The Cleveland Browns pulled off an upset of the Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night Football to win their third straight game and move a half a game into first place in the AFC North. Going in, many believed the Browns would beat the Bills, so what makes this win an upset?
Because it came with Brandon Weeden at quarterback.
Weeden was replaced at the end of Game 2 by Brian Hoyer when he suffered a sprained thumb. After trading their first-round pick from a year ago, Trent Richardson, and setting off a firestorm of fan reaction as it was “apparent” that the Browns only cared about the next draft, all the Browns did in the next game were almost double all of the points that they scored in the first two games combined (31 vs. 16).
The next game? Again, more points than the first two games combined (17 vs. 16) and again a win.
More than the points and the wins — if there need be more — was how much better the offense looked with Hoyer as quarterback. His passes were (gasp) accurate and he had mobility. Head coach Rob Chudzinski could say all he wanted about how he wasn’t ready to name Hoyer the new permanent starter, but everyone knew that Hoyer was the man.
And then he wasn’t.
Scrambling to avoid the Bills’ rush, Hoyer took off running for a first down, but then slid, fell and crumbled while taking a big hit. Early prognosis? Torn ligaments in his knee. Ouch. And who comes riding in? Weeden. Well, not exactly riding. Limping, maybe. And his first pass was very Weeden-like: 100 mph and 10 feet over the receiver’s head. The game was lost right there.
Why does this happen to the Browns? Why do the football gods hate them? They finally have a little something to be excited about with Hoyer, and then this happens. After five years of watching atrocious football, after seeing two awful football games to start this year, you could feel the spirit of the fans snap. It looked like time to get back to talking the 2014 draft.
And then? After a couple of putrid possessions, Weeden led the team on a nice drive that ended with a touchdown that tied the game at 17. Maybe the score was tied, but the game still felt lost. The Bills jumped in front again when C.J. Spiller ran 54 yards against a defense that couldn’t be run against.
The Browns responded with a touchdown. Then a field goal. And then a defensive touchdown. And what do you know? The Browns won the game, 37-24. Three straight. First place.
Weeden finished the game 13 of 24 for 197 yards and a TD. He still looks more like Brandon Wooden when he’s in the pocket, but not awful. Nobody thinks he should be the starter over Hoyer; though depending on an MRI, there may be no other choice (Josh Freeman, anybody?).
Weeden did enough for the team to get a win, a possibility that seemed to be lost once he entered the game.