EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.: When they selected quarterback Brandon Weeden with the 22nd overall pick and decided to start him right away, the Browns had to know there would be growing pains.
But with his team 0-5 after a 41-27 loss Sunday to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium, Browns coach Pat Shurmur apparently has had enough of growing pains.
After Weeden threw a game-changing interception for the second consecutive contest, the Browns’ front office — and incoming owner Jimmy Haslam — might be starting to wonder if Weeden is the quarterback of the future or a Derek Anderson clone, a big-armed gunslinger with a penchant for ill-timed interceptions.
Are Weeden’s nine interceptions (against five touchdowns) indications of a fatal flaw that will never be corrected or mere evidence of how difficult it is for a first-year quarterback in the NFL, even if he turns 29 on Sunday?
For Haslam, a glance at Weeden’s statistics could inspire dreams of Geno Smith despite the horrendous 2012 record, which isn’t all that farfetched at the moment, that might be required to get him. A senior quarterback at West Virginia who is this year’s Heisman favorite, Smith has thrown 24 touchdown passes without an interception.
Weeden tossed four interceptions in the season-opening 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, including a game-clinching pick by Eagles safety Kurt Coleman with 1:18 left. Weeden’s pick six at Baltimore on Sept. 27 gave the Ravens a 23-10 lead with 15 seconds left in the third quarter, and they hung on for a 23-16 victory.
But nothing Weeden had done in the first four games sparked the kind of avalanche that Browns fans witnessed Sunday.
The Browns led 17-10 with 3:46 left in the second quarter and faced third-and-1 from the Giants 25. Instead of throwing the ball out of bounds and settling for a field goal when intended receiver Jordan Norwood was covered, Weeden tried to get the ball to Josh Gordon. It was picked off by safety Stevie Brown at the Giant 14 and returned 46 yards, setting up the game-tying touchdown.
After Weeden’s pick, the Giants scored 17 points in a span of 2:52 to end the half and went on a 24-0 run. Josh Cribbs fumbled on a kickoff return to set up another touchdown and a 24-yard pass interference penalty on Buster Skrine helped the Giants kick a field goal as time expired.
Asked if he would chalk up Weeden’s interception to growing pains, Shurmur was surprisingly harsh.
“It’s a bad decision and a nice play by the defense,” Shurmur said. “I don’t care if you’re a rookie, I don’t care if you’ve been in the league a long time, you don’t do that. You don’t do that. I think we’ve got to get off this rookie kick, we’ve got to play ball.”
Weeden’s second interception came on third-and-goal from the Giants 10 with 9:05 remaining, when University of Akron product Chase Blackburn snared an underthrown ball intended for tight end Ben Watson in the end zone.
“I think we would want the ball placed a little better,” Shurmur said of that one.
Shurmur built his reputation coaching another rookie, Sam Bradford, as offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams. During his 10 years with the Philadelphia Eagles, Shurmur worked with Donovan McNabb, A.J. Feeley and Jeff Garcia. So Shurmur presumably knows how to nurture quarterbacks.
But with Weeden it seems as if the nurturing phase is over, and Shurmur has moved on to the tough love phase.
Weeden, who spent five years in professional baseball, should be able to handle it. But he seemed unusually down on himself after the loss to the Giants and agreed with Shurmur that there is no such thing as a rookie mistake.
“Not any more. Unfortunately those are long gone,” he said. “I’ve played five games now and it’s a tough league; a lot of really good players. Sometimes you do exactly what you want to do and it doesn’t go the way you want. It just sucks.”
Even postgame consolation from Giants starter Eli Manning didn’t help.
“He said, ‘Been there, man. Just continue doing what you do,’ ” Weeden said. “It is frustrating. Coming in, I’ve never really been on a losing team. And I want to win so bad. Losing hurts. We’ve got to find a way. I’ve got to find a way. I can’t put our team in tough situations.”
After the first four games, Weeden tried to remain positive. Asked why he was beating himself up so badly, he said, “I’m just pissed off. I don’t like being 0-5. We all had a part in it, but I feel like I had a big part in it.
“I’ve got to change something. I’ve got to do something to give this team a chance to win. Being the quarterback, you can’t put it all on your shoulders, but you’re the guy.”
A touch of optimism did creep in at the end.
“We’ll get there. I can see it. I think a lot of people can see,” Weeden said. “We’ve got a really good group of guys.”
Perhaps Weeden’s anger will spark another great week of preparation, which Shurmur lauded him for after a 34-27 loss at Cincinnati, the only game in which Weeden hasn’t thrown an interception.
Against the Giants, Weeden was nine yards shy of his third 300-yard passing game. That might be more of an indication of a struggling team except for the fact that his backup, Colt McCoy, had only one in 21 NFL starts.
Shurmur’s criticism of Weeden on Sunday might have been rooted in his own uncertain future. Perhaps he’s decided that to push Weeden’s buttons, he needs more castigation than commendation.
But it seems much too soon to conclude that Weeden is not the answer, even if Browns fans feel like they’re watching replays of another failed No. 3.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the 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.