Cody Kessler was writhing in pain after a crushing hit from Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower. But it hurt the Browns rookie quarterback more to watch the rest of Sunday's 33-13 loss from the sidelines.
"It was hurting, and I hate it because very few games I have ever come out of, and I was trying really hard, really hard because I hate leaving those guys like that," said Kessler, who left late in the first quarter with a chest/ribs injury. He is expected to practice this week in hopes of playing at Tennessee.
"I was telling (head athletic trainer) Joe (Sheehan) it hurts, but it hurts me more as a person to come out and then not be able to go back in."
Before that, Kessler engineered what was potentially his most impressive drive since taking over as Cleveland's starting quarterback three weeks ago following injuries to Robert Griffin III (who remains on injured reserve) and Josh McCown, who is expected to return to practice this week.
After falling behind 7-0, the Browns went on a 10-play drive that ended when Kessler lobbed a pass to Andrew Hawkins in the corner of the end zone.
"He did some good things and made some good decisions with the ball," head coach Hue Jackson said. "That's kind of the way we play – very efficient, understanding where the ball goes and mixed with runs mixed with things we do. Normally, it leads to good things."
"The more he grows," Jackson added, "the better he gets."
In three weeks, Kessler's production and work ethic has earned the respect of his teammates, both young and old. It also has the Browns encouraged when it comes to the direction of an offense that was starting to find its footing before a step backward against the Patriots.
"I've been singing his praises since he has been in there. I think we have consistently moved the football since Cody has taken over," veteran wide receiver Andrew Hawkins said. "That's tough to do as a rookie who was a third-round quarterback and third in the depth chart three weeks ago."
"We've seen how he can do in practices and stuff. We know what he can do, and he's just going out there and showing it on the field," tight end Gary Barnidge said. "He is showing everybody else what he can do, and we are excited about that."
"I'm just really proud of him. Just his process, the way he has developed his process, we talk about it all the time and that is so key for these young guys," said McCown, whom Kessler has pointed to as something of a mentor. "What is your Monday through Friday going to look like? What is your Saturday routine look like? He is constantly honing that process and perfecting it. When you do that, on Sunday you have a chance to play good sound football. Cody has done that.
"I'm just impressed with what he has done and his poise and the way he is working. I'm just proud of him being thrust into a tough situation where two guys go down the first two weeks. He has handled himself really well .. It's fun to come into the locker room and the quarterback room and get to work with a kid like that because he wants to learn so much. He is always asking the right questions."
And because of that, the Browns say Kessler will do everything in his power to prepare himself for this weekend in Nashville.
"I know he is going to do everything he can to get out there. We just have to do everything we can to keep him clean," center John Greco said.
"That was an unfortunate thing to happen to him, but I know he is going to want to be out there. He is a competitor. He loves playing with us, and we love playing for him. It is going to be something that we just want to make sure he is capable of being out there healthy, 100 percent so we can get this offense going again."