CLEVELAND - A couple of weeks ago quarterback Brandon Weeden appeared upset for having lost his starting job to Brian Hoyer because of an injury.
As irony would have it, Weeden has now regained the job because of an injury. The difference is that Hoyer isn't coming back any time soon, while Weeden missed just two games with a sprained thumb.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski confirmed on a conference call Friday that Hoyer tore the ACL in his right knee in the 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills Thursday. Surgery will follow, which will put an end to Hoyer's short but impressive season.
The injury was a sour note on an otherwise positive night as the Browns won for the third consecutive time, putting them temporarily alone atop the AFC North Division standings with a 3-2 record. Hoyer, a local product from North Olmsted, added a spark of life to an offense that was stuck in neutral in losses to Miami and Baltimore to open the season.
"I've talked to Brian," Chudzinski said. "He's disappointed, but if you know how positive he is and the type of person he is; he's already thinking about when he'll come back. I wanted to let him know how much he meant to us and what he did."
For better or worse, it's now back to Weeden, who entered the season assuming he'd have a full slate of games to show whether he deserves to remain the starter or if the front office needs to move on at the position. To his credit, he played well enough to help rally the Browns from a 10-0 deficit despite having limited practice reps. He completed 13-of-24 passes for 197 yards and a 37-yard touchdown pass to receiver Josh Gordon.
"Brandon stepped in and took over and the guys rallied around him," Chudzinski said. "It was a gutsy performance. It wasn't always pretty. He got the job done."
Hoyer took what was developing into a bad situation - a 0-2 start and a ton of controversy after Trent Richardson was traded - and breathed life into the season. It's now Weeden's job to continue the good work.
By the reaction of many fans in attendance Thursday night, there's not a lot of confidence that Weeden will be successful. The sad thing is that every mistake Weeden makes will result in boos, which isn't the recipe for success when playing at home.
Weeden shook off a slow start Thursday and picked up the pace on deep passes to Greg Little for 47 yards and Gordon for the score.
"It takes time," Weeden said. "I was a little rusty coming out of the chute. There are no excuses. I have to come in and operate. We have to run the offense just like we installed it all week. We did that for the most part. The guys played well. Big third downs, at times, a lot of areas we need cleaned up as well."
The best thing Weeden has going for him is a surrounding cast that is playing with confidence. The special teams excelled thanks to punt returner Travis Benjamin, who had a team-record 179 yards and a 79-yarder for a touchdown. The defense was hit for 155 rushing yards, but it stiffened when needed and came up with a huge play when safety T.J. Ward intercepted a Jeff Tuel pass and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown.
"I can't say enough about the guys and what they've been able to do and how focused they are," Chudzinski said. "We're really seeing an identity develop for this team. They're relentless and they don't flinch.
"You're seeing great leadership from guys like Joe Thomas and D'Qwell Jackson, but also from the Phil Taylors and Joe Hadens. There are a lot of positives."
It remains to be seen if it's enough to overcome a huge negative - the injury to Hoyer.