INDIANAPOLIS — Jacoby Brissett needed one game to really get acclimated to running the Colts’ offence.
On Sunday, he showed how much he’s picked up in three short weeks.
The quarterback, acquired from New England in a Sept. 2 trade, ran for two touchdowns and threw for another then watched the defence hold off Cleveland’s late charge for a 31-28 victory — Indy’s first of the season.
"Another week, you get a lot more comfortable," Brissett said. "You get to learn from the mistakes you make. I was a lot more, at ease, I would say. It’s something I’m still getting used to, but it definitely felt a lot more comfortable today."
Perfect? Not by a longshot.
But unlike a week ago, Brissett avoided making any big mistakes and he managed to get in sync with his wide receivers.
The timing looked better, the throws went deeper and Brissett made key plays almost every time he got the chance. He wound up 17 of 24 with 259 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions while running five times for 14 yards.
And on a day that began with fans booing more than two dozen players who took a knee during the national anthem and ended with the Colts barely hanging on, coach Chuck Pagano walked away with a sense of relief.
"Loved how we started this football game," he said. "Any time you can put 28 points on the board in the first half and get a bunch of three-and-outs on defence and get three takeaways and you can close it out, we need to do a better job of that."
With the win, Indy (1-2) avoids its first 0-3 start since 2011.
For Cleveland (0-3), the struggles continue.
The Browns have lost 28 of their past 30 overall and 15 consecutive on the road, even after entering the game as a road favourite for the first time since 2012.
Cleveland had opportunities — scoring two TDs in the final seven minutes before forcing a punt and getting the ball back at their 9-yard line with 23 seconds to go.
But Rashaan Melvin snuffed out two other scoring chances by picking off DeShone Kizer, who was intercepted again on the game’s final play — a desperation heave toward midfield.
"We’re tired of being short. Nobody’s down," Browns coach Hue Jackson said.
Brissett was the difference.
After acknowledging he spent his first two weeks with the team learning new names, new faces and a new playbook, Brissett got the scoring started with a perfectly timed quarterback draw. The 5-yard TD run made it 7-0.
On Indy’s next series, he broke a 7-7 tie by spinning away from the Browns’ pressure and scooting 7 yards for another score.
T.Y. Hilton followed that with a nifty 61-yard catch-and-run to make it 21-7, one of his seven catches for 153 yards. Frank Gore’s 4-yard TD run extended the lead to 28-87 and forced the Browns to play catch-up the rest of the day.
The Browns got a 19-yard TD run from Duke Johnson Jr. and two TD passes from Kizer — a 1-yarder to David Njoku just before halftime and an 11-yarder to Kenny Britt — before Kizer scored on a 1-yard plunge with 2:04 left to cut the deficit to 31-28.
Gore ran 25 times for 57 yards and became the ninth player in NFL history to record 3,000 carries. He has 3,014.
Browns: No. 1 draft pick Myles Garrett missed his third straight game with an injured ankle and linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. sat out with a concussion. Johnson left briefly in the first half but returned in the second half.
Colts: Quarterback Andrew Luck (shoulder), centre Ryan Kelly (foot) and cornerback Vontae Davis (groin) still have not played this season. They were joined on the inactive list by two draft picks — running back Marlon Mack (shoulder) and cornerback Quincy Wilson (knee). Receiver Kamar Aiken left with a concussion in the first quarter.
Browns: Isaiah Crowell ran 12 times for 44 yards, and Johnson had six catches for 81 yards. Kizer was 22 of 47 for 242 yards with two TDs and three interceptions.
Colts: Indy won despite having only four first downs and 75 yards in the second half. Rookie safety Malik Hooker has an interception in both starts.
Browns: Return home for the first time since the season opener to face cross-state rival Cincinnati.
Colts: Travel to Seattle for a Sunday night game.