CLEVELAND: Brandon Weeden was flagged before he ever threw an NFL pass. Sadly, the rest of his miserable day didn’t get any better.
Weeden was warming up before the opener Sunday when U.S. Armed Forces stormed the field for the national anthem, unfurling a massive flag that stretched from goal line to goal line. Weeden was sacked, buried under a sea of red, white and blue alongside a Browns equipment manager.
“I just sat on my hands and knees and waited,” Weeden said. “I looked at him the whole time like, ‘Man, this sucks.’ ”
So did Weeden’s debut. He threw four interceptions, missed open targets in both end zones and finished with a quarterback rating of 5.1 — the lowest for a Browns starter in nearly four years. Much of the blame for the Browns’ 17-16 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles can be heaped on Weeden for his inability to get the offense into the end zone despite multiple opportunities.
As for the flag mishap, Fox television cameras caught it and the video immediately went viral — hardly the first impression he wanted to make.
“I was expecting them to give me a little warning,” Weeden said. “Next thing I know, they’re running a flag at me, so I had to lay on the ground for a few minutes and let it roll by. That kind of caught me off guard.”
So did the Eagles’ defense, although Weeden didn’t get much support from a clumsy group of receivers.
Greg Little bobbled a sure touchdown at the goal line that resulted in an Eagles interception. Owen Marecic dropped a third-down pass that hit him right in the hands.
Travis Benjamin was left in single coverage down the sideline with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on third-and-long, so Weeden threw a jump ball hoping his receiver could go make a play. Instead, Benjamin let Rodgers-Cromartie manhandle him for another interception.
But the majority of Weeden’s problems were self-inflicted. Fans tired of Colt McCoy and starved for a quarterback with arm strength got their wish in Weeden, whose powerful right arm overshot receivers all day. He blamed his first-quarter overthrow of Mohamed Massaquoi on adrenaline when a completion would’ve meant a touchdown.
He failed to see a wide-open Ben Watson running free down the middle of the field in the second quarter and instead threw the ball away. He had a chance to redeem himself on the very next play, but instead overthrew a wide-open Massaquoi again.
He had the touch Sunday of a longshoreman, yet still had a chance to erase all of it with one clutch drive at the end of the game. Michael Vick struggled as badly as Weeden for much of the day, but managed to direct touchdown drives at the end of the half and the game.
For as badly as Vick played, he was sharp enough to get the win when his team needed him most.
With a minute left in the game, when the Browns needed their quarterback to march them into field-goal range, Weeden’s first pass sailed over all of his receivers. It was such a poor throw, Kurt Coleman had to leap to make the interception — and he was the deep safety.
“I’ve had games where I haven’t played as well, but I felt like I gave my team a chance to win it. Today there were times I didn’t really do that,” Weeden said. “That’s the part that kind of gets me the most.”
He will have better days, if for no other reason than he can’t have many much worse. His QB rating was the lowest by a Browns starter since Bruce Gradkowski had a 1.0 rating in his first start in 2008. Gradkowski never took another snap for the Browns
At least Weeden isn’t Don Gault, who completed 1-of-16 passes for 44 yards and two interceptions in his pro debut for the Browns in 1970. Gault finished with a rating of 0.0 — and the Browns still managed to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Not surprisingly, it was his one-and-only start during his one-and-only season in the NFL. Gault never took another snap for the Browns or anyone else.
Unlike Gradkowski and Gault, Weeden will be back next week, and he’s guaranteed to be improved in at least one area.
He’ll know where the flag is at all times.