By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer was living the dream with his hometown team until his season came to an abrupt, heartbreaking end.
Hoyer suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Thursday night in the first quarter of a 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills, coach Rob Chudzinski said Friday afternoon during a conference call. Chudzinski said Hoyer will undergo surgery and is out for the rest of the season.
An MRI Friday confirmed the unfortunate news for Hoyer, a North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius High School graduate who guided the Browns to back-to-back wins after they started this season with a record of 0-2. Chudzinski said Hoyer didn’t suffer any other ligament or cartilage damage.
“I think it’s hard on him,” Chudzinski said. “I know he’s disappointed, just talking to him. But he’s going to make it back. He’s the type of guy who can overcome and has overcome a number of obstacles. I have no doubt that this will be another thing that he’s able to overcome. You can already tell. He’s already moving to thinking about how he’s going to get that done and the work that he has ahead of him and all of those things. He’s such a positive guy. He’s the kind of guy you just don’t doubt.”
The Browns (3-2) now have Brandon Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, and Jason Campbell at quarterback.
Weeden began this season 0-2 as a starter and sat out the next two games with a sprained right thumb before replacing Hoyer after he was hurt Thursday. Weeden completed 13-of-24 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown without an interception, posting a passer rating of 95.3, to help the Browns triumph over the Bills. Weeden injured the thumb on his throwing hand Sept. 15 during a loss to the Baltimore Ravens, creating an opportunity for Hoyer to enter the starting lineup the following week.
“[Hoyer] did a great job stepping in and really showing what he can do with his opportunity,” Chudzinski said. “It was huge for us. This is disappointing. He was a big reason why we won those couple games, but not the only reason. So that’s how we look at it.
“Brandon, I think, stepped in and took over, and really the guys rallied around him. It was a gutsy performance, and it wasn’t always pretty. I think he was still a little bit rusty, but he got the job done and he was able to help us win that game, and obviously that was a big game for us.”
In the wake of Hoyer’s injury, the Browns are in the market for a new backup quarterback, and Chudzinski said he would discuss the possibility with CEO Joe Banner.
Josh Freeman, who the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut Thursday after failing to find a trade partner, is considered the top quarterback on the free-agent market. However, the Browns will not go after Freeman, a league source confirmed for the Beacon Journal, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Freeman, the 17th overall pick in the 2009 draft, has a record of 24-32 as a starter. His presence in Stage 1 of the NFL’s substance-abuse program was reported this week, prompting him to release a statement explaining that he has a prescription for Adderall to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but that last year he inadvertently took Ritalin, which triggered a positive test.
So the Browns will look at other free agents, the waiver wire and practice squads throughout the league in an attempt to bolster the position. No matter what the Browns do, losing Hoyer to a devastating injury is a huge disappointment because he energized the team upon receiving the biggest break of his five-year NFL career. In just his second and third professional starts, Hoyer capped clutch fourth-quarter drives with touchdown passes in wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals.
Hoyer completed 57-of-96 passes (59.4 percent) for 615 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions this season. He finished with a passer rating of 82.6.
“Anytime you lose a teammate to injury like that, it’s never good and you feel empty for that player,” strong safety T.J. Ward said Friday during a conference call. “I know Brian is going to bounce back strong and get ready for next year. He’s a hard worker and becoming a great leader for us. He’ll get back, and we’ll continue to keep doing the things that we can and making this team better. I’m sure he’s going to support us anyway he can.”
But Hoyer, who signed a two-year deal reportedly worth $1.965 million May 17, won’t be able to return to the field for a while. It usually takes players about eight to 12 months to return to action after suffering a torn ACL.
When asked if Hoyer suffered a partial tear, Chudzinski said, “No, it’s a tear of his ACL. But there is no other damage, no other ligament or cartilage damage, which is obviously a good thing.”
Hoyer, who’ll turn 28 on Oct. 13, was knocked out of the game after he scrambled and ran for an 11-yard gain with 11:13 left in the first quarter. As he attempted to slide to avoid contact, his left leg was caught underneath him and his right knee hyper-extended while Bills rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso hit him in the helmet. Hoyer left the game and exited FirstEnergy Stadium wearing a leg brace and using crutches after celebrating the victory with his teammates in the locker room.
On Monday, Chudzinski named Hoyer the starter against the Bills, even though Weeden had been medically cleared to play. Hoyer got rid of the ball quicker than Weeden, displayed better pocket presence and increased the tempo of the offense.
But now it’s Weeden’s turn to take control again. Weeden, whose career record as a starter is 5-12, has completed 60-of-110 passes (54.4 percent) for 713 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions this season. His passer rating is 69.2.
“Brandon Weeden is going to be a great quarterback, and he’s going to be good for us,” Ward said. “He had an injury, Brian came in and played really well and just with the momentum, we stayed with Brian. But Weeden was starting for a reason and he’s going to continue to play well. We’ll continue to support whoever is behind center. Weeden is going to get the job done, and we’re going to continue to get job done. We are a complete team in every aspect. That’s how we are going to approach it every week.”
Why does Chudzinski believe Weeden can do enough to help the Browns keep rolling as they try to extend their three-game winning streak?
“Well, because we have no other choice,” Chudzinski said. “That’s what we’re going to do. Everybody that plays, regardless of your position, we expect to do well. There’s no difference from my expectations for Brandon.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.