Well, it wasn’t pretty, but we may have to get used to this because, evidently, this is how these guys roll.
In a win that in the waning minutes looked suspiciously like Sunday’s loss, the Browns this time managed to not shoot themselves in the foot as they righted the good ship Stefanski with a much-needed 29-17 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.
Browns 29, Steelers 17: Cleveland bounces back, gets key win over rival
And don’t look now, but the Browns are in first place in the AFC North. That’s right, if the season ended today, the Browns would be back in the playoffs.
Fortunately, the season didn’t end after last Sunday’s debacle vs. the Jets, the bitter taste of which was watered down by Thursday’s night’s triumph over a Steelers team that reminds nobody of the Steelers teams of yore.
The win was exactly what the Fighting Haslams needed. That it came against a division foe made it even sweeter.
The Browns gave the visitors a snootful of the firm of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, who ran over, around and through the Pittsburgh defense, which should be the game plan every week.
Mr. Battering and Mr. Ram combined for 160 yards on the ground, 113 of it coming from His Chubbship.
That, however, wasn’t the most welcome development of the night. The development that could have an even bigger impact on the season was another outstanding game from quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who is looking less and less like a backup quarterback and more and more like the quarterback that can keep the offense out of the ditch until the return of Deshaun Watson.
Brissett completed 21 of 31 passes for 220 yards, two touchdowns and a passer rating of 109.6. It’s the second consecutive game in which Brissett’s performance has significantly improved.
The Browns would gladly take eight more performances like Brissett’s work Thursday night. He clearly is quickly developing chemistry with his receivers, particularly Amari Cooper and tight end David Njoku.
Njoku caught nine balls for 89 slam-bang yards and a touchdown, and on one drive he had consecutive receptions that kept the drive alive. Cooper had seven receptions for 101 yards.
In all, Brissett completed passes to a whopping seven receivers, which kept the Pittsburgh defense busy and the Browns offense rolling.
The importance of the emergence of Brissett cannot be overstated. In his first game at Carolina, he looked lost, rusty and unfamiliar with the playbook or his receivers.
That, in hindsight, was probably due to the inexplicable decision to hold Brissett out of most of the three preseason games. If ever a quarterback needed to play a lot in the preseason, it was Brissett.
He was joining a new team, playing for new coaches, learning a new offense and familiarizing himself with a new set of receivers. None of that can be facilitated by watching games from the sideline, which is what Brissett did through most of the three preseason games.
To nobody’s surprise, in the season opener in Carolina, Brissett hit the ground stumbling. He looked lost, slow and unsure of where his receivers were going to be when he was ready to throw.
None of that was going to suffice for the 11 games Watson is suspended. Brissett had to figure out a lot of stuff on the fly in these first three games and, to his credit, he’s doing exactly that.
He’s never going to remind anyone of Aaron Rodgers, but he doesn’t need to. With a backfield of Chubb and Hunt, all Brissett has to do is keep the passing game alive on the downs when Chubb and Hunt need a break.
But Brissett is doing better than that. Much better. His last two games, even in the Jets game when everything seemed to be falling apart, have been major steps forward for a backup quarterback trying to adapt to his new environment as quickly as possible.
Thursday was a major step forward, and if Brissett keeps improving as he goes, the long wait for Watson may not be as long as it seemed three weeks ago.