Peanut butter and jelly. Spaghetti and meatballs. Brian Hoyer and the up-tempo offense.
Statistically, visually and most importantly, from a production standpoint, the Cleveland Browns' quarterback looked like a complete player when operating the offense in the second half. The rapid tempo and no-huddle suited the Browns, and nearly drowned the Steelers.
"It was really one play after another and those guys were getting tired," said Hoyer. "We knew what we wanted to do."
"We talked about changing tempo, forcing teams to think a little faster, getting lined up, get some first downs, it gets them tired," said Browns head coach Mike Pettine. "It keeps you on the field."
The faster pace from the Browns did the exact opposite for Hoyer: it slowed the game down. In the second half, the quarterback went 15-for-20, for 173 yards, engineering four straight drives with points – including three touchdowns. Hoyer accurately pinpointed who was open with ease. And he made big plays.
To tie the score at 27, Hoyer rolled slowly to his left, scanning the end zone for an opening. He was able to find wide receiver Travis Benjamin cutting across the back of the end zone, and chucked him a spiral in stride.
Hoyer found a rhythm with wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, specifically over the middle of the field. It started on the very first play of the third quarter, when Hawkins spun Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor around in coverage, gaining 15 yards. Two other catches went for 19 and 25 yards. Hawkins' eight receptions tied a career-high.
Without flinching, Hoyer was quick to agree that the no-huddle offense worked for Cleveland. But is it sustainable for an entire game?
"You guys saw how successful it was, so it might be something that we obviously have to keep doing. We have to keep improving on other stuff too; we can't drive the field on our first drive and then not move the ball the rest of the first half.
"We never ran no-huddle in the preseason and I don't know how much you guys saw of that in the practices, but now it's on tape for the rest of the league," continued Hoyer. "It was great, but we can't put ourselves in that type of hole, especially against a team like Pittsburgh."
The offense wasn't the only thing that changed in the second half. The Browns' attitude did, too. Cleveland could have curled up in a corner. Instead, Hoyer, two rookie running backs and the Browns' pass rushers were determined to take control of the game. They did. The change in the pace in the flow and surges in momentum slapped Pittsburgh right across the face.
"It was great to see the character of the team we have, knowing we'll never quit and we'll scratch, fight and claw our way back. The margin of error in this league is so small that you have to capitalize on every opportunity that you have."
"I told the team afterwards this is a pass-fail league," said Pettine. "We failed. I'm proud of the effort in the second half but it's a valuable lesson to learn. You're behind 24 points at halftime. I don't know what the percentages are of coming back and winning. I guarantee it's probably right around one. There are no moral victories in this league, but I was proud of the resolve and the character that showed up."