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Cleveland Browns now will have to try to rally behind Brandon Weeden … again

Eric Edholm
Shutdown Corner

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(USA Today Sports Images)

The Hoyer the Destroyer campaign was barely three games old when disaster appeared to strike. So now it might be In Weeden We Believin'. Or something.

Hoyer suffered a first-quarter knee injury in the Cleveland Browns' 37-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills, and despite the team calling it a sprain, there is fear is could be a torn ACL. Before that, Hoyer had been the talk of the city in replacing Brandon Weeden at quarterback and leading the Browns to two straight victories.

Now reality is setting in: If the 3-2 Browns are going to be a player in the AFC North, Weeden is almost certain to be their guy. Sure, the team's interest in Josh Freeman might be slightly higher following the Hoyer injury and Freeman's release Thursday, but it would be hard to imagine an outsider stepping in, learning and absorbing this offense anytime soon.

Returning for the first time since suffering a thumb injury three weeks ago, Weeden started slowly after not having taken a practice snap in two weeks. But he also made some excellent throws Thursday, including back-to-back plays late in the third quarter after the Bills — who also lost their starting quarterback in the game — had taken a 24-17 lead. Weeden hit a diving Greg Little on a post pattern for 47 yards and then, after a penalty, found Josh Gordon on a pretty, 37-yard strike for a touchdown.

“Brandon had to knock the dust off a little because of the injury, you know,” Gordon told NFL Network's Alex Flanagan after the game on the field. “But he was ready, man, he was willing. I told him, ‘Just think a little less, just wing it. Have some fun. Worse comes to worse, put it on our shoulders.’

“He did that, man. I could not have asked for a better performance from him.”

Weeden finished the game 13-of-24 passing for 197 yards. Although he missed some throws (such as a bullet to Jordan Cameron in the end zone that required far more touch), Weeden recovered from a couple of tough early series — when he was showered by boos by the home crowd — and hit some key throws downfield when he had time.

The Browns' defense iced the game, with safety T.J. Ward picking off Bills backup quarterback Jeff Tuel, who had replaced an injured EJ Manuel, and running it back for a touchdown. The defense and special teams (Travis Benjamin ran freely twice on long punt returns) can be the heart of the team, but can they carry it? And if so, how far?

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