Cleveland's flip flop

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

Earlier this month Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel declared he would choose his starting quarterback for a preseason game with a flip of a coin, a move that didn't inspire a lot of confidence in the choices, Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson.

This was either thinking out of the coaching box or just stepping into a pine one. Mainly it said the moribund Browns didn't have one good quarterback, let alone the two needed for a real competition.

At least until late in Saturday's exhibition game against the Detroit Lions when Crennel finally gave the nod to rookie Brady Quinn, who promptly shook off writer's cramp from keeping stats (or so he joked) and promptly led the Browns on two touchdown drives.

Fans hailed the arrival of their savior as if Quinn had walked across Lake Erie to get to the stadium. Considering the Browns have averaged five victories a season since being reinstated as a franchise in 1999, you can understand the religious fervor.

Afterward Crennel made only half-hearted reminders that Quinn's brilliance came in a limited offense during meaningless moments. Crennel even defended the idea that the fourth-team QB looked sharp in the fourth quarter against fourth-rate defenders – "their best guys weren't in there, but our best guys weren't in there also," he said.

Basically, Crennel acknowledged that the talk radio lines would be overloaded with "start Brady" talk by sunrise Monday.

"It doesn't matter what I say. They are going to be encouraged by what they saw," he said. "Hey, let them get excited."

Quinn is going to be the Browns' starter this season. It may not be by the season opener – thanks to the 11 days of training camp he missed holding out for a better contract – but soon enough.

Yes, there are all sorts of caveats that can be said about preseason football against the lowly Lions. And declaring this as anything more than a nice start is ridiculous, considering the majority of his passes were simple underneath routes against a soft prevent defense.

But the zip, accuracy and confidence with which the Notre Dame product threw the ball were undeniable.

Officially he completed 13 of 20 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns. But four of his incompletions were spikes to stop the clock as he moved the ball without the benefit of a timeout, and 13-of-16 is pretty sweet regardless of the circumstances. His first TD pass was anything but simple; he looked left, saw coverage, felt the rush, scrambled right and hit third option Efrem Hill for a 4-yard score.

So the hype begins, even as Quinn, who looked even more polished speaking to reporters after the game, did what he could to curb the excitement.

"I think any of the guys could have done what I did," he said. "You're not running a difficult package. The defense is just not trying to give up too much."

The thing is, the other quarterbacks – Frye, Anderson and Ken Dorsey – played mostly uninspired ball (just one scoring drive in the 23-20 loss), and it's not like the Lions' first-string defense is some menacing outfit. Quinn may just have made most of his opportunity and avoided mistakes, but what's wrong with that?

"The simple rule I've always been taught is take what the defense gives you," he said.

For a first game, this was all you could ask, even from a guy who starred in Notre Dame's pro-style offense under NFL quarterback guru Charlie Weis.

At the very least expect Quinn, after extra practice reps this week, to get serious time against serious players on a serious defense this Friday at Denver. If not, fans might make sure it's Crennel who doesn't start the opener.

They chanted "Brady, Brady" when Quinn still was holding a clipboard in the third quarter. By the time he made the throw to Hill, breathless threads began on fan sites such as DawgBones and The Browns Board. Even the team's official web site showed only two postgame press conferences – Crennel and Quinn.

Quinn, displaying his team leader act already, talked about supporting whoever is in the game, encouraging fans not to choose sides and noting that "I've always heard the backup QB is always the favorite QB of the Cleveland Browns."

Yes, he's smooth. And for Cleveland, he's hope.

For Quinn it's a long way to winning real NFL games, let alone Canton, but as the waning minutes of preseason games go, Saturday's were as notable as any you'll ever see.

Big picture: His performance may guarantee little, except to put an end to Romeo Crennel's coin-flipping days.