CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – It wouldn’t be Browns season without losses piling up and a quarterback controversy.
Mere weeks after promising to stand by rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, Browns head coach Hue Jackson opened Pandora’s box and benched Kizer at the start of the second half of Sunday’s 17-14 loss to the Jets.
“Frustrated for sure,” Kizer said. “This is all new to me. Being 0-5 is new to me. This organization and this city deserves wins.”
Kizer completed just 8 of 17 passes for 87 yards with an interception and fumble in the first half that saw the Browns trail 3-0 after 30 minutes.
“I didn’t think it was going in the right direction,” Jackson said. “That is why I made the decision to take him out. We go into every game trying to win. That is our goal. That is our job. That is my job. I’m not here just to get players better. That is part of it, but it is also to win. I think if there is a decision that needs to be made to win, that is the decision I am going to make.”
Now Jackson has to figure out if he’ll go back to the second-round pick from Notre Dame or start back up QB Kevin Hogan, who relieved Kizer and accounted for a pair of touchdown drives.
“I am not going to say, ‘it opens Pandora’s box,’” Jackson said. “Let’s watch the tape and see where we are, but again, we weren’t functioning as well as I thought we could on offense.”
Both turnovers by Kizer, who has 9 interceptions and a league-low 49.5 rating, came in the red zone costing the Browns premium scoring opportunities, which has become a painful and costly theme this season.
On their second offensive series the Browns ran an option on third-and-goal from the 3 that turned into a disaster when Kizer was charged with a fumble after pitching it to running back Isaiah Crowell. Jets linebacker Freddie Bishop fell on the loose ball to thwart the scoring opportunity. Jackson said it was Kizer’s decision to check into the play, which worked really well during the week at practice.
“It was the perfect look to pitch the ball to allow Crow to go to the pylon,” Kizer said. “I pitched the ball to him, and he did not catch the ball.”
With 3:13 left in the first half, and the Browns driving, Kizer rolled right and threw it right into the hands of Jets safety Marcus Maye while looking for tight end Seth DeValve.
“We are in the red zone three times in the first half with zero points,” Kizer said. “No matter what the situation is, it is on me as a quarterback to make sure we score points. Our defense is playing lights out in that first half. We have to make sure that we properly complement good defense.”
The Browns now have an NFL high 6 turnovers in the red zone this season.
Cleveland trailed 3-0 at halftime after Jets kicker Chandler Cantazaro drilled a 57-yard field goal as time expired in the half. The Browns had not led in a game this season – a stretch spanning 18 quarters until the third quarter Sunday.
The lead-less stretch ended when quarterback Kevin Hogan, who relieved Kizer, capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive, with a 21-yard touchdowns strike to rookie tight end David Njoku, who make a spectacular 1-handed catch while falling before rolling over the goal line for the score with 9:23 left in the quarter.
Hogan was intercepted on the next series when he got hit by Jets linebacker – and former Brown – Demario Davis as he threw by cornerback Morris Claiborne, who returned it to the Cleveland 13. Two plays later Jets QB Josh McCown hit tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins for a 2-yard score and a 10-7 lead with 4:17 left in the third.
Hogan finished the game 16 of 19 for 194 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception.
“Being the backup, you have to learn to not be surprised because you can go in at any point,” Hogan said. “Injuries can happen. A bunch of different things can happen. You have just got to be ready to go in.”
And now the controversy begins. Will it be Kizer or Hogan next week in Houston?
“Kizer is developing, but his job is still to win,” Jackson said. “If that was the case and it was just about development, I would have just left him in. It is not about that. It is about winning.”
At this point, it might not even matter.