BEREA, Ohio -- Jacoby Brissett, heading into his final start of the season Sunday against the Bucs before Deshaun Watson returns from his 11-games suspension next week in Houston, doesn’t want anyone making a fuss over the job he’s done this season.
“It’s like, ‘Am I not supposed to do that?’” he said Wednesday. “That’s what I signed up for. I don’t think I should be commended on doing my job and doing what I’m supposed to do and what I told myself and everybody else that I was going to do. I’m doing my job. I just obviously wish we won more games, but we’ve got an opportunity to do that this week and I’m looking forward to that.”
The truth is, Brissett did exactly what the Browns expected him to do this season, and if the other two units on the team had carried their weight — the defense and special teams — the Browns would be handing a legitimate playoff contender over to Watson next week instead of a team hoping to improve to 4-7 with a victory over the 5-5 Bucs on Sunday.
Signed to a one-year contract to start in place of Watson, Brissett is 18th in the NFL with a 90.7 passer rating, the highest of his seven-year career. His 64.3 completion percentage is also the highest of his career, as is 239.8 yards per game. With 11 touchdown passes — three from Sunday’s 31-23 loss to the Bills — and five interceptions, Brissett has climbed to No. 10 among qualifying quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s also No. 6 in ESPN’s QBR with a 62.4 mark.
If you had told the Browns that Brissett would be top 20 in NFL rating and top 10 in PFF grade with one start left, they would’ve jumped at that. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t have a defense or special teams unit that consistently set him up with good field position and made life easier on him.
The Browns have only eight takeaways this season, tied for third-fewest in the NFL. They’re fourth-worst in the NFL with a minus-6 turnover differential. They’ve given up 160 yards rushing or more in five of their last seven games, all losses. The special teams have been more of a liability than an asset all season with three blocked field goals, five missed field goals out of 21, two missed extra points, numerous long returns given up, three onside kicks not recovered, and more.
Granted, Brissett has thrown five interceptions and lost four fumbles and that’s too many turnovers. But the Browns would have at least two more victories this season if the defense and special teams had just held its own and not underperformed, and that would’ve been something for Watson to work with in the final six games.
Instead, the Browns must now likely win their seven remaining games to have a shot at the playoffs, and that’s too much pressure to put on a quarterback in Watson who hasn’t played in almost two years.
“Jacoby has been amazing for us,” said running back Nick Chubb. “He’s a great person overall and a very good player. He’s done a lot of great things here. I love him. I love playing beside him. It’s been great playing beside him. I know this last game he’s going to give it his all for us.”
In addition to holding it down on the field, Brissett has been the great leader the Browns need, for both sides of the ball. Following their 38-15 loss to the Patriots five games ago, Brissett gave an impassioned speech in the locker room, vowing to play better and imploring everyone else to do the same.
When Brissett speaks, everyone listens.
“Just how he carries himself,” Chubb said. “He’s a great leader. He’s not afraid to speak up. He tells you how he feels. He plays hard. That last game with Buffalo with Jacoby, he wanted to win more than anybody. He wasn’t going to stop until we won that game. He played his heart out. That shows what type of guy he is overall.”
Brissett has had such a profound impact on his teammates that Chubb is convinced it will endure when he’s the backup.
“For sure,” he said. “He’s still going to be here. Him and Deshaun are very close, too, so I’m sure he’ll be able to talk to Deshaun about things that he sees. They’ll communicate that. Overall, he’ll still be a leader for us going on.”
Brissett has had as much of an impact on his defensive teammates as offensive. He’s best friends with linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., and lockers next to linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, whom he loves to rib.
“That’s a true leader,” Owusu-Koramoah said. “A true leader is able to be versatile in their approach. They’re able to know when to pull back, when to step on the gas, when to talk loud, or when to get a guy that you may think is doing something wrong, get him one on one and be able to talk to him. So it’s about balance and about the understanding of how to convey yourself.”
Brissett is such a team player that he wanted no part of “last start” talk on Wednesday.
“You guys gotta stop saying that last start stuff,” he said. “I just want to win. I don’t care who it’s against.”
It’s one of the things coach Kevin Stefanski has appreciated most about Brissett this season.
“Jacoby’s mindset and our mindset is a one-week mindset,” Stefanski said. “I think he’s really performed well because he’s done that. He focuses on what’s in front of him, and that’s this Tampa game. Not really thinking about what has occurred in the past and not thinking about what is coming down (in) the future. I don’t think any of us can afford to think that way. I think that’s what I appreciate the most about him.”
In trying to keep the Browns in the hunt, Brissett also established himself as a bona fide starter, and other teams will take notice.
“Oh, for sure (I’m a starter),” he said. “Yeah, definitely. And like I said, that’s why I was brought here, because the Browns understood that, too. So, yeah, I think I went out and proved myself right.”
It’s also why he couldn’t answer if he wants to be back. He likes it here and has been tremendous, but he wants to play ball.
“No disrespect, I’m not answering that question,” he said.
Stefanski also wasn’t into making sweeping bold statements about Brissett’s future, as a starter or otherwise.
“I don’t know that it’s Jacoby’s focus nor my focus,” he said. “I’d tell you he’s performed how we thought he would in his role. More than that, he has provided outstanding leadership for this football team. Good in the quarterback room, good in the offensive meeting room and good with the team. Has provided a very balanced approach to the group.”
Brissett knew what he was getting himself into. He knew that it would be his baby for a period of games, and that he’d have to give it up. He knew it would hurt to sit back down, and he was prepared for it.
“Obviously I envisioned us winning more games,” Brissett said. “But we didn’t, we haven’t so far. But like I said, we’ve got another opportunity to go out there and get the win this week. I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy task. I didn’t sign up for easy, I wasn’t brought here for easy. And I knew I was the right person for it, and I still believe that I am. I think I’ve shown that. So, yeah, excited for this one.”
He wasn’t ready to wax philosophical about his season, because it’s not over yet.
“I haven’t really had a chance to think about that really,” he said. “This has been a journey that I’ve had to take week by week and just be present in this moment because I don’t know what’s ahead. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around this league for a long time to know that a lot of crazy things happen. So I haven’t really thought about the future yet and I honestly don’t want to right now, because of how much this week means to me. And I’m just looking forward to this week.”
Like the rest of his teammates, Brissett wholeheartedly believes the Browns still have a chance to make the playoffs, even though it’s currently only about 2%.
“Cause we’ve got games left,” he said. “The season isn’t over. We’ve still got a job to do. And you just worry about one week at a time and whatever happens happens and like I said there’s more games and more season to be played.”
After his first start of the season, the 26-24 victory over the Panthers, Brissett got emotional in his postgame press conference.
“Yeah, those emotions were an accumulation of a lot of things,” he said. “Obviously the opportunity, but a lot of other things too. And like I said, that’ll be a question I have to answer next week when I get a chance to reflect on whatever this has been. Like I said, it’s hard for me to look back right now because I’m here today.”
Because of how he’s handled all of his todays here, he deserves to be gone tomorrow, to a team that needs a quality starter.
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