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New England No More: Hoyer and Mallett set to duke it out on Sunday


It's being dubbed the Brady Bowl.

On Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett will take the field against one another. This time it will be without the clipboards in hand. Nor will it entail competing for the same roster spot.

Hoyer was Tom Brady's backup in New England for three seasons from 2009-11, and a respected one at that. When the Patriots thought they saw a rare chance to upgrade the position, Bill Bellichick pounced, selecting a 6-foot-5 gunslinger from Arkansas who happened to be Mallett. At the time, many had predicted Mallett wouldn't leave the first round. The pick was considered a steal once an organization like the Patriots nabbed Mallett in the third round.

The Patriots were one of the few teams in the league to keep three quarterbacks in 2011 but Mallett beat out Hoyer prior to the beginning of the 2012 season, sending the Ohio native back to Cleveland without a job. It came as a surprise to Hoyer, considering he would be a restricted free agent. Hoyer worked out with high school football players at his alma mater Saint Ignatius wondering if his career had seen an abrupt ending.  

Oh, how the tides have turned.

"This business [the NFL] is crazy," Hoyer said on Wednesday.

Hoyer's tumultuous journey since his release in New England has been well documented – a week-long stay with the Steelers in Pittsburgh, his first-ever start with the Arizona Cardinals to end the 2012 season, a torn ACL once he secured the starting job in Cleveland and now an unforeseeable 6-3 start to the Browns' 2014 season.

Patience is a rare NFL virtue to have, especially at the quarterback position. As a young receiver or cornerback, you can see live game reps every now and then. Backup quarterbacks put in endless amounts of work and rarely ever grace the field. For Hoyer, the knowledge he gained was worth the wait.

"I think [Mallett and I] both knew at some point, [starting] wasn't going to be in New England because Tom's going to play until he wants to stop, but at some point you've just got to take the knowledge you learn there and put it to use somewhere else," Hoyer said.

Mallett is cut from the same cloth as Hoyer. During Houston's bye last week, Mallett camped out at the Texans facility, throwing passes, lifting weights and plunging his mind into the playbook.

In three NFL seasons, Mallet has only thrown four passes, in mop-up duties during a Patriots blowout. After trading for Mallett prior the season, the Texans (4-5) decided to pull the trigger and move Ryan Fitzpatrick to the bench.

Mallett has all the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. The challenge for Mallett will be in between his ears. And in his first start this week, Browns coach Mike Pettine said the quarterback has the advantage that he prepared for Pettine's scheme two times a year – both in New York and Buffalo.

"Brian helped me out a lot when I got (to New England). He didn't turn his shoulder to me or anything," Mallett said. "He's a really good guy. He knows football. He's smart. He gives their team a chance to win the game. He doesn't turn it over much and he makes good decisions."

"I know being a quarterback, you always want to get that shot to play," said Hoyer, who also raved about Mallett's arm being the strongest he's ever seen. "I'm sure he's excited and we'll see how it goes."

The last remaining New England connection to the Browns-Texans matchup might be the most relevant.

Texans head coach Bill O'Brien was Hoyer's quarterback coach in 2009-10 and assumed the offensive coordinating duties for the 2011 season where the Patriots eventually reached the Super Bowl. O'Brien left New England following that season to take over as the head coach at Penn State. He guided the Nittany Lions for two seasons before being hired by the Texans. 

Hoyer's so close with O'Brien, he referred to him as "Billy" all throughout the interview. O'Brien remembers the first time the pair met when the coach worked out the quarterback at Michigan State.

"Where he is right now, as a successful starting quarterback in this league, doesn't surprise me at all," said O'Brien. "He's a hell of a guy."

"I don't think I'd be the player I am today without Billy. I think I've mentioned it before, my time in New England I remember him telling me, 'I don't really coach Tom Brady. I just kind of guide him in the right direction and game plan.'"

"So, I felt like I got the benefit of a lot of his extra coaching, whether it was fundamentals, learning defenses, things that he didn't have to spend time talking over with Tom," continued Hoyer. "He spent the time coaching with me, and it really helped me out, as far as a quarterback in this league. "

O'Brien already has Pettine's respect, too.

"He was a big part of New England's success," Pettine said. "I thought what he did at Penn State was tremendous. You can tell the players have bought in in Houston…by how hard they play"

The final piece to this revolving puzzle? Brady himself.

"It speaks to their work ethic and what they've been able to accomplish," Brady told the New England media on Wednesday. "It will be fun to see. We play at 8 o'clock, so I'm sure a lot guys from on our team will be paying attention."

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