Cody Kessler earns teammates' respect in overtime loss

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The folks in Canton, Ohio, won't be calling for his shoes and jersey, but Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler left Miami with respect, even in a loss:

--"He was gritty today," Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said. "He played really, really well. He was almost unflappable for a rookie quarterback."

--"He didn't come off like a rookie," receiver Andrew Hawkins said. "He wasn't in the huddle acting like a rookie. He wasn't timid. He wasn't nervous. He wasn't scared."

--"I'm encouraged moving forward with him," guard John Greco said.

Moving forward might be the two key words there.

Because for the first time this season, the Browns head to a Monday without significant questions about their quarterback for the following game. Kessler took some shots during the 30-24 overtime loss to the Miami Dolphins, but he said afterward he felt fine. Barring something unforeseen developing overnight, he should be ready to go for Washington on Sunday.

Kessler started rough -- he had a delay of game on his first play then fumbled after being sacked on third down -- but he was able, with the considerable help of Terrelle Pryor, to guide the Browns back from a 24-13 deficit to a 24-24 tie and send the game to overtime. Had Cody Parkey been able to hit a 46-yard field goal on the last play before overtime, Kessler would have walked out a winner.

"He had some moments that we wish we had back, but he also did some good things too," Cleveland coach Hue Jackson said. "Again, that was his first experience, and it's tough. He's trying to play quarterback, the hardest position in all of the world in the National Football League."

Spoken like a coach.

Kessler completed 21 of 33 passes for 244 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. His rating: 85.9.

"He made some key throws," Jackson said. "He made some throws at some key times. Some tough throws, and he stood in there. He got pummeled a few times and he kept getting up. He could have sat himself on the bench, because I don't think he was feeling great, but he fought."

Kessler's best moments came when he threw a perfect teardrop pass to Gary Barnidge for a two-point conversion that cut the deficit to 24-21 and when he guided the Browns to the game-tying field goal. That drive included another perfect toss to Pryor on a deep slant that Pryor turned into a 40-yard gain.

"Like I said, I spent countless hours all week getting prepared and getting ready," Kessler said. "I wanted to be ready to go and have no hesitation in the game."

Kessler lamented not getting a drive going in overtime, but that effort was short-circuited by a sack and holding penalty. He also knows he can grow.

"I have to do a better job of getting in and out of the huddle and speeding up a little so we can have more time on the play clock to change protection," Kessler said. "But there were times where I changed protection, there were times that we didn't need to do any of that. I just felt the flow of the game offensively went really well after the first series."

Kessler was helped by a defensive touchdown and by Miami jumping offside in the fourth quarter, a penalty that negated a strip-sack-turnover and led to the Browns cutting the lead to 24-21.

Kessler's play and approach helped calm a turbulent position. The Browns started Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown and Kessler over the first three games. Griffin is out for about 10 weeks with a shoulder injury and McCown is week to week with a broken collarbone, so it's likely Kessler will start against the Redskins.

For the Browns, in a season that has started 0-3 and been plagued by injuries, Kessler starting two games in a row is a step. That he'll do it after earning his teammates' praise makes the step a little more important.