All week, CB Martin Emerson Jr. said he had been locked in and motivated to perform well against the Jaguars in Week 14. This motivation came after the Browns lost consecutive games on the road in Weeks 12 and 13. On Sunday, Emerson delivered his best performance of his career at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"We were back at home in front of our fans," Emerson said. "Saturday meeting, we cut on tape and watched highlights of only us from this year. We usually watch our opponent. We said we would get back to ourselves and accomplish that goal."
Emerson was disruptive and engaged early Sunday against the Jaguars offense. On their second offensive possession of the game, QB Trevor Lawrence tested Emerson's coverage skills by throwing a streak route to WR Zay Jones.
Jones had a few steps in front of Emerson, who was guarding Jones on an island. Despite being behind Jones, Emerson used his speed and reach to catch up to Jones and swat the ball for an incompletion. The Jaguars were forced to punt on third-and-9.
During the Jaguars next offensive possession, Emerson again made a significant contribution on third down. On third-and-8, Jones caught a short pass from Lawrence. Yet, before he could take a step, Emerson hounded him, preventing him from advancing up the field.
"You can see MJ constantly growing each week," S Juan Thornhill said. "He has always been one of those guys making plays, but now he is starting to become that real game changer. The more he's picking off the ball and quarterbacks will start to fear throwing his way. If you can cut one side of the field in half, it opens up more opportunities for others."
In the second quarter, Emerson became that game-changer Thornhill spoke about. On the Jaguars' first throw of the second quarter, Lawrence again threw a deep ball to Jones while Emerson guarded him. This time, Emerson wouldn't swat the ball – he caught it for an interception.
Later in the same quarter, Emerson made another interception with under two minutes left in the half. While the Browns defense was in Cover 8, Emerson made a diving interception as Lawrence tried to pass to WR Calvin Ridley.
"Just trusting preparation, reading keys and just doing my job," Emerson said about his performance Sunday. "I found the ball. I played the ball while it was in the air. It was an emphasis for us to get our eyes back, play the ball and make game-changing plays."
Check out photos of players arriving to the stadium for their Week 14 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars
His two interceptions in a game are a career-high, and the first Browns player with two interceptions in a game since S Grant Delpit on Jan. 1, 2023. Emerson leads the team with four interceptions and 10 passes defensed this season.
Emerson has emerged as a leader for the Browns defense in just his second season. He has played in all 13 games this season. His teammates have high praise for his work ethic. Younger players on the Browns roster say he has mentored them.
"MJ has definitely been a mentor for me," CB Kahlef Hailassie said. "He comes into work and sets the standard every day. He teaches me the ins and outs of being a rookie in the league on and off the field. I definitely look up to him in terms of being a mentor."
After Emerson's performance Sunday, his hard work may be rewarded with a Pro Bowl bid. It will be his first award in his short NFL career. Before Week 14 games started, Emerson ranked the fifth highest-graded cornerback in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
He should move up that list after Sunday's performance, finishing with two interceptions, three pass deflections and four tackles. Emerson is a team player, so individual awards aren't his first priority. He would rather win a Super Bowl but would appreciate a Pro Bowl bid.
"It will mean a lot because of all the hard work I put in over the years," Emerson said. "Being a kid, I always wanted to make a Pro Bowl, I just didn't want to be at the event itself. I wanted to be selected to the Pro Bowl [but] in the Super Bowl as well. I am a team player. Of course, I want to ball out, but I want my team to succeed, too."