CLEVELAND: Moments after the Browns prevailed 21-17 against the New York Jets on "Thursday Night Football," coach Hue Jackson got a big hug from a svelte Joe Thomas.
"I did not even recognize who he was when I put my arms around him. That's a little man now," Jackson joked about the retired left tackle who has lost about 50 pounds since last year.
Thomas, who was at FirstEnergy Stadium doing TV work for NFL Network, isn't the only one who's lighter.
A tremendous weight was lifted from the shoulders of Jackson when the Browns ended their 19-game winless streak with their first victory since Dec. 24, 2016. After going 1-31 the past two seasons, Jackson is now 2-32-1 as the leader of the Browns (1-1-1).
"Am I excited about tonight? Oh, my gosh, are you kidding me?" Jackson said. "I'm tired of all of the jokes. I'm tired of all of the things being said. You try to watch TV. You try to miss a channel, but then there is, 'It has been 600 and some days since the Browns have won.'
"We have been the brunt of jokes, the brunt of everything. I get it, and we have owned that. We deserve that, but hopefully maybe people will start seeing that things are going to change here and that we're working at it.
"I give a lot of that credit to [General Manager] John Dorsey and the personnel staff, my coaching staff, but I have to give it all to these players. They have to believe and trust what I'm selling them. If they keep working at it, we'll continue to get better."
The prime-time, nationally televised game was pressure-packed for Jackson. If the Browns had lost, the drumbeat for him to be fired would have grown significantly louder with 10 days until the team's next game, Sept. 30 at the Oakland Raiders.
Jackson didn't win his first game with the Browns until Week 16 of the 2016 season. He didn't win any games last season, when the Browns became the second team in NFL history to go 0-16. This season, he got over the hump in Week 3 against the Jets (1-2) after tying the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-21 in the opener on Sept. 9 and falling 21-18 to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
"He’s been through it, man," left guard Joel Bitonio said. "It’s been a tough couple years for everyone who’s been part of the organization. He’s fought tooth and nail to try and get those wins. To get one early in the year is big. We’ve got his back. We’ve got to build on it, though. We’ve got to get our next win."
Jackson said he gave game balls to owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam for supporting him, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for guiding a group that had three takeaways for a total of 11 this season, wide receiver Jarvis Landry for pushing through a knee injury en route to eight catches for 103 yards and, of course, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield for coming off the bench late in the second quarter after Tyrod Taylor suffered a concussion and leading the Browns to victory on 17-of-23 passing for 201 yards in his regular-season NFL debut.
"It’s been tough for [Jackson], so [the win] meant a lot," said Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft. "There's a lot of pressure on him, and he’s put a lot of it on his shoulders."
Jackson reiterated he believes Dorsey assembled in the offseason the most talented Browns team during the coach's tenure.
"Everybody wants to make this a big moment," Jackson said. "Winning is outstanding, but we plan on doing this more. This is just the start of it, I truly believe, for this football team.
"This feels great. I'm ecstatic over the win because this is what I told our guys we could do."
Jackson recalled shedding tears of joy with Thomas in the locker room the last time the Browns won.
"I was in there crying like a baby hugging Joe Thomas," Jackson said. "There are no tears tonight because I'm telling you we are going to win more games. We just have to keep working, keep getting better."