Jacoby Brissett did what he needed in the final minute of the Browns' Week 1 win over the Panthers — he marched the offense 35 yards down the field with enough time left for rookie kicker Cade York to kick an incredible 58-yard game-winning field goal.
But before that, Brissett was trying to settle himself down.
The moment, he admitted, had gotten to him. The chance to start again in the NFL. The chance to lead the Browns to a Week 1 win, their first since 2004. The opportunity to win a football game as a QB in Cleveland, his fourth NFL home.
As Brissett reflected on it all in his postgame interview, his emotions had flooded him again.
"I think emotions were high. This moment … sorry," Brissett said as he eyes began to tear up.
"The build-up to this moment, it goes further than, for me, from being here. A long time coming to get to this point."
Brissett's entire seven-year career has been built upon being a backup QB, and the periods where he has been a starter had come with high expectations. That was the case for him as the backup to Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo in New England in 2016, Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers in Indianapolis from 2017-2020 and Tua Tagovailoa in Miami in 2021.
He's in a similar situation as the backup in Cleveland for Deshaun Watson, who was suspended the first 11 games of the season, and his first start had no shortage of highs and lows.
He went 18-for-34 for 147 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions and needed a few series to find a rhythm with the offense. The first quarter featured several plays where there appeared to be confusion at the line of scrimmage and a few tough incompletions that stalled drives. The Browns weren't in a position to find the end zone until midway through the second quarter, and it happened because of a Panthers' pass interference penalty that brought them from Carolina's 35-yard line to the 1.
Brissett capitalized on the fortunate break with a touchdown pass to RB Kareem Hunt on the next play, but he admitted that his emotions at the start of the game were impossible to ignore.
"I've got to do a better job of calming those emotions down," he said, "and especially in a lot of these critical situations."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Panthers in Week 1
But in the most critical situation of the game, Brissett found his brain's brake pedal.
Following the Panthers' go-ahead field goal with just over a minute left, Brissett and the offense took the field from the Browns' 25-yard line with the goal of reaching the Panthers' 40, and he needed to command the offense with enough pace to leave time for a possible kick from York.
It's the most stressful situation a QB could possibly face, and it's one Brissett had seldomly experienced in his other 37 career starts — before Sunday, he had only completed three game-winning drives. The last one happened in 2019.
Yet one completion after another, Brissett chipped away at the distance to reach the 40. He completed three of his four pass attempts on the drive, starting with an incompletion to Donovan Peoples-Jones that drew a roughing the passer penalty against the Panthers. After a 2-yard loss on a completion to Kareem Hunt, he rebounded and went back to Peoples-Jones for a 13-yard gain and then found Amari Cooper for another 9 yards.
Just like that, the Browns were at the 40-yard line.
"He was calm, he was collective and he looked like he had done it for a while," RB Nick Chubb said. "He has, and it showed."
Brissett's job was done, and as York boomed the kick through the uprights and players spilled onto the field, his emotions began to spill again.
After seven years of a roller coaster journey as a backup QB, no game felt as meaningful to his career as that one.
"I think that definitely played a lot into (the emotions)," he said with another tearful pause.
"Right now for me, thoughts and emotions are going through my head right now. These aren't promised. So, whenever you get an opportunity, you cherish those opportunities."
The highs. The lows. The pressure that truly never went away until the clock hit zero.
Brissett embraced it all — and came out on top.
"Playing in the NFL is a highlight every time, and that's why I think I'm so emotional," he said. "It's because they just don't come that often, and it's definitely special in the huddle and being the guy."