CLEVELAND — Quarterback Brock Osweiler did nothing to cement his role as starting quarterback.
Rookie DeShone Kizer did more than enough to excite a desperate fan base and give coach Hue Jackson reason to consider a switch for the next preseason game Aug. 21 against the New York Giants.
Jackson got the preseason win he craved Thursday after going winless last year, as the Browns beat the New Orleans Saints 20-14. He also got a whole lot to consider as the quarterback position remained as unsettled as ever.
Kizer, the No. 52 pick out of Notre Dame, completed a 52-yard pass to receiver Richard Mullaney to set up a 1-yard Terrence Magee touchdown run that cut the deficit to 14-13 in the fourth quarter.
Kizer then threw the winning 45-yard touchdown to receiver Jordan Payton with 1:52 left on fourth-and-2. The fans remaining in the orange seats went nuts.
“I’m sure he’s in the locker room excited, but he’ll be the first to tell you there’s so many other things to clean up,” Jackson said of Kizer. “He’s got a lot of work to do, he’s got to keep growing, he’s got to keep working. But a night like tonight for a young player will give him confidence.”
Jackson said it was “way too early” to talk about who will start against the Giants. He reiterated that the decision to start Osweiler was for this game only.
“Let me see the tape and let me see how I feel,” Jackson said. “Let me see where we are.”
His night wasn’t perfect, but it couldn’t have gone too much better for Kizer, who finished the game in the victory formation after a fumble ended New Orleans’ comeback attempt with 17 seconds left. Undrafted rookie linebacker Ladell Fleming had a strip-sack of Ryan Nassib, and linebacker Deon King recovered.
Kizer showed poise in the pocket, a powerful right arm, the ability to rise to the occasion — and a ton of reasons for Jackson to keep an open mind about him starting the regular-season opener Sept. 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Kizer played five full series and went 11-for-18 for 184 yards, a touchdown and a 114.1 rating. He rushed twice for 13 yards before the final kneeldown.
Kizer entered to start the third quarter and played against the Saints’ second-, third- and fourth-teamers. After a dull three-plus quarters, Kizer unleashed his strong right arm on the pass to Mullaney, but only after he slid to his left and stepped up to avoid the pass rush.
“We dialed them up at the right time and got ourselves into some great protection, and the offensive line protected great on those two big throws and it’s up to me to maybe throw a tighter spiral so that Mullaney can get into the end zone rather than coming up a half a yard short,” Kizer said.
He looked much more comfortable than he did six days earlier at the intrasquad scrimmage at FirstEnergy Stadium, when he was inaccurate and jittery in the pocket. On Thursday, he showed the ability to run, and to feel the pass rush and maneuver inside the pocket to avoid it.
“I’m heading in the right direction,” he said.
Kizer may have put pressure on Jackson with his performance but he didn’t with his words.
“That’s something for Coach Jackson,” Kizer said when asked if he wants to start against the Giants. “He understands the situation a lot better than I ever will and I know I can trust in him to make sure that this development process goes in the right direction and continues to move forward the way we want it to.”
Osweiler, who was promoted from the second team Monday to make the start, played four series with the first-team offense and didn’t get a first down until his last possession.
Against a mix of Saints starters and backups, Osweiler finally led the Browns inside the 10-yard line. But three straight passes for receiver Kenny Britt, signed to a $32.5 million deal as a free agent, managed only 4 yards.
Britt couldn’t get off the line on a fade for an incompletion, caught a 4-yard in route to the 3 and had a fourth-down in route broken up by cornerback Ken Crawley.
Osweiler went 6-for-14 for 42 yards and a 50.3 rating. He tried to go deep early but badly overthrew receiver Ricardo Louis and tight end Seth DeValve. On the final drive, Osweiler was about a foot long on a seam route to DeValve, then connected with Britt in the corner of the end zone but Britt didn’t get a second foot down inbounds.
“No excuses for it whatsoever,” said Osweiler, who planned to watch the game film following his interview. “There was a couple go balls I think they landed out of bounds, that is unacceptable.”
The first-team offense was hurt by penalties, as left tackle Cameron Erving, Britt and right tackle Shon Coleman were flagged.
“Way too many penalties for my liking,” Jackson said of the 12 flags for 72 yards.
No. 1 pick Myles Garrett was a bright spot. He didn’t get a sack but knocked down quarterback Garrett Grayson and had a tackle for a 2-yard loss.
Cody Kessler, the displaced No. 1 quarterback, bridged the gap between the two starting contenders. He played three series and led a 21-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter following a turnover.
Defensive tackle Trevon Coley stripped Grayson and second-year end Carl Nassib recovered the fumble. Rookie running back Matthew Dayes scored on a 1-yard run for a 7-3 lead.
Kessler went 5-for-10 for 47 yards with a sack and a 63.3 rating. He completed a 31-yard post to Boyce.