CLEVELAND — Jacoby Brissett got up after the 6-yard quarterback sneak, emphatically signaled a first down and let out a scream.
Talk about seizing the moment.
“I was thinking about that on the sideline because I have never been able to do that in a game, and 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,’” he said Thursday night after the Browns’ 29-17 win over the Steelers at FirstEnergy Stadium. “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.”
IT’S GOING UP IN THE DAWG POUND pic.twitter.com/kwG8NMBInm
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 23, 2022
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) September 23, 2022
The future may not belong to Brissett — Deshaun Watson is scheduled to return from an 11-game suspension Dec. 4 — but he’s making the most of the here and now.
For the second time in five days, Brissett played well and put the Browns in position to win. The defense and special teams did their part Thursday after an epic collapse Sunday in the 31-30 loss to the Jets.
Brissett went 21-for-31 for 220 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, two sacks and a 109.6 passer rating in beating the hated Steelers and putting the Browns (2-1) atop the AFC North. After a shaky start in the opener in Carolina, in which Brissett was admittedly emotional, he’s 43-for-58 (74 percent) for 449 yards, three touchdowns, an interception and a 106.2 rating.
The 29-year-old journeyman is playing well enough to do more than keep the Browns in playoff contention until Watson returns.
“I am not in this to answer anybody’s questions,” Brissett said. “I am in here to play good football, play for my teammates and enjoy this moment. That is really what it is all about.
“I can look those guys in their faces and tell them I am giving them my best. That is what I look forward to.”
His teammates have believed in Brissett since they got to know him after he was signed in March. He bided his time during the offseason and early in training camp as Watson got the bulk of the first-team repetitions, then seized the reins when elevated on the depth chart.
“He’s proven obviously he can win, but I don’t think he’s proven anything we didn’t already know about him,” said receiver Amari Cooper, who had seven catches for 101 yards and a touchdown vs. the Steelers. “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.”
Brissett did his postgame news conference in his orange uniform pants and an orange NFL Jam T-shirt with a graphic of guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller.
“He’s been great for us,” Bitonio said. “He’s 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.
“He’s been around some of the great quarterbacks in the game. He carries himself that way. He’s performed really well so far.”
Brissett started his career with Tom Brady and the Patriots then was traded to the Colts, where Andrew Luck resided. Brissett entered the season 14-23 as a starter and picked the Browns because he knew Watson would be suspended and he would get the chance to start after two years as a backup.
He told The Chronicle-Telegram before the season his story was just getting started.
“He is poised. He makes phenomenal plays,” safety John Johnson III said. “It is not like he is just managing the game. He is creating things, buying time and sending plays. He is running and getting crucial first downs.
“He has 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.”
Brissett has the well-earned reputation of a game-manager who protects the ball and doesn’t take many chances. His career 40-to-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio is proof he isn’t reckless.
But in the last two games he’s shown the ability to make quality throws into tight windows. He repeatedly fired the ball through a 21 mph wind Thursday night, erasing any doubt about arm strength.
“I guess we can throw the ball in any weather. Jacoby’s got a nice, strong arm,” running back Kareem Hunt said. “He’s doing a great job leading us and he’s hungry, too, man. He’s a heckuva football player going out there and showing what he can do.”
“He had a good throwing session before the game,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He was very confident.”
Brissett will never be the runner Watson is — “I am slow,” he said Tuesday — but Brissett (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) looked much quicker and had better footwork the last two games, which could be a result of gaining comfort in the system. He’s also become the go-to guy on third- or fourth-and-1. He converted three such scenarios against the Steelers, including the 6-yarder over the left side that led to Nick Chubb’s touchdown and a 23-14 lead with 9:29 left.
“He’s a big guy and we’ve got a lot of beef up there, too,” Bitonio said. “He’s a big guy and he’s done it, he used to it in Indianapolis for Philip Rivers, so he has a lot of experience.”
Stefanski downplayed the magic of a sneak but has gone to it often.
“Quarterback sneaks aren’t complicated,” he said. “It is a matter of our guys getting low and coming off the ball, and he has a good feel for it.”
Brissett’s developed a nice chemistry with Cooper, who has 101 yards and a touchdown in each of the last two games.
“We go out there and we practice hard, we practice on our timing, we’re always communicating, even outside of the building because we know at the end of the day we’re responsible for how we play,” Cooper said. “And then Jacoby, we’re both from South Florida. He’s easy to relate to, he’s a really cool person, a real fun guy to be around.
“The communication is there and everything like that. We just want to build off everything we’ve been achieving so far.”
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) September 23, 2022
A winning primetime performance on national TV seems like a good time to reflect, but Brissett wasn’t interested in rating whether he’s playing some of the best football of his career.
“I don’t really get into this game to judge myself,” he said. “I am just going out there and giving my best. Each and every day I try and do that as many times as possible.
“I let those guys (teammates) speak for me. If I was in this to speak for myself, then I wouldn’t be who I am. I am just looking forward to getting back to it next week.”