Kessler hopes to learn from 2nd-half benching

BEREA — There’s snow, gusting winds and temperatures in the low 30s forecast for Sunday’s game between the Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Bone-chilling football weather.

For Cleveland rookie quarterback Cody Kessler, it may not feel any colder than last week in Baltimore.

Kessler got benched in the second half by Browns coach Hue Jackson, who wasn’t getting the production he needed from his young QB and pulled him in favor of veteran Josh McCown. The decision didn’t produce a win as the Browns (0-10) were beaten 28-7, assuring the worst start in team history and moving closer to a 0-16 season.

The sudden switch stung Kessler. But after a long weekend following the Thursday night game to reflect — and a meeting with Jackson to clear up any confusion — the 23-year-old believes it will only make him better.

“It’s hardest after the game,” Kessler said of the hurt he felt. “But you’ve got to move on. You can’t let it stick in your head, you can’t let it continue to bother you, or else that’s what you’re going to think about. But at the same time you learn from it.

“And watching that film against Baltimore, things that I wish I could’ve done better, different things like that. It’s something that you want to move on from, but at the same time carry with you to learn from.”

A third-round pick who wasn’t expected to play at all this season, Kessler has given the Browns glimpses of promise, of potentially being the long-sought answer to their quarterback problems.

He’s a competent game manager, throws with accuracy and doesn’t force passes where they don’t belong.

However, Jackson wants more from the position — a playmaker that can stretch defenses with a deep pass or escape pocket pressure and make a game-changing play.

Kessler hasn’t done that, which is why Jackson isn’t cutting him any slack. The first-year coach is demanding more from Kessler as the Browns, who have lost 13 in a row going back to last season, seek that elusive win.

And while Jackson remains tough on his starter, he feels fans and media might want to back off on criticism of Kessler even though the coach is the one who created the drama by replacing him.

“Let’s let the guy play and let’s see what it will be when it’s all said and done,” Jackson said Thursday. “He is a young player. He is a rookie. He is in a tough division, played against some of the best defenses in football.

“Everything is not going to go perfect for him, and it just does not, but I think sometimes when you pull a rookie quarterback everybody goes, ‘Oh, my gosh, what is this?’ That happens. This is the National Football League. My job is to win football games. It is not anything else. It is not a popularity contest.

“This is, I am trying to win every chance I walk out there. If I think there is something I need to do to help our football team win, then that is what I am going to do. I don’t care what position it is.”

Kessler came away from his meetings with Jackson with a better understanding of expectations.

“I have to play better,” he said. “I have to extend drives more. I have to do better on third down. I have to be able to finish drives and eliminate three-and-outs. That stuff as a quarterback you learn. You have to continue to put drives together. At the end of the day, coach Jackson has been awesome for me. He has done so much for me.”

A victory would do a lot for both Jackson and Kessler. Until that comes, Kessler intends to play free and easy and not worry about the potential of Jackson taking him out.

“You can’t feel like that,” he said. “You can’t play scared. You can’t play timid. You have to go out and focus on that next moment, that next game, next play and you have to improve on it.”

NOTES: Cleveland’s endless chase to find a franchise quarterback has held the franchise back. Jackson said it’s his mission to fix that. “I think we’ll do that,” he said. “That’s why I am here. I came here with that thought in mind that we’re going to solve this quarterback issue that’s been here. Is the guy on our roster now? We’re going to find that out. Is the guy somewhere else? We’re going to find that out, too. That’s the beautiful part of it, of trying to solve that and I think we will.”

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