BEREA, Ohio (AP) — As NFL debuts go, Browns rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson's was dreadful, bordering on disastrous.
He's certain his encore will be much better.
“Night and day,” Thompson-Robinson said Thursday.
The Browns are counting on Thompson-Robinson to not only produce but keep their playoff hopes alive as their new starter after Cleveland lost Deshaun Watson for the rest of the season with a fractured right shoulder suffered last week at Baltimore.
It's a big ask for Thompson-Robinson, a fifth-round pick from UCLA, who made an emergency start on Oct. 1 against Baltimore when Watson was ruled out just hours before kickoff with a shoulder strain.
Rushed into a start he wasn't prepared for after getting only a handful of snaps in practice that week with Cleveland's starters, Thompson-Robinson looked overwhelmed and played like it.
The Ravens intercepted him three times and sacked him four in a 28-3 rout that made the Browns' decision to trade veteran backup Joshua Dobbs this summer appear foolish.
Thompson-Robinson is getting a second chance — and first at redemption — on Sunday against AFC North rival Pittsburgh (6-3).
He's ready this time.
“I know what to expect now,” said Thompson-Robinson, known as “DTR” to teammates and coaches. “Unlike many other people out there, I’ve been in an NFL game, so I’m not stepping out there for the first time. I’m not just going out there wide-eyed anymore.”
Maybe. But his eyes are certain to enlarge at the sight of Steelers star linebacker T.J. Watt, one of the league's elite edge rushers and game-wreckers, leading a Pittsburgh defense with a proven record when facing rookie QBs (the Steelers are 49-14 in such games since 1970).
Beyond the usual bragging rights in one of the league's most hostile rivalries, the Browns (6-3) and Steelers are both trying to challenge Baltimore (7-3 entering Thursday night's matchup with Cincinnati) in the division.
If there's pressure, Thompson-Robinson insists he's not feeling it.
“If I would’ve had this game that first week in Week 4, I’d probably have a bunch of jitters and nervousness and probably not be able to get out any answers to you guys," he told reporters before practice. "But like I said, I’ve gotten that first one under my belt.
“I know what it takes now to be an NFL quarterback and not just be a college quarterback being in the NFL. I’ve taken that next step.”
Part of what attracted the Browns to Thompson-Robinson was his extensive college experience. While many top QBs only start for a year or two, he was a five-year starter and played 49 games for the Bruins from 2018-2022.
From the time he arrived in Cleveland, he's shown a maturity beyond his years, and as fate would have it, Thompson-Robinson got the news he would be taking over for Watson on Tuesday — his 24th birthday.
Since that poor first start six weeks ago, Thompson-Robinson believes he has a better understanding of what it takes to play at the highest level. Not that he wasn't studying before, but he's been even more committed to mastering the playbook and game plan.
“Like like I said, I know what to expect,” he said. "So now I’m coming in the morning with questions. My Tuesdays are way better from my Wednesdays. My Wednesdays are way better from my Thursdays. I’m coming in here firing out the play calls, the sentence-long play calls before coach even sets the motion.
“Night and day, man. I’m so proud of myself."
He's also been running the scout team and last week he got the Browns' defense ready by doing his best Lamar Jackson impersonation.
“Last few weeks he’s been really good in practice — stand out," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "The throws he was making, the anticipation he threw with, his footwork has increased and gotten better over the last four or five weeks. Just felt like he was ready. He’s ready for a second opportunity.”
“I know I can do this,” he said. “I know what it takes to do this. I’ve been through the fire already.”
NOTES: CB Denzel Ward felt lucky to escape serious injury when he was hit by Ravens tackle Ronnie Stanley at the end of a play last week. Ward left with a neck issue after a block he thought crossed the line. “Felt it was a little cheap shot,” Ward said. “He got me. I felt it was an unnecessary hit and probably could have been a penalty on the play. But it’s football, stuff happens.” ... Rookie RT Dawand Jones (knee) returned to practice and could play after missing last week's game. ... WR Marquise Goodwin (concussion) and S Juan Thornhill (calf) remained out.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL