Print and Go Back ESPN.com: AFC North [Print without images]

Friday, October 4, 2013
Weeden's second chance arrives

By Pat McManamon

Brandon Weeden
Brandon Weeden first won over the crowd and then helped lead the Browns to victory Thursday.
CLEVELAND -- Brandon Weeden remembered clearly the time he last came off the bench to play in a game.

He rattled off the details in rapid-fire fashion in the early hours of Friday morning.

“A Thursday night,” he said after leading the Cleveland Browns to a 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night. “My redshirt sophomore year [at Oklahoma State]. We wore all-black uniforms, like the brown [uniforms] tonight. Came back to beat Colorado.

“Kind of eerie, the similarities.”

Yes, kind of eerie.

And kind of quirky how Weeden has gone from starter to nearly forgotten to starter again, assuming Brian Hoyer's knee injury is as serious as feared. A photo circulates around Cleveland Internet sites and Twitter. In it, a fan wears a jersey with the names of the 19 Browns quarterbacks who have started since 1999 on the back, the ones no longer with the team or no longer starting crossed out.

Weeden’s name no doubt will soon be placed at the end of the list -- again.

For two games, Hoyer seemed to be one of the warm and fuzzy stories of the NFL. The local kid who grew up in Cleveland was not on a roster most of last season. He had started one game before this season. Suddenly, Weeden hurt his thumb and Hoyer was promoted from third string to starting.

Then Hoyer won. Weeden noted what he learned while watching Hoyer: “Don’t get hurt.” He was written off in the minds of some fans and media members, and, though he denies it, he had to wonder about the NFL future of a second-year guy who will be 30 on Oct. 14.

But on an 11-yard run early in the first quarter of Thursday's victory over Buffalo, Hoyer was tackled and his legs bent awkwardly underneath him. He left the game with a knee injury, and left the stadium on crutches.

“It happened right in front of me,” said Weeden, who learned only the day before that he would be the backup ahead of Jason Campbell.

His immediate thoughts?

Cleveland's Brian Hoyer
Brian Hoyer is treated on the sideline after suffering an injury to his right knee.
“Here we go,” he said. “This football team was relying on me. Whether I played the last two weeks or not, this team was relying on me.”

He didn’t pull a "Poltergeist" -- “I’m baacck” -- when he got to the huddle. He just had some blunt words.

“Some of it I can’t tell ya,” he said. “Just, ‘Let’s go. Let’s do this. Let’s go win a football game.’”

Which sounds good when a team wins. A team loses, and nobody ever knows what the quarterback said upon arriving in the huddle.

Weeden had played poorly his first two games, completing just 54.7 percent of his passes, throwing one touchdown and three interceptions and taking 11 sacks. Fans who had hoped he would be the team savior had turned on him and embraced Hoyer. The anger intensified when Weeden badly overthrew his first two passes after replacing Hoyer on Thursday.

But as often happens, the tone changed with each completion. Weeden started to get things going late in the second quarter as he guided the Browns on a 74-yard touchdown drive. In the third quarter, he hit Greg Little with a perfectly thrown 47-yard pass down the middle of the field. After a penalty, Weeden lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone that Josh Gordon ran under -- and the Browns had their third touchdown.

Weeden’s numbers stood out for their efficiency. He completed 13 of 24 attempts for 197 yards and one touchdown. He did not throw an interception -- though he came close a couple times. His game rating: 95.3.

He played after missing two games and going full speed only once during the week, on Tuesday, and with Hoyer getting the bulk of the practice reps.

“There’s no excuses,” Weeden said. “I have to run the offense that we installed all week.”

Weeden has all the skills of a passer. He is tall, has a strong arm and the ball flies out of his hands. But he can lock onto a receiver, and he’s not great at avoiding the rush -- Buffalo sacked him five times.

He now appears to have what many thought he’d never have again -- a second chance. And the way he acted when he was hurt might have helped him take advantage of this opportunity.

“Eyes are still on you, to see how you respond, see how you react,” he said.

And they are especially on the backup when he takes the field after the starter is hurt.

“It’s tough,” said Browns left tackle Joe Thomas. “Obviously you can’t dwell on it because they don’t end the game when the quarterback goes down. The next man in just has to come in and do his best and move the ball down the field just as if he’s the first guy up. I don’t know what happened to Brian or how long he’s going to be out or whatever, but Brandon did a nice job stepping in there.”

Weeden settled down after the early overthrows. It wasn’t a superstar’s performance, but it was a winning one. And it was enough to give the Browns a little more confidence in Weeden as they prepare for the next game, at home against Detroit.

Confidence does not equate to wins, of course. Nor do these stories always work out.

But if the likelihood of Weeden bookending backup appearances in wins on Thursday night with all-dark uniforms in college and the NFL is slim, the odds of him reviving his career in Cleveland were even slimmer 24 or 48 hours ago.

Suddenly, Weeden is looking right at what he himself may have thought he’d never have: another chance.