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With Hoyer, Browns’ future could be now

Posted Sep 29, 2013

In delivering another winning performance for the Browns, 17-6 against the Bengals, Brian Hoyer has changed the team’s quarterback conversation from something to dream about to something that is real.

So let’s take a hard look at the Browns’ quarterback situation for a moment, shall we?

Let’s examine what we would consider the ideal scenario for the future of the position for this team.

If that so-called “franchise quarterback” we’ve been forever hoping the Browns would land were to deliver two victories in his first two starts, we’d be pretty ecstatic, right? If he led the team on game-winning/game-clinching drives in each of those starts, we’d be touting the genius of the team’s talent evaluators, wouldn’t we?

And if one of those triumphs came against an AFC North rival that is supposed to have one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL and is supposed to be the class of the division, we’d be screaming for joy from the mountaintops, don’t you think?

Well, that is precisely what Brian Hoyer has done.

He has changed the Browns’ quarterback conversation from something to dream about to something that is as real as the fact the team that began the season 0-2 and had so many people feeling a familiar sense of hopelessness, despair, and Trent-Richardson-separation-hostility is now 2-2 and tied for first place in the division.

It is fair to say that, at least for now, the Browns’ quarterbacking future couldn’t look a whole lot brighter than its quarterbacking present.

Although he is only three starts into a five-year career, Hoyer is passing all of the tests. He is showing remarkable poise. He is displaying tremendous intelligence and awareness. And, most of all, he is making plays.

Making them when they count the most.

Hoyer did that in Week 3, at Minnesota, on an 11-play, 55-yard drive that ended with his short touchdown throw to Jordan Cameron with 51 seconds left to give the Browns a 31-27 victory against the Vikings. He did that again Sunday, at FirstEnergy Stadium, on a 12-play, 91-yard march that ended with another scoring throw, this time to Chris Ogbonnaya, with 4:54 remaining to clinch a 17-6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I think that’s the biggest key; it’s a divisional game,” said Hoyer, who is the first Browns quarterback to win his first two starts since Mark Rypien in 1994 (against New England, on Nov. 6, and at Philadelphia, on Nov. 13). “And it’s in your own house. (Division wins) are hard to come by. You’ve got to come out here and fight to the end.

“And this team just does a great job responding to adversity. When we needed to step up, we did. When the defense needed to step up, they did. And when you have that kind of thing going, when you can win games by a full team – it’s not just the offense, it’s not just the defense or special teams – you have a chance to do something good.”

That applies to having a quarterback playing as well as Hoyer has played the past two games.

It took Brandon Weeden’s thumb injury in Week 2 to give Hoyer the opportunity on which he has capitalized in amazing fashion. It will seemingly take a whole lot for Hoyer to relinquish the job, even if, during his postgame news conference, coach Rob Chudzinski wouldn’t officially name him the starter for Thursday night’s game against Buffalo.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that Hoyer likely will get the nod. And not simply because he is a Cleveland guy living out the classic dream of starring for the team for which he has been rooting since childhood. And not simply because he is playing exceptionally well.

Hoyer is improving, too. Improving dramatically. With each game. With each series. With each play.

In his first start, he threw three touchdown passes, but he also threw three interceptions, two of which were horrendous passes and one resulting from a hit to his arm by a Vikings defender.

On Sunday, Hoyer completed 25 of 38 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns, with zero interceptions, for a career-best passer rating of 103.9. He completed his first nine passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.

“Last week, with the interceptions, I kind of had that in my mind (Sunday),” Hoyer said. “When you have a defense as good as ours, you just don’t want to screw it up. And getting the call to lead this offense is kind of like getting the keys to a Ferrari. You want to drive it fast, but you don’t want to crash it, either.”

Great analogy. And it applies to quarterbacks as well.

You have those Ferraris that are selected at or near the top of the draft. Think Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, and Robert Griffin III (the quarterback the Browns wanted to draft last year, but couldn’t because of their inability to make the trade to give them the second overall choice).

Then, you have the Brian Hoyers of the world. Call them the economy models.

They’re affordable and available. You sign them to fill out the quarterback depth chart, as the Browns did after Hoyer washed out as a backup with the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals. You make them a third-stringer, which is what Hoyer was through the offseason, training camp, and the preseason.

Then, you see what the guy can do when you shove him in the lineup, ahead of the guy who had been No. 2 (Jason Campbell), after your No. 1 gets hurt.

And he comes through for you with a massive road win that earns him another start at home. He makes quick and good decisions. He throws the ball consistently well. He moves the offense efficiently and effectively.

Take that 91-yard drive on Sunday. Holding a tenuous, 10-6 lead, the Browns took over at their 9-yard line with 11:31 left. Hoyer went to work, picking up six first touchdowns along the way, including 31-yard throw to Cameron to the Cincinnati 24 and a 1-yard toss to Ogbonnaya for the game-sealing score. Hoyer was 5-for-5 for 56 yards and a touchdown.

In short, he did everything you would want your “franchise quarterback” to do.

Is Hoyer that guy? It’s still too early to say, but it’s not silly to suggest he is traveling on the right path.

And even if Chudzinski wouldn’t say he’s starting against the Bills, Hoyer, through his performance and his body language and his words, is looking and sounding as if he has taken ownership of the position.

“I think we did a good job,” Hoyer said. “There were some things that we probably could have done better, but you fight through it and in the end, when it came down to it, we went (91) yards to cap the game and the defense comes up big and gets a turnover (Buster Skrine’s interception with3:43 left).

“It’s always good when you can end the game taking a knee.”

Future or present, that’s the best play your quarterback can make.

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