CLEVELAND: Brandon Weeden hadn’t come off the bench in four years, but the similarities were startling.
The Browns quarterback didn’t think about it until his night was done, until he stepped out of the shower following the Browns’ 37-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills at FirstEnergy Stadium and saw a game program and noticed it was Thursday.
That’s when he’d last been thrust into this role, when he was a redshirt sophomore at Oklahoma State in 2009. He took over at halftime in a Thursday game against Colorado and threw for 168 yards and two touchdowns as the Cowboys rallied for a three-point victory.
“We wore black uniforms, which was kind of unique because of the brown tonight,” Weeden said of new look the Browns sported. “We played pretty well for my first time live bullets. It’s kind of eerie the similarity, especially the uniforms and the night.”
Against the Bills, Weeden took over with 11:13 remaining in the first quarter after starter Brian Hoyer suffered a right knee injury. It was Weeden’s first action since Sept. 15, when he suffered a sprained right thumb against the Baltimore Ravens that kept him out of the next two games.
After the Browns started the season 0-2 behind Weeden, Hoyer led the Browns to victories over the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals. Weeden returned to practice this week and was medically cleared to play, but Browns coach Rob Chudzinski decided to stick with Hoyer.
That plan changed when Hoyer slid awkwardly after scrambling for an 11-yard gain and was hit by Bills middle linebacker Kiko Alonso. All of a sudden it was Weeden’s team again.
In the first half he was rusty, reverting to his old habits of holding the ball too long. He was sacked five times, bringing his season total to 16 sacks in three games. But he said he finally got into a rhythm in the third quarter. That’s when he threw what co-captain D’Qwell Jackson called the biggest play of the night, a 37-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon that tied the game at 24. On that drive, Weeden hit Greg Little for a 47-yard gain.
“We played a whole season with Weeden, so the chemistry is already there,” Gordon said. “He was a little rusty from the injury. We got behind him, told him a few things, ‘Think a little less, just react, just go out there and have fun with it, just trust us.’ He did exactly that and we went out there and made plays. It was a great performance from him.”
Weeden completed 13 of 24 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown, finishing with a rating of 95.3. At halftime his rating was 67.4.
“It takes time,” Weeden said of the rough beginning. “That’s a pretty complex defense, good front four, good defense. I was a little rusty coming out of the chute, overthrowing routes. There are no excuses; I have to come in and operate. We have to run the offense just like we installed it all week. We did that for the most part, the guys played well. Big third downs, at times, a lot of areas we need cleaned up as well.”
Gordon was proud of how Weeden handled the situation.
“Honestly I think he stepped into it fine,” Gordon said. “He’s got a season under his belt. He wasn’t expecting anything different from what he had seen last year. If anything I think he had even less pressure on him because of the circumstances.”
The Browns are 5-12 with Weeden as the starter. But Chudzinski praised Weeden’s performance.
“Brandon came in and played real well,” Chudzinski said. “I think the guys rallied around him. In the second quarter we got rolling and were playing a lot better there. I can’t say enough about Brandon coming in, and in the situation he did, not having practiced a lot this week and being able to play the way he did and get the job done.”
Asked what he said to his teammates when he got in the huddle, Weeden said, “It was basically, ‘Here we go.’ I got a chance. Once I saw what happened to Brian, it happened right in front of me, whether or not I’ve been in there the past couple weeks, this team has relied on me. The guys around me played really good today."
Weeden said he checked on Hoyer at halftime. Chudzinski told the NFL Network the Browns fear Hoyer has torn knee ligaments, which would end his season. He will undergo an MRI Friday.
“I wished him luck and hope the best for him,” Weeden said. “He was playing great, man. He was playing outstanding and doing some great things for this offense. You hate to see it because he’s a teammate, a friend and as well as he was playing to help this team win. Just try to be as positive with him as I could. He was in there celebrating when we won.”
There was some question whether Weeden or Jason Campbell would be the backup quarterback against the Bills, especially considering how work Weeden had gotten. Chudzinski didn’t make that decision until after Wednesday's practice.
“We had a walk-through the first day, so he was practicing the second day. He practiced with a glove and tape on his thumb,” Chudzinski said. “He didn’t feel comfortable doing that so on the third day of practice, he came out without anything on. So when he was able to throw the ball fairly well with that, then we made the determination that we would have him on (the active roster).” Campbell was inactive, leaving receiver Davone Bess as the emergency quarterback.
On Monday when Chudzinski named Hoyer the starter against the Bills, Weeden said he still considered the Browns his team. His performance Thursday offered him some reassurance.
“That’s the plan,” Weeden said. “If you go about it any other way, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and to this team and this organization. I want to approach it … I’m going to be one of the first guys in there tomorrow and will probably already have watched the tape a couple times before we meet with coaches. That’s just the way I’ve always done it. That will never change. You’ve got to keep learning and keep getting better.”