Can The Cleveland Browns Cling To Contention Until Deshaun Watson Returns?

Unlike most backup quarterbacks, Jacoby Brissett knew exactly when he was going to be the Cleveland Browns’ starting quarterback. Brissett also knows exactly when he will stop being the Browns’ quarterback, and when he’ll return to his more familiar backup role.

Brissett became the Browns’ starting quarterback when he signed with Cleveland as a free agent on March 25, a mere four days after the Browns traded for Deshaun Watson.

Rightfully anticipating that Watson was going to be suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s Player Conduct Policy, the Browns wasted no time in signing Brissett to fill the quarterback role until Watson returned.

Brissett started Cleveland’s first game of the season vs. Carolina on September 11. He has quarterbacked all seven of the Browns’ games thus far, and he’ll quarterback four more before Watson returns from his 11-game game suspension, on December 4, when the Browns play at Houston.

Speaking to reporters last week about his experience as the 2-5 Browns’ quarterback, Brissett said, “I never thought about the duration of it. More so the journey of it. I’ve played well in spots. But obviously the results are the main objective. I’ve got to find a way to play better and put this team in the best position to win.”

For the most part, Brissett this season has performed like most backup quarterbacks perform. He’s had some good moments, but he’s had more bad ones. He’s completed 66.7% of his passes, six for touchdowns, with five interceptions. He’s been sacked 14 times and fumbled four times.

It’s safe to say the Browns were hoping for more production from Brissett than what he’s given them. But backup quarterbacks are backup quarterbacks for a reason, and overall, Brissett’s play and performance is not unlike that of a typical backup quarterback.

The problem for the Browns, aside from having to play their first 11 games with a backup quarterback, is that the team as a whole has grossly underachieved. They started the season with what looked to be, if not a Super Bowl caliber roster, certainly a roster capable or reaching the postseason. But they squandered what was thought to be the easy part of their schedule, in which their first four games were against the Panthers, Jets, Steelers, and Falcons, and only managed to win two of those four games, putting themselves in a hole right off the bat.

The Browns will take a four-game losing streak into their Monday night matchup at home with the division-rival Cincinnati Bengals.

“It’s a league of streaks, and we’ve got to find our streak,” said Brissett. “We’ve got to find a way to get on one. It’s been a roller coaster.”

The Browns’ next three games will be their most difficult three-game stretch of the season. After playing the Bengals Monday night they will play the Dolphins in Miami, and then the Bills in Buffalo.

Then comes a home game against Tampa Bay, which will be the Browns’ last game without Watson, who will return the following week, against his old team, the Texans, at Houston.

When he does return, it seems unreasonable to expect Watson to hit the ground running. He hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since the last game of the 2020 season.

The six games the Browns will play with Watson at quarterback will be against Houston, Cincinnati, Baltimore, New Orleans, Washington, and Pittsburgh. Four of the six games – all but the Ravens and Saints – will be played on the road.

Whether the Browns can stay in contention – they’re barely on the periphery now – until Watson returns remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is how long it takes Watson – once he does start playing in games – to get up to speed and perform reasonably close to the level of a $230 million quarterback, that being the contract he received from Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam.

Those are a lot of questions for a team that hasn’t had many answers so far this season.

“Mistakes are going to happen,” said Brissett, speaking of the Browns’ lackluster season thus far. “You have to minimize the mistakes. We’ve got to find a way to make one more play here, one more play there, then you pile up enough good plays so you can win.”