Brandon Weeden was down for the count following his miserable NFL debut, but he rose to his feet and rallied the way the Browns expected he would when they drafted him 22nd overall in April.
After throwing four interceptions, completing 34 percent of his attempts and posting a passer rating of 5.1 in the Browns’ 17-16, season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Weeden countered with a vengeance. He completed 26-of-37 passes (70 percent) for 322 yards and two touchdowns without committing a turnover in the Browns’ 34-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. He set the franchise record for the most passing yards in a game by a rookie.
“He had his jaw locked,” Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress said. “He’s a competitor, and I know he didn’t want that to happen two weeks in a row, and he was ticked that that was his first outing and it turned out poorly.”
Now Weeden is on a mission to avoid the roller-coaster type of season rookie quarterbacks often endure. He’s hoping to maintain his momentum, not revert to the mistakes he made in the opener, when the Browns (0-2) host the Buffalo Bills (1-1) at 1 p.m. today.
“I think it just shows me that I can play at this level,” Weeden said of his most recent performance. “The Bengals have a good defense. They were a playoff team last year, and it gives you that self-confidence that you can make all the throws and do things to put your team in position to score touchdowns and score points. Now I just have to do it two weeks in a row.”
Browns coach Pat Shurmur doesn’t expect Weeden to relapse after making so much progress.
“I’m anticipating that he will have another good game,” Shurmur said. “We’re driving him to present good consistent play each week. I thought he had a good week at practice.”
Special-teams ace and wide receiver Josh Cribbs believes Weeden’s atonement and rookie running back Trent Richardson’s breakout game against the Bengals will lead to long-term prosperity for the Browns’ offense.
“It’s a prelude to what’s going to happen in the future,” Cribbs said. “It’s going to be big for us. Weeden is coming into his own. The young guys are coming into their own. It’s all coming to a head. You’re going to see running backs pick it up, not just Richardson. We’re going to be a powerhouse offense.”
It’s a bold prediction for an offense that ranked 29th in the NFL last season and features three full-time rookie starters in Weeden, Richardson and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
Weeden, of course, isn’t a typical rookie, because he played five seasons of minor-league baseball and will turn 29 next month. But whether he avoids playing like a typical rookie remains to be seen.
“He’s wired the right way,” Childress said. “You can just tell kind of the fiber he’s got running through him, and maybe some of the paths he’s traveled. He’s already been there done that in some ways. He hasn’t been here [in the NFL], done this, but I think that’s probably helped him in his life’s experience so far. You can just be very direct with him, not sugarcoat things. I don’t sugarcoat much.”
Shurmur doesn’t, either.
“I’m tough on him,” Shurmur said. “I’m his coach. I admire what he is as a player, but I look at him like I would look at my son. I’ve got no problem saying the tough stuff to him. I really don’t. You can present it to Brandon however you want. You can whisper it to him or you can put a little oomph into it.”
Weeden said he’s capable of handling it.
“He’s not chewing me out in front of everyone else,” Weeden said. “He’ll pull me aside and tell me exactly how he feels and I respond well to that. … That’s kind of the way I function. I don’t want to be called out in front of the team every day, but if he can come over and tell me man to man like he does, it will work for a long time.”
The exchange between Weeden and the coaching staff yielded progress in at least two major areas against the Bengals.
Weeden went through his progressions with more efficiency.
“Through my thick skull and as stubborn as I am, I’ve gotta realize that sometimes [my receivers] are gonna get caught in man-to-man. They’re not gonna win,” Weeden said. “So I’ve gotta find my backs. … I think it was really an eye opener using those guys as much as I did and finding those guys to make big plays ’cause I can’t get greedy. In college, I got greedy. I stuck balls in some tight windows ’cause I knew I could, and guys were a lot more open, but that’s not the case here.”
He also solved the ball-security problems that haunted him. In roughly five exhibition quarters, Weeden fumbled three times, and he added two more in the opener. However, he didn’t lose the ball against the Bengals.
“If you do get sacked, yeah, it sucks, but it’s not the end of the world,” Weeden said. “You can move on and play the next down whereas if the ball’s on the ground, then you’re in trouble. I take a lot of pride in that, and I’m gonna continue to keep working on it.”
The Bills have a stellar defensive line, so Weeden must beware of the pressure he’ll encounter today. With road games against the Baltimore Ravens (1-1) Thursday night and the New York Giants (2-1) Oct. 7, the Browns desperately need to capture their first victory of the season.
“There’s so much football to be played, but you don’t want to put yourself in a hole where you’re digging yourself out,” Weeden said. “Even though this isn’t a conference game, I think it’s still nice to get on a right track. You’ve gotta kind of build some momentum before we play Baltimore on a short week.”
A sense of urgency has permeated the entire organization.
“It’s important we win,” Shurmur said. “We’ve got to win.”
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 at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.