Christian Kirksey felt the time was right. And as one of Cleveland's longest-tenured players and captains of the NFL's youngest roster, Kirksey wasn't going to let anything stop him from getting everything off his chest.
Shortly after the Browns fell to Cincinnati, 30-16, Kirksey took the floor inside the Browns locker room. His message, from all accounts, was received loud and clear. And it was fairly simple: You've come this far in a painful, 0-11 season. Don't give up now.
"It's a man's game. Men don't quit, men don't fold," Kirksey said. "I was just encouraging guys to stick with the process, keep grinding, keep trying to move forward. Don't get down on yourself, don't hold your head. It's the National Football League, you're blessed to be here."
Kirksey made it clear that he hadn't seen any sort of quit from his teammates, and Sunday's performance was a direct reflection of it. The Browns fell behind by as much as 16 but battled back and found themselves within a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. The Browns have been within striking distance in all three games since the midseason bye, and coach Hue Jackson has repeatedly lauded the team's "fight" throughout the season.
He did so again Monday, one day after he called Kirksey's speech an example of "the emotion and passion this group has to win football games."
"I love the spirit of the group, the grit of the group and the resiliency of the group," Jackson said Monday. "This group will keep working. They will stay together. They will fight. There is no question about that, but we want to win. That is the goal."
Kirksey has been one of Cleveland's biggest vocal leaders since the start of last season.
Last year, in the midst of a stretch of 14 consecutive losses, Kirksey was the most outspoken about the Browns nailing down a win before the end of the season. With the offseason departure of Demario Davis, Kirksey saw his role only grow. The midseason injury to Jamie Collins Sr., also a captain, has impacted it even more.
"He just kind of let it out yesterday," offensive lineman Joel Bitonio said. "That is how we all felt, but he kind of told the whole group how he felt. It is something that we have been fighting for. I think that is what Coach Jackson does best is keep us motivated. A lot of teams could have tapped out, but we are going to fight and we are going to play as hard as we can. I think you can see that, at least in our play. If we are down by a touchdown, two touchdowns, we are always out there fighting."
Kirksey doesn't take the responsibility lightly.
"As the leader of this team, it's my job to keep these guys going forward, keep pushing them and keep sticking to the process and sticking to our goals. Everything will work itself out," Kirksey said. "There's no time to complain about a call. There's no time to say this could have gone that way and feeling sorry for yourself."