By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Brian Hoyer is the 19th quarterback to start for the Browns since their expansion era kicked off, so it’s fitting that he has No. 19 in his corner.
Bernie Kosar sent Hoyer a congratulatory text message after he led the Browns to a touchdown drive in crunch time and a 31-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Hoyer grew up idolizing Kosar, the face of the Browns in the late 1980s, and he hopes to earn more love from his childhood hero Sunday, when the Browns (1-2) host the Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) for an AFC North showdown.
A North Olmsted native, Hoyer will make his second consecutive start — and his first NFL start in front of his hometown crowd — as quarterback Brandon Weeden continues to recover from a sprained right thumb, coach Rob Chudzinski said Wednesday. Chudzinski ruled out Weeden for Sunday but expects him to throw sometime this week for the first time since he suffered the injury Sept. 15.
In the meantime, Hoyer is living the dream.
“You look down at your phone and it says, ‘Hey, this is Bernie Kosar,’ ” Hoyer said. “To me, when I used to wear the jersey in the backyard to now getting a message from him is pretty cool.”
Hoyer went to a bunch of Browns games with his father, Axel, who had season tickets. Even though Hoyer was only 8 when the franchise cut Kosar in 1993, he remembers watching the legendary Browns quarterback play at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
“[Our seats] were behind one of the posts,” Hoyer said. “It was kind of hard to see. I just remember trying to look around the post and seeing if Eric Metcalf made it up the middle.”
Hoyer, 27, is eager to start at FirstEnergy Stadium. Still, he knows it’ll be vital for him to avoid becoming caught up in the emotions of playing before family and friends.
“Obviously, playing at home with the Cleveland fan base here, it’s going to be special,” said Hoyer, a St. Ignatius High School graduate. “But once they kick that ball off and you’re between those white lines, that’s what you got to worry about, and then maybe after the game you can sit back and think about it. It will be awesome.”
Chudzinski hasn’t committed to starting Hoyer beyond Week 4. But if Hoyer can lead the Browns to another victory, it won’t be easy to take him out of the lineup and replace him with Weeden, who’s 0-2 this season.
“We’ll just approach it from a week-to-week basis and see where everybody is at,” Chudzinski said. “We’ll make the best decision for what I’ve determined gives us the best chance to win.”
Josh Gordon, the Browns’ No. 1 wide receiver, said Hoyer’s fiery spirit sets him apart from Weeden.
“I think Hoyer is definitely like maybe a little more of a scrappier player out there,” Gordon said. “He just really wants to prove himself. He just doesn’t really care what anybody thinks about him, anything like that, the past or whatever his situation was about being a backup and how he got into the position now. He just wants to take full advantage of it, and Brandon, he’s more relaxed, more calm. He’s real, real steady in the pocket. I’m not saying they don’t have the same amount of poise, but the way he stands back in the pocket just looks a little different.”
Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said Hoyer established command from the beginning.
“He came in and he played with great composure,” Thomas said. “Obviously this was his first live snaps with almost all of the No. 1s, and he did a great job just seamlessly coming in, throwing the ball on time, where it needed to go, saying the play in the huddle confidently, directing the offense.”
Even though he’s only started two regular-season games in his five-year NFL career, Hoyer has earned the trust of his teammates.
“I’m very confident in him,” said Gordon, who had 10 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown Sunday. “He [has a] real fired-up mentality. He really wants to go out there and improve himself and work hard. He never seems to get rattled. After the interceptions, sacks, anything, just bad plays, he’d come out there the next drive and act like it never happened. And that’s exactly what we need.”
Hoyer had to overcome some ugly moments against the Vikings (0-3) to orchestrate an 11-yard, 55-play drive that he capped by throwing the game-winning, 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron with 51 seconds remaining.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Hoyer took three sacks and completed only 2-of-9 passes for 14 yards with an interception during his 12 drop-backs under pressure. Of his 49 “aimed” passes, not including four throwaways and a batted pass, just 30 were considered catchable.
Hoyer completed 30-of-54 passes (55.6 percent) for 321 yards and three touchdowns with three interceptions, posting a passer rating of 68.5. Two of the interceptions were in the third quarter, when he had a passer rating of 9.6.
“I was really disappointed in myself with those decisions that I made because those are kind of easy things,” Hoyer said of the interceptions. “Usually, that’s not in my game to make bad decisions like that, so those are things that kind of stuck with me. But now you watch it, and you move on, because in this league, if you take too much time to dwell on last week, then you’re going to screw yourself up.”
Being able to stay even-keeled is a characteristic Hoyer picked up while serving as the backup to New England Patriots star Tom Brady for three seasons. Like Kosar, Brady texted Hoyer following his clutch performance in Minneapolis.
“We have a great relationship and a very close relationship,” Brady told reporters Wednesday. “It’s great to see him and it [shows] hard work really pays off. And guys that stay at it and are mentally tough, always trying to do the right thing, like Brian has done … it’s great when they finally get an opportunity to play.”
Now Hoyer is hoping to work some more magic in Cleveland against a tough divisional opponent.
“I think this team as a whole has a never-say-die attitude,” Hoyer said. “Anything can happen. You’ve just got to fight to the end and good things can happen.”