I needed a day to let everything sink in after this particular loss by the Cleveland Browns. After Cody Parkey shanked his third field goal of the day, this one a potential game-winner, I wanted to go straight to Doom-and-Gloomville. To harp on the fact Cleveland will always find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Sure, the team proved yesterday it’s still the expert in turning down victories even when they’re handed to it on a silver platter. That said, grinding your teeth about the negatives of yesterday’s crushing loss to the Miami Dolphins takes away from the positives. Believe it or not, there were more than a few.
There was the emergence of Terrelle Pryor as a dynamic offensive playmaker. There was the debut of rookie quarterback Cody Kessler, filled with poise and grit as opposed to the nervous shakes we all expected. There was the strong performance from a defense littered with players who weren’t even on the roster last week.
There’s one commonality weaving its way through all of these and most of the upside from yesterday’s loss – the influence of coach Hue Jackson. Though his tenure in Cleveland has gotten off to a miserable start, you saw a lot of the good he can bring to this team on Sunday.
Looking at how things stacked up yesterday, it’s astounding the Browns didn’t get routed. That they weren’t obliterated, despite all the surrounding elements, is a testament to the work Jackson has done so far.
Jackson was forced to start a red-shirt quarterback three weeks into the season. Yes, he raved about Kessler soon after selecting him in the draft, but he’d be lying to you if he said he planned on playing him this early.
Yet, despite being thrust into the war-zone way too soon, Kessler hardly performed like a fish out of water. After looking wobbly to open the game, the former USC Trojan settled down and showed promise. He took care of the football, threw for 244 yards and had a beautiful touch pass to tight end Gary Barnidge on a crucial two-point conversion.
While Kessler deserves praise, Jackson does as well for preparing a quarterback everyone expected to go fetal on the field and ensuring he could put Cleveland in a position to win.
As for Pryor, remember who it was who suggested the former QB transition to wideout. Jackson offered this advice last year, and cashed in on it yesterday. Pryor thrived at receiver, while also proving reliable as a read-option quarterback to mix things up on offense. Credit to Jackson for realizing what kind of weapon he had and knowing exactly how to utilize it.
The most important aspect of Jackson’s influence, though, was the fact the Browns didn’t quit.
A team playing with a third-string quarterback, missing its star rookie receiver and leaning on a defense held together by waiver pickups and Elmer’s glue fought back from a late eleven-point deficit and had a chance to win in the final seconds. I’ve seen past Cleveland teams with more talent that would’ve packed it in the second Miami extended the score to 24-13. Instead, the Browns kept fighting, never truly looking as though they had mentally called it a day. It was a clear sign the players were still willing to fight for their coach instead of tune him out.
Don’t get me wrong, all these moral victories don’t take away the sting of a heartbreaking defeat. There are also still questions with some of Jackson’s in-game moves, such as deferring on the overtime coin toss.
At the same time, losses like these tend to be the kind that force players to wash their hands of a season early and coaches to start sounding dead inside. Based on post-game quotes, it doesn’t sound like the former is taking place, mainly because the latter is still isn’t either. Jackson remains positive in his attempts to be the right coach for Cleveland, and the impact of this could be seen yesterday.