The preseason doesn't count, but it has to mean something, right?
Cleveland Browns fans are praying that's the case.
The Browns' starters have looked tremendous in both preseason games. Quarterback Brandon Weeden looks far, far better than he did at any point as a rookie last year. The defense has played well and the special teams has made big plays. The starters dominated against the Lions on Thursday before they were given the rest of the night off.
Does it matter? For a downtrodden franchise that needs any bit of positive news, some great signs during the first two preseason games is certainly better than nothing.
The positive vibes start with Weeden. He looks much more confident. He suffered through a really unremarkable rookie season, and has even had to endure Browns coach Rob Chudzinski saying this week that he's fighting for his job this preseason. If that's the case, he's winning the battle.
Weeden did very well against a good Rams defense last week, completing 10-of-13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, playing the first quarter and one play of the second quarter. The Lions aren't a good defense, but Weeden was very good against them too.
Weeden was 8-of-12 for 117 yards and two touchdowns, both to tight end Jordan Cameron. Through six series of work this preseason, Weeden has completed 18-of-25 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns. Even if it's just preseason and the defenses aren't complex, that's pretty good. Plenty of players have done OK in the preseason only to fall apart when defenses prepare a little harder. But after last season, it doesn't matter when it has happened – seeing Weeden look confident and strong in the pocket has to make the Browns coaching staff and front office more optimistic.
Cleveland was up 17-0 when the starters were removed last week against the Rams. The Browns led 17-3 against Detroit when the starters were taken out in the second quarter. The return of running back Trent Richardson, who looked sharp on his six carries for 33 yards in his preseason debut, is another positive sign. The defense has played very well, and it's probably safe to assume the defense will continue to be solid into the regular season. On special teams, Travis Benjamin had a long punt return for a touchdown last week, and had another punt return score against the Lions although it was called back for a holding penalty.
(UPDATE: Of course, being the Browns, there has to be some bad news involved. Running back Dion Lewis, who looked great in the preseason, broke his leg. And rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo, the sixth pick of the draft, was hospitalized and slated to stay overnight with a bruised lung, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot reported.)
It's clicking for the Browns, and Weeden's play is the biggest reason for optimism. Will that mean much once the calendar turns to September? Maybe not. Heck, probably not. But it's OK for Browns fans to hope it's not a preseason mirage.