Inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is the undisputed leader of the Browns. When he speaks, the entire team listens — even if the message is delivered loudly and stings more than a little bit.
“No matter what, D’Qwell wasn’t going to let things fall apart after we started 0-2,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “I don’t know if he could kick guys off the team, but he would kick them out of the meeting room for sure.
“He’s a great leader, and he sent a message to all of us that we were a better team than we had been showing.
“D’Qwell believed in us and he made the young guys believe in themselves.”
Not coincidentally, Cleveland has won both its games since Jackson delivered a blistering postgame speech in Baltimore.
The Browns’ latest win came Sunday afternoon when they held the Cincinnati Bengals without a touchdown in a 17-6 decision at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Defensive captain Jackson led the team with 10 tackles and broke up a pass, but saved his best for last by carrying cornerback Buster Skrine off the field to the cheers of the sellout crowd.
“I haven’t carried anyone before, but he deserved it,” Jackson said. “I wanted to show everyone how proud I am of Buster. He’s a young guy who got thrown into the fire right away and had some difficult games, but never stopped fighting. That’s the kind of player you want on your side when times get tough.”
So is Jackson, who was credited by numerous teammates for saving the season two weeks ago.
Losses to Miami and Baltimore — coupled with the trade of running back Trent Richardson and the injury to quarterback Brandon Weeden — left Cleveland’s roster reeling.
Jackson, however, refused to let anyone play the blame game or hold pity parties inside Browns headquarters.
“D’Qwell is very important in the way he talks to us and brings us together,” tight end Jordan Cameron said. “He did a great job of bringing everyone closer and telling us to trust the organization with where they’re going. I think guys bought into that, and it’s really shown in the last couple of weeks.”
After the Browns got off the schneid with a Week 3 win in Minnesota, their defense was dominant in Week 4 against the Bengals, the AFC North Division favorite.
Haden did a superb job shutting down Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, while Cleveland’s front seven refused to give quarterback Andy Dalton or running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Giovani Bernard sufficient room to move.
Cincinnati only reached the red zone twice on its nine drives and was held to a pair of field goals on the day.
“We’re showing what we can do, and we’re not done yet,” nose tackle Phil Taylor said. “We think we can stop the run against anybody and our (defensive backs) played one hell of a game.”
Skrine and safety Tashaun Gipson rose to the occasion, in particular, as did Barkevious Mingo and fellow young linebacker Craig Robertson.
Fittingly, though, the Browns’ elder statesman was responsible for putting the Bengals to sleep.
With 3:49 remaining, Jackson perfectly timed his hit on tight end Tyler Eifert from behind, popping the ball in the air as it reached him. Skrine grabbed the deflection for an interception — and the celebration was on.
“After the Baltimore game, I knew if we didn’t turn this thing around, it could be a long season,” said Jackson, who was Cleveland’s second-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. “I’ve been through that with some pretty bad teams here — and this team is not that team — so there was something that needed to be said.”
The soft-spoken Floridian certainly got his point across, even if he admits it wasn’t one of his more eloquent speeches.
“I didn’t use a library voice, I’ll tell you that much,” he said, laughing. “I’m pretty sure I got everyone’s attention, let’s put it that way. But I know what the Browns mean to Cleveland and what this team means to me. I don’t do it that way often, but I’ll do it again if I need to.”