BEREA, Ohio — Facing third-and-short in the fourth quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, the Cleveland Browns called on their quarterback by calling for a sneak. In response, Jacoby Brissett crashed through several Pittsburgh Steelers before tumbling for a key first down. Four plays later, Cleveland scored the game-clinching touchdown in what would eventually be a 29-17 victory.
The usually reserved Brissett surprised most everyone, including himself, following the sneak. He immediately popped up, threw his right arm in the air, then kicked out his right knee.
“I’ve never been able to do that in a game, and every time I see a quarterback do that in a game, I’m like, ‘Dang, that is so sick. I want to do that one time.'” Brissett said. “I told myself if I get a sneak, I’m doing it.
“I almost blacked out.”
Brissett has cause, as he puts it, to be “letting my emotions show.”
Through three games this season, he’s playing the best ball of his journeyman career. Brissett ranks ninth in the league with an adjusted total QBR of 63.7, well ahead of stars like Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
“I think he’s proven that he can win,” Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper said. “I don’t think he has proven anything that we didn’t already know about him. … He’s a veteran and a good player and we’re glad to have him.”
To be sure, the Cleveland running game behind Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and a dominant offensive line is rolling. The Browns’ talented defense (save for that Week 2 fourth-quarter collapse against the New York Jets) has been stifling, too.
But Brissett is one of the biggest reasons why the Browns are 2-1 and in an early tie for first place in the AFC North standings.
Brissett has already engineered a fourth-quarter, game-winning drive, in the Week 1 win over Carolina. He’s completing 66.3% of his passes. He’s thrown four touchdown passes. He’s also only turned the ball over once and he’s taken just four sacks, tied for the sixth-fewest.
“Just great leadership,” said right tackle Jack Conklin, when asked what Brissett has brought to the Browns. “Under pressure he is making the right plays and making the right reads. He is very calm in the pocket. He trusts us, and we trust him.”
When the Browns first signed Brissett this offseason, they anticipated he’d have to play six games, at most, according to multiple sources. But then quarterback Deshaun Watson’s penalty for violating the league’s personal conduct policy — by engaging in sexual assault and conduct posing a genuine danger to the safety and well-being of another person — was extended from six to 11 games after the NFL and NFLPA agreed on a settlement in August. After that, most preseason prognostications dismissed Cleveland as a viable playoff threat.
Yet to this point, Cleveland’s offense hasn’t just held on with Brissett behind center — it’s thrived. And though tougher tests still await, the Browns currently boast the league’s fifth-most efficient offense
“He’s doing a great job leading us,” Hunt said. “He’s hungry, too. … A heck of a football player going out there and showing what we can do.”
Brissett has found himself in strange situations before.
As a rookie for the New England Patriots in 2016, he had to start after Tom Brady was suspended for Deflategate and Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a shoulder injury. During the 2019 preseason, Brissett became the starter for the Indianapolis Colts following Andrew Luck’s stunning retirement announcement. Even last year with the Miami Dolphins, Brissett replaced injured starter Tua Tagovailoa.
Brissett’s past experiences were appealing to the Browns as they searched for a temporary quarterback replacement in anticipation of a Watson suspension. Brissett, nicknamed “The Shaman” in the Browns locker room because of his wisdom, has met the moment.
“I think back to when we were acquiring Jacoby and just the phone calls that I made to people who he has played for and people who he has played with,” coach Kevin Stefanski said, “it was very, very consistent that you’re getting a pro’s pro, somebody who is going to lead from out in front, works very hard at his craft and just is an outstanding teammate.”
But Brissett has been more than just a pro’s pro or a solid teammate.
He’s pushing the ball downfield, most notably Cooper, who became the first Browns player in nine years to post back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. He’s keeping drives alive with his feet, even though he’s not the most mobile quarterback. And he’s making the winning plays, including last Thursday’s pivotal quarterback sneak.
“I’m here to play good football, play for my teammates and enjoy this moment,” Brissett said. “I can look those guys in their faces and tell them I’m giving them my best. That’s what I look forward to. … That’s really what it’s all about.”