys in the face and tell them I’m doing my best. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
Yes, we were wrong about Brissett. We were very wrong. So much so that in games that would be labeled a loss without a second thought, Brissett could give the Browns a fighting chance.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Brown’s quarterback Jacoby Brissett exceeds expectations