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Brian Hoyer is winning: games and believers

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Brian Hoyer hasn't thrown an interception in 139 attempts.

Brian Hoyer has led two game-winning drives in the fourth quarter.

But this; this is the big one: Brian Hoyer is 4-1 as the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.

"I'm developing an affinity for winning, and he's a big part of it," said head coach Mike Pettine of his starting quarterback.

Hoyer is becoming a better NFL quarterback every time he steps onto the football field. Defenses may be getting more tape to study the 28-year-old with, but so far in 2014, Hoyer's ability to make timely plays and his mental toughness in clutch situations have been one of the Browns' biggest strengths. To quote New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, "When Hoyer plays, the Browns play well."

The Browns' offense, led by Hoyer, was able to lift themselves out of quicksand, in a situation where most NFL offenses without an elite quarterback fail to get the win. Trailing 24-23 with 2:46 left on the clock, a Saints punt put the Browns 96 yards away from the end zone. As the clock kept ticking, typical Cleveland clouds full of doom and gloom casted shadows on the stadium. The Browns were in big trouble.

If you re-watch the game, the drive doesn't actually begin until 38 seconds remain and it's fourth-down and seven. In nine plays, Hoyer had moved the offense only 30 yards with an array of short passes. Receivers weren't getting open. New Orleans was getting pressure in the backfield. The Saints had the unseasoned quarterback on the ropes and were one fourth-down stop from leaving Ohio with a win.

On the moment where everyone was ready to count out the Browns offense, Hoyer grabbed a baseball bat and started swinging on Rob Ryan's New Orleans highly-regarded defense.

It started with the fourth-down completion over the middle to Gary Barnidge – his best throw of the game. Hoyer completed the rocket to Cleveland's reserve tight end, all with Pro Bowl safety (and one of the NFL's biggest free agent acquisitions) Jairus Byrd draped all over him.

Then came the throw to Miles Austin on the sideline. Hoyer rolled outside the pocket to the left, trying to create something off schedule. And he did, putting the football where only Austin could snag it, low and right on the sideline. The catch was reviewed in the booth and the play on the field stood. Because of Hoyer, not only were the Browns breathing, they could see the pot at the end of the rainbow.

We broke down what turned into the game-winning throw in more detail in this article. Andrew Hawkins told reporters it was Hoyer's eyes that deceived the defense and let the receiver run untouched behind the secondary for the 28-yard gain.

"Hoyer made an incredible read," said Hawkins, Hoyer's favorite target after the game.

Brian Hoyer doesn't panic. He battled through some inaccurate throws in the first half against the Saints and was quick to get rid of the ball. New Orleans only sacked the Browns' passer once on a scrambling play for a two-yard loss.

Brian Hoyer is poised when the pressure of the game is supposed to sap to more inexperienced quarterbacks.

But this; this is the big one: Brian Hoyer's teammates legitimately trust their quarterback to go out and win football games for the team. A lack of faith in the quarterback position within the locker room has been Cleveland's biggest problem since 1999. Uncertainty may have crept in during Hoyer's so-so training camp and preseason. But those doubts have faded the moment Hoyer was handed the keys.

"I'm confident in our offense, but I am so happy on how they fought and made plays when it really counted," said cornerback Joe Haden. "I tip my hat off to Hoyer. He did a really good job."

"There was no doubt in his mind that we were going to go down and get the points we needed to win the game, and that's exactly the way it happened," said Hawkins.

"He's doing what he's supposed to do, not turning the ball over and getting the ball to the open guys," said Donte Whitner. "We had a few drops and a few errant passes, but he's only going to continue to get better and better."

There are wins in the NFL, and then are wins in the NFL that can inspire a team. Winning is a mentality. The mentality is contagious. And the contagious affect can spread like a wildfire.

The Browns saw this exact affect from Hoyer in 2013. In his first start with the team, the quarterback orchestrated a wild win in a shootout against the Vikings. The momentum and confidence had an osmosis sway inside Cleveland's locker room. The belief in Hoyer changed the identity of the Browns. They smoked the Bengals the following week and then bested the Bills on Thursday Night.

"We won like that in my first start against Minnesota last year and you see the guys really believing in you," said Hoyer. "It's the best feeling there is.  Winning the game is great, but when the guys in that room respect you, that's what it's all about.  It's a great feeling."

Pettine has said it best himself: if Brian Hoyer didn't tear his ACL last season, then Pettine probably is not the head coach of the Browns. If he's put in the position to win a football game at the very end, Cleveland's quarterback is proving the NFL he's talented and smart enough to walk away with the "W." Pettine has brought the attitude change to the building; Hoyer has brought it to the field.

Brian Hoyer is elevating the play of receivers and tight ends around him, possibly the best trait a quarterback can have, and something many argued he didn't possess.

Brian Hoyer, right now, is the unquestioned leader of the offense.

But this; this is the biggest one: Brian Hoyer is playing like he wants to be Cleveland's quarterback for quite a while.

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