NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Cleveland quarterback Cody Kessler stood at the podium talking about the best game of his very short NFL career and started tearing up.
It’s been an emotional couple of weeks for the rookie.
Kessler’s younger brother wound up hospitalized with a racing heartbeat days before the quarterback was knocked out of last week’s 33-13 loss to the New England Patriots with an injured chest . Then Kessler learned his great-grandmother had died, a woman he considered a second mother.
The third-round pick out of Southern California got a break Sunday on the football field where he threw for a career-high 336 yards in his fourth start, nearly rallying the Browns before losing 28-26 to the Tennessee Titans.
Kessler became only the third Browns rookie to throw for at least 300 yards, second only to Brandon Weeden’s 364 yards passing Dec. 2, 2012, at Oakland.
Tennessee sacked Kessler six times and hit him five other times, but Kessler never flinched as he kept trying to rally the winless Browns (0-6).
“Unless they force me to stay out like they did last week, I’m not coming out,” Kessler said. “It was a little painful, but at the same time you want to do it for the guys as well. It’s not for myself, it’s for the guys around me.”
Talking to reporters after the game, Kessler said he couldn’t come out of a game, not with his brother, Dylan, dealing with a heart condition that hospitalized him before the Patriots game.
The condition will keep his brother from playing high school football or much of anything for two months and he’ll be wearing a heart monitor.
Kessler’s great-grandmother died a week ago, a woman he was so close with that the quarterback considered her as another mother.
“It’s stuff that you can’t control and you’ve just got to move on,” Kessler said as he choked up and then walked out of the interview room.
The Browns are off to their worst start since 1999 when they lost their first seven as an expansion franchise. Kessler, their third quarterback to start and among five to play already, gave them a chance late at an improbable rally.
He threw two touchdown passes to Terrelle Pryor Sr., the second with 2:07 left, before guiding a nine-play drive for another TD that set up a second onside kick.
“He’s battling his butt off out there,” Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said. “There were a couple times where he took some really big hits scrambling on fourth down trying to make plays and you’re thinking, ‘Wow,’ he won’t be able to get up from that,’ and (he) pops right back up and gets right back in the huddle like nothing happened. And that’s really admirable.”
Kessler had a 105.3 passer rating while driving the Browns on a 75-yard drive and a 62-yard drive to rally Cleveland after trailing 28-13. Kessler also threw incomplete under pressure on a 2-point conversion.
Still, Cleveland coach Hue Jackson said the rookie played hard.
“He gave us a chance to win, to be in the game,” Jackson said.
Pryor made it clear he loves playing with Kessler and the rookie’s passion, especially with all the hits the quarterback took.
“He’s a warrior,” Pryor said. “That’s what pushes us all. I took a little hit as well and it makes you just keep pushing. He was getting creamed, man, and he just got up and kept fighting. The kid has unbelievable heart. I’m a big fan of his.”