Amid the wreckage of another wretched season, the Browns may have finally found their quarterback.
Rookie DeShone Kizer, who has endured being benched and battered in his first year, rebounded from a four-turnover performance with his best game yet, passing for a season-high 268 yards in a 30-16 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
While he still hasn’t led the Browns (0-11) to victory, the 21-year-old offered another glimpse of his potential and promise.
Kizer’s getting better.
“He did a good job,” said guard Joel Bitonio. “He’s growing and he’s trying to improve. There are going to be bumps. I don’t think he played as well as he wanted to against Jacksonville, but I think he bounced back. That is something that you want to see out of a young quarterback, the bounce-back game.”
One week after throwing two interceptions and losing two fumbles against the Jaguars, Kizer played mistake-free against the Bengals.
He also shook off the effects of some hard hits in the first half — he briefly left to be checked for a concussion — and had the Browns within a touchdown in the fourth quarter before Cleveland’s defense gave up a TD with 2:57 left.
It was significant progress for Kizer, whose rookie season has been nothing short of rocky. He still leads the league with 14 interceptions, and his shaky play earlier this season twice got him pulled during games and he was inactive for one game.
His outing in Cincinnati revived coach Hue Jackson’s confidence in his young QB.
“That is what you look for,” Jackson said Monday. “Can you go on the road and play better? He went out and protected the ball, put us in situations where we had chances to make some plays and did some good things.”
Kizer, who has admittedly been tough on himself, feels as if he took a major step.
“I think it was heading along the path that we want to be on,” he said. “It’s moving back to the direction that we wanted to head in. I think that Jacksonville obviously was not the direction we had planned for myself, but now I’m back on the path and now it’s about taking that to the next step, adding Josh (Gordon) to this equation now and doing whatever we can to get ourselves some wins.”
One win would be nice.
The Browns are just the second team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to go 0-11 in consecutive seasons, joining the 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who at least had expansion as an excuse for their ineptitude.
Kizer’s development has been one of Jackson’s priorities this season.
And while some of his methods have been questioned, Jackson is beginning to see signs that Kizer is grasping the game better both physically and mentally.
On Sunday, Kizer, who has a powerful arm, showed excellent touch on several throws, including a potential TD pass that was dropped in the end zone by wide receiver Corey Coleman.
Jackson has been urging Kizer to soften his throws, and the results are noticeable.
“I will never forget,” Jackson said. “I was standing behind him in practice probably about 2½ weeks ago because he has a very strong arm, I told him and I said, ‘DeShone, let’s just lay the ball. Let’s throw the ball with more touch.’ I see him doing that more.”
Kizer has also done better at displaying the leadership qualities Jackson feels are essential in a quarterback.
Rather than discuss his own improvement, Kizer wanted to focus on his teammates and getting them a win.
“I’m starting to get tired of coming in and listening to the same pump-up speech,” he said. “I’m tired of watching some of these guys who once again put their bodies on the line every week and not rewarding those guys with victories.
“There’s a lot of guys in this league who played in this league for quite some time who haven’t won and it’s on me and the position I’m in as a quarterback here to do whatever I can to reward those guys with victories.”