For the next 11 games, Brandon Weeden may not be leading the Browns. Rather, it may be the other way around.
Receiver Josh Gordon provided unexpected insight into what was going on in the huddle Thursday night against the Buffalo Bills at FirstEnergy Stadium after the Browns lost starting quarterback Brian Hoyer to a season-ending knee injury. Weeden took over with 11:13 left in the first quarter as the Browns won their third consecutive game, 37-24.
Judging from Gordon’s comments, it might be factually incorrect to say Weeden directed the Browns’ victory, even as they rallied from a 10-0 deficit. Instead, it may have been the greatest case of propping up since the days of Johnny Carson and sidekick Ed McMahon.
“He was a little rusty from the injury,” Gordon said, referring to Weeden missing the previous two games with a sprained right thumb. “We got behind him, told him a few things — ‘Think a little less, just react, go out there and have fun with it, just trust us.’ He did exactly that and we went out there and made plays.”
Later, Gordon offered a few more examples of how the Browns encouraged Weeden.
“We all talked to him — ‘Just relax, settle down, try to get us the ball out quickly as possible, let us try to make a play, quit thinking as much and just let it go,’ ” Gordon said.
In minutes, Gordon clarified all the reservations Browns CEO Joe Banner, General Manager Mike Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski have about Weeden. There had been a vague reference to what Weeden needed to show this season in terms of leadership and intangibles. The vibes that he is not the new regime’s quarterback of the future are unmistakable.
As the clock was striking midnight Thursday, we found out why.
It seemed strange that Gordon, 22, and some of the other young Browns told Weeden, who turns 30 on Oct. 14, how to do his job. Gordon may have been the most vocal of the bunch. After the game, Michael Irvin of NFL Network said Gordon was the one who advised Weeden, “Don’t think so much. Just wing it.”
Saving the season
After playing with Hoyer for two games and four minutes, Browns players found out what Weeden doesn’t have. So they turned into Weeden’s cheerleaders to try to inspire him and save their season. They didn’t want the torn anterior cruciate ligament in Hoyer’s right knee to tear down all they had built since their 0-2 start under Weeden.
Signing another quarterback isn’t the answer, although presumably the Browns will add a No. 3 this week. It would be unlikely he could learn the offense quickly enough to make an impact. At this point, Weeden and Jason Campbell, who at age 31 seems content to be a backup, are the Browns’ only options.
Weeden admitted he has much to improve. After getting no repetitions with the first team in practice for two weeks, he could be sharper as he regains the starting job.
But offensive coordinator Norv Turner and Chudzinski may be incapable of speeding up Weeden’s decision-making. Weeden has been getting rid of the ball in 4.3 seconds as compared to Hoyer’s 2.8, according to ESPN Stats and Information figures going into Thursday. That would help explain Weeden’s 16 sacks in three games, with five more against the Bills.
Some of that could be rooted in Weeden’s lack of confidence and insecurity. That could explain why Chudzinski praised Weeden’s performance Thursday night, while fans and media dwelt on the fact that nothing about Weeden had changed in his second chance.
Chudzinski wasn’t quite as effusive during a conference call Friday after he’d watched the film.
“I thought he managed the game,” Chudzinski said. “Coming in off the bench is always a difficult situation, especially at that position. There were some up and downs. I think he was resilient and played through those and was able to make some big plays.”
That sounded like the offseason, when no one save for Turner spoke in glowing terms about their top quarterback.
Players keep fighting
Now that they’ve been able to compare, Browns players have seen, heard and realized that Weeden doesn’t have the “It” factor like Hoyer. Hoyer doesn’t have the physical tools Weeden possesses, but he inspired them and fostered a sense of camaraderie despite his limitations. They probably found out in high school that “It” can’t be learned.
But instead of packing it in with Hoyer lost for the season, the Browns seem determined to fight on. They have strong leadership in the locker room from linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and left tackle Joe Thomas, along with Chudzinski and defensive coordinator Ray Horton. They have a respected play-caller in Turner. In a clip from the post-game locker room played Friday on the team’s radio show, “Cleveland Browns Daily,” Chudzinski lauded his team for “fighting for each other.” They seem prepared to do that despite Weeden’s flaws.
As disheartening as Hoyer’s injury seemed, a respectable season isn’t out of the question as long as the voices in the huddle, on the sideline and in the locker room keep up their encouraging words. Yes, it’s strange those words aren’t coming from Weeden. But the Browns’ newfound cheerleaders may teach him how to lead.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.