Hoyer, trick plays give Browns last laugh

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
7:30
PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- There was little about the Cleveland Browns' week that befitted a typical NFL team's approach to preparing for a game. The Browns traded away running back Trent Richardson on the same day they named third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer their injury replacement for Brandon Weeden, generating more talk about whether they had given up on their season than whether they would beat the Minnesota Vikings.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltThrust into the starting role, Brian Hoyer overcame some errors in the second half and led the Browns to victory in the final minute.
Not much about how the Browns pulled off a 31-27 win over the Vikings on Sunday was conventional, either. Their leading rusher was defensive back Josh Aubrey, who gained 34 yards on a fake punt. Wide receiver Josh Gordon ran a reverse that gained 22 yards -- or 4 yards fewer than running backs Bobby Rainey and Willis McGahee combined to gain all day. Hoyer last season completed 30 of the 53 passes he threw; Sunday he was 30-for-54.

The approach might not work again, and it probably shouldn't have worked Sunday. But against a Vikings team that is reeling after a playoff season, the Browns created a victory they won't apologize for.

"It couldn't be a more fitting game in terms of the back-and-forth and the resiliency that our guys showed," coach Rob Chudzinski said. "I told them I believed in them, and they responded and came out and played a complete game."

Hoyer might not get another chance to start if Weeden is ready to return next week, but the impression he left Sunday was of a quarterback able to respond after a mistake-filled second half. He threw two interceptions that appeared to have the Vikings positioned for victory until Minnesota couldn't run out the clock and the Browns got the ball back with 3:21 left. Hoyer found Gordon for 11 yards on third down and connected on four of his next five throws to move the Browns to the Vikings' 7. Then, on third down, he lofted a ball to the corner of the end zone that Jordan Cameron caught for the game-winning touchdown.

The Browns spent some time in the national spotlight during the week as a punchline, with pundits suggesting they'd mailed in their season and even a few Vikings players joking about the team trading Richardson. But for one week, with some trick plays and a two-minute drill from Hoyer, the Browns coaxed a win out of their disjointed week.

Asked about the woe-is-us nature of Cleveland fans, Hoyer -- who grew up in the area -- said, "I used to think that way, too. Hopefully, this is a change."

Ben Goessling

ESPN Minnesota Vikings reporter

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