Quarterback Brandon Weeden replaced injured starter Brian Hoyer to go 13 of 24 for 197 yards passing and a touchdown to beat the Buffalo Bills 37-24 on Thursday night. Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel also went down in the contest with a knee injury.
Let’s first look at the series of unanticipated events Thursday night has given us. The win puts the Browns in sole possession of first place in the AFC North Division. This is a division with the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, the always-gritty Pittsburgh Steelers and the offensively competent Cincinnati Bengals. No reliable pre-season predictions would have had the Cleveland Browns in first place in this division at any point in the NFL season… yet here we are.
This all comes after a blockbuster trade that saw star running-back Trent Richardson traded to the Indianapolis Colts a few days before their first win. Most felt the Browns had given-up on their season after this trade. When a team trades away their best player for a draft pick, it can usually be assumed the team is looking towards the future.
Who foresaw Brian Hoyer going down with a season ending knee injury (torn ACL) as the most devastating moment of the Browns season? Coming into the 2013 NFL season most fans had never heard the name Brian Hoyer before. But after a solid three weeks of play, Hoyer’s knee injury is a massive setback for the Browns. While Weeden had his moments Thursday, he also displayed old characteristics that got him booed off the field after two games earlier this season. The Browns are a better team with Hoyer behind center, and although Weeden effectively completed the comeback, the Browns will have their work cut out for them moving forward starting Weeden and his lack of pocket awareness.
Go figure an eventual Brandon Weeden and Jeff Tuel quarterback match-up between the Bills and Browns would result in the most entertaining game in Thursday Night Football history (that’s not saying much). Thursday Night Football has been notorious for giving viewers sloppy games. The player’s played 4 days prior, and on top of being tired, they only have 4 days to create a game plan for their opposition. The NFL claims to be making strides to make the league safer, but Thursday Night Football is just asking players to get injured. Both starting quarterbacks going down Thursday night is a perfect indicator of sloppy play leading to injury. If you are going to pretend to care about player’s safety then why are you desperately attempting to make money on Thursday nights? I can see it now… Roger Goodell dancing around his kitchen shirtless on the phone with whoever creates the NFL schedule telling him to “SHOW ME THE MONEY!”
With the Browns trailing 7-0 Hoyer took off on an 11-yard run and was sliding as Bills rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso hit the quarterback. Both knees bent awkwardly under Hoyer and he was left lying on the turf in obvious pain. Hoyer did not return.
Bills C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson had successful games on the ground. Spiller had a 54-yard rushing TD and Jackson had a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs. But after quarterback Manuel went down with a knee injury, the offence could not move the ball at all.
Browns kicker Billy Cundiff kicked field goals of 24 and 44 yards in the fourth quarter to help the Browns overcome a 10-0 deficit and were down 24-17 with less than two minutes to go in the half. Back-up quarterback Weeden’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon in the third quarter proved to be the difference maker in the game.
The Buffalo Bills then aided the Browns late-game success. The biggest help was the Manuel injury forcing Jeff Tuel to enter the game. The Bills undrafted rookie was not prepared for Tuel Time, throwing an interception to Browns safety T.J. Ward that was returned 44-yards to the house with 1:44 left in the game. The interception squashed any hope the Bills had in a comeback.
Check out my sports radio show on 91XFM from yesterday where I quickly touched on the Thursday Night Football contest.