Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Hue Jackson made a quarterback change to light a spark. What he got was a dumpster fire.
The Ravens scored a touchdown to make it 13-7.
Josh McCown came in for five series. He tossed two interceptions, lost one fumble and had two 3-and-outs.
The Ravens won going away, 28-7, behind Joe Flacco’s three touchdown passes in the second half.
The Browns lost their 10th straight game to start this season – a franchise record. Their 13 losses in a row over two years extends another franchise record.
They totaled 144 yards of offense against the Ravens’ second-ranked defense and now have a quarterback situation in such disarray that the prospect of original starter Robert Griffin returning before this historically bad season is done is not out of the question.
Jackson had said on Monday he would not play musical chairs with his quarterbacks, and he disputed that is exactly what he did.
“I felt we needed a spark,” Jackson said before he was asked about the move. “Nothing against Cody.
“I know I made the statement I wasn’t playing musical chairs. I wasn’t playing musical chairs today. I was trying to give our offense a chance.”
Kessler passed for only 91 yards on 11 of 18 completions, but he did connect with rookie tight end Seth DeValve for a 25-yard scoring play and did not turn the ball over.
“There were some things that normally he does pretty well that just weren’t happening,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of pressure and stress playing Thursday Night Football in front of everybody. To me, that’s a tough spot to be in with a team that hasn’t been playing well.”
Jackson said that Kessler would “absolutely” be the starter when the Browns try to avoid 0-11 next Sunday at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He said he does not feel Kessler’s confidence was shaken by the move because “I know Cody.”
Certainly, McCown’s dreadful night – 6 of 13 for 59 yards, three sacks, two interceptions, one fumble and a 19.9 passer rating – made for a tremendous backfire for Jackson’s move.
But the coach insisted he didn’t regret it and he got testy as questions persisted.
“You guys can question the decision all you like,” Jackson said. “I felt good about the decision, whether we lost the game or won the game. I’m not going to back off of that. We lost. We turned the ball over. Maybe those things wouldn’t have happened with him in there. I made the decision.”
Jackson disputed that the desperation to break the team’s winless streak prompted a desperate move.
“I don’t think it’s desperate times calling for desperate measures,” he said. “I think it’s like any situation when we feel something’s not going the way you want it to, you’ve got to change it up. Being up 7-6 was good. I’d like to be up 20-6. I thought there were plays we left out there on the field. I wasn’t going to sit there and keep watching the plays be missed. I think you have to try something different. And in the situation we are in, why not?”
Neither Kessler nor McCown expected a quarterback change was in the offing at the start of the night.
“It was Coach Jackson’s decision,” Kessler said. “I was doing everything I could, competing as hard as I can.” I wish I could’ve converted some third downs.”
Kessler was 1 for 6 on third-down conversions against the Ravens after going 1 for 9 Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
Kessler said he had never been lifted for performance in his athletic career, though he was rotated at the positive for two games his sophomore year at Southern Cal. He said his confidence was not shattered.
“It motivates you to be better,” Kessler said.
Early in the game, Jackson inserted No. 3 quarterback Kevin Hogan for two ineffective read-option plays. The Browns became the first team to use three quarterbacks in a game since the Philadelphia Eagles in 2011.
Prior to the game, Griffin took snaps on the field and tossed the ball casually. It was the first time Griffin was seen throwing a ball since he suffered a broken bone in his left shoulder in Game 1. Jackson said Griffin is “closer” to coming off injured reserve, but would not speculate if he might play before the season is over.
The Browns held a 7-6 lead at halftime and proceeded to blow a second-half lead for the fifth time in their 10 losses. The Browns have been outscored in the second half, 151 to 51.
“I wish I could [explain it],” Jackson said. “I’ve tried every different kind of speech, no speech, whatever I can think of.”
The Browns began the game on defense and had to call timeout before Baltimore’s first play because they had 12 players on the field.
That was the beginning of an embarrassing night on prime-time television for the Browns. They looked quite capable of running the table and completing the second 0-16 season in NFL history.