CLEVELAND —* ***1. Cody Kessler was ready when his number was called. The backup quarterback came off the bench and nearly helped the Browns to their first win this season in a game that came down to the wire.
Kessler, who replaced starter and rookie DeShone Kizer in the second half, helped engineer a late, 10-play drive that forced overtime in Sunday's 12-9 loss to the Titans. While it wasn't enough on a day that saw Cleveland's offense struggle mightily, the second-year player put forth an admirable effort after being inactive the first six weeks of the season.* *
"This was kind of my first week getting back – I've been preparing the whole time – but really getting prepared to suit up and get ready to go. Obviously, not as the starter, but getting your mind ready to go if something did happen," said Kessler, whom coach Hue Jackson named the backup quarterback earlier this week in lieu of an injured Kevin Hogan.
"It's something that as a backup, you never know what is going to happen. You're one play away, one situation away from going in."* *
That was the case Sunday afternoon as Kessler relieved his rookie counterpart after the first series of the second half.
Kizer, who has shown promise in six starts but struggled with turnovers, started hot by completing nine of his first 11 passes for 67 yards. After watching from the sidelines in Houston last week, the youngster appeared refreshed and refocused while connected on short, effective throws in the first half. When Kizer tossed a pair of interceptions on back-to-back possessions, however, Jackson decided he needed to make a change.* *
"We're are in the business of winning games. This is a performance-based business. If you turn the football over in the National Football League, you cannot play. It is just that simple," he said.
"I'm looking at this game, and this is a close game. We can manage and get the ball down the field, and we have a chance to win I owe it to the other guys in that room. I'm not just worried about the quarterback. I know you guys are, but I am not. However you take that, you take it, but my job is to put us and put people out there that give us the best chance to win. That's it."
Kessler, who expressed disappointment in the final outcome, said he admired the resilience of his teammates.
"It's a tough situation as a quarterback to come in not playing the whole game and go out there and play hard," he said. "I had a great group of guys around me that really helped me out. I told them after the game that I just appreciate them fighting for me and giving me everything that they had. I apologized for not being able to pull it out there at the end, but that's the best part about this team … when you go in there, you know that every guy on that field is going to give you everything that they have."* *
- The Browns defense put together one of its best performances of the season against a Titans offense that rolled up almost 500 yards the week before. Cleveland did not surrender a touchdown for the first time since a win over the Bengals in 2014 and allowed just 269 yards of total offense.
"Our defense fought hard. There was a play or two here or there they made, but overall, our defense did a good job," Jackson said. "Offensively, we have to find a way to score more points."* *
The Browns held Tennessee to an 0-for-2 showing in the red zone — including a stop on fourth-and-goal in the third quarter — and 5-of-17 on third down. Perhaps equally as impressive was how the Browns held the dynamic duo of running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to 72 yards on 31 carries.
"The coverages we did to stop the run, I think we did that very well," cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun. "Just have to keep coming back every single week and get ready to go."* *
"We played well. We did a good job stopping the run and affecting the pass," said rookie defensive end and first-overall pick Myles Garrett, who collected his fourth sack in three games. "There were a couple of times we should have gotten there and got the ball into the offense's hands, but we made most of the stops we needed to. We just needed to make one more."
- After 10,363 consecutive snaps, left tackle Joe Thomas was forced to come off the field because of a potentially significant triceps injury in the third quarter. He did not return.* *
"You kind of just are in an out-of-body experience kind of. I think you have an idea of what happened at least, and you are trying to figure out if it is something you can continue on with if you can keep playing," Thomas said.
"Effectively, I did not have any function in my left arm. I think you can play with about 30 to 40 percent function in one arm, but when you have no function in one arm, it is hard to block edge-rushers with only one hand."* *
Thomas was injured blocking Titans defensive end Brian Orakpo on a run play with 5:40 to play in the third quarter.
"The four years I have been here, I kind of thought he was superhuman or something where nothing could happen to him," left guard Joel Bitonio said, "just how consistent and anytime he ever got rolled up or something he would always pop back up. You knew he was in pain the way he sounded out there. It was tough."* *
When Thomas went down, Jackson jogged out onto the field and offered the veteran words of encouragement. "(I told him) that I love him and I appreciate everything that he is. I promised him that when he's back, if he's back, that we're going to get this thing figured out because he's Cleveland Browns football," Jackson said.
"He's a guy that keeps us all going and moving forward. We owe him more than what we have given him thus far. That's for sure."* *
Jackson said it's unclear if or how much time Thomas could miss.
"I think we all know how tough Joe is," he said. "If there's any chance he could have been out there, he would have so obviously, it is pretty serious."