Hoyer an instant hometown hero

Posted Sep 22, 2013

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says Cleveland native Brian Hoyer made himself an instant hometown hero by leading the Browns to a 31-27 victory against the Vikings.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Talk about living the dream.

Brian Hoyer was a happy man when the Cleveland Browns, his hometown team, signed him to be a backup quarterback during the offseason.

He was happier on Tuesday, when he learned he would be their starting quarterback in place of injured Brandon Weeden on Sunday.

And when the clock hit zeros at the HHH Metrodome, Hoyer was simply ecstatic, having instantly become a hometown hero by leading his hometown team to a much-needed victory.

It wasn't only that the Browns won their first game of the season, 31-27 against the Minnesota Vikings, or that he threw for three touchdowns and 321 yards (second-most, to Kelly Holcomb's 326 in 2002, in a Browns' quarterbacking debut since 1999), or that he overcame three interceptions and the team's four turnovers.

It was that Hoyer was the one who led the winning 11-play, 55-yard drive, and that he also was the one who delivered the decisive points on a seven-yard touchdown throw to Jordan Cameron with 51 seconds left.

And he did so without a help of even a solid running game ... and with the knowledge that kicker Billy Cundiff was out of commission with a pulled quad muscle, therefore making it imperative that the Browns did a touchdown rather than set up for a tying field goal.

"It will definitely go down as something special," Hoyer said. "You (media) guys ask me a million times, ‘Does it mean more playing for your hometown team?’ Yes, obviously it does, and to win and get that first win is huge.

"Now, hopefully, we can just build on it and keep it rolling.''

Interceptions notwithstanding, Hoyer did more right than he did wrong in making only the second start of a five-year NFL career that has seen him bounce around the league as a backup. And with no assurance from coach Rob Chudzinski that the starting job would go back to Weeden once he's healthy, Hoyer made a strong case to remain in the No. 1 spot indefinitely.

As expected, he moved the offense at a brisk pace by wasting little time getting it in and out of the huddle and making quick decisions with where to go with the ball. But the real key was that most of the decisions, like his throws, were accurate.

It helped tremendously that No. 1 receiver Josh Gordon was in the lineup for the first time after serving a two-game suspension. Gordon is among the most athletically gifted players in the NFL, and he demonstrated as much by catching 10 passes (while being targeted 19 times) for 146 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown.

Nevertheless, Hoyer looked confident and very much in command, providing a clear boost of energy to a side of the ball that had appeared to be mostly out of sorts while producing only one touchdown in two games.

He also displayed tremendous poise, especially on the game-winning drive.

"I told those guys in the huddle, ‘Let’s just go win it right here,’" Hoyer said. "They did a good job. Not everything was perfect, and I think that is a mistake that some people make, thinking that in a two minute drive everything has to be perfect. A few throw-aways, a few quick plays, and in the end, it worked out. You just have to keep going until you get the right opportunity.''

Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who calls the plays, were equally confident in Hoyer, as evidenced by an aggressive game plan and full-throttle play-calling that often had him working from a moving pocket. The coaches clearly trusted Hoyer to be able to handle a wider variety of plays than had previously been seen, taking full advantage of his deep understanding of the playbook and ability to make plays on the move. 

It was only one game. Many more difficult challenges remain, beginning with the Week 4 AFC North showdown against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Still, there is reason to think that Hoyer's performance gave the Browns' coaches and hierarchy plenty to consider as they assess their quarterback situation.

As Chudzinski said, "Brian gave us a spark today and did a great job, made the plays down the stretch when you had to make the plays."

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