Through the wind and the rain and all the tumultuous headlines and sound bytes that could burden a franchise in dire need of a win, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden led his previously winless team to a 27-10 victory in front of a packed house on a chilly and rainy October afternoon, answering the season-long, progress-based question: If the 2012 Cleveland Browns played the 2011 Cleveland Browns, which team would come out on top?
Though opposing quarterback Colt McCoy and bruising defensive lineman Phil Taylor did as much as they could in attempt to give their team a chance to pull out a win, it was Weeden, flanked by rookie teammates Trent Richardson and wide receiver Josh Gordon who proved to be all too much for their otherwise up-and-down opponents.
“It feels good,” said Weeden following his first win as a professional quarterback. “We’ve been so close so many times and to actually get over the hump and close a game out, play the way we did in the second half, it feels good. If feels really good.”
Weeden, despite starting out by completing one of his first five pass attempts, finished the afternoon by throwing for 297 yards (18-for-29 passing) with two touchdown passes and a quarterback rating of 119.4. Leading the league in interceptions coming into the contest, the red-headed rookie managed to keep the damage to a minimum, settling for multiple passes which should have been picked off but fell to the ground thanks to mental mistakes by the opposition. Gordon, the supplemental second-round draft pick out of Baylor, continued to provide a spark in his debut season, hauling in four passes for 95 yards and a touchdown. The arial attack was undoubtedly balanced by Richardson who carried the ball 18 times for 102 yards, finding the end zone once. He added 26 more yards through the air with four receptions.
The key play came on a third-and-one play following a touchdown by McCoy, connecting with tight end Evan Moore on a five-yard pass to the back corner of the end zone — a drive puzzled together by several short passes and fortuitous penalties on the defense — which closed their lead to 10-7. With momentum potentially shifting, Weeden administered a text book fake handoff to Richardson before rolling to his right to find Gordon two steps ahead of free safety Mike Adams. Gordon hauled in the deep ball, netting his team 66 yards and six points. From this point on, Weeden and his team would methodically pull away while the Billy Winn and John Hughes-led defense would hold McCoy and his band of misfits — would-be leaders in running back Peyton Hillis and tight end Ben Watson were both inactive due to injury — to three additional points thanks to a Phil Dawson 56-yard field goal.
“You have to give these guys credit,” McCoy said of the opposing defense. “The secondary played well, forcing me to check down to my third or fourth options and handing us a lot of unfortunate third-and-longs. Our injuries may have hurt us, but we can’t make excuses — we gave it our all, but those guys played a hell of a game.”
For the victors, rookie lineman Billy Winn recorded four tackles and had a key stop in the backfield which resulted in a second-half fumble. Defensive lineman Frostee Rucker recorded one sack and had two passes deflected at the line of scrimmage, one resulting in an interception by rookie linebacker Craig Robertson. Though Weeden had his hands full with defensive tackle Phil Taylor (four tackles, one sack) and veteran linebacker Chris Gocong (seven tackles, one sack), it would end up being the solid blocking of rookie offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz — nullifying the impact of defensive end Jabaal Sheard — and the rest of the offensive line that would give their quarterback enough time in the pocket to get his play-makers involved.
“We knew going into this game that we were going to finish and we were going to play the full sixty minutes,” said Winn of his team’s first victory. “Give it everything we got and leave it on the field. I think we were able to get that done.”
Weeden’s unit, to this point, has been in the spotlight due to their winless record and impending sale with highway rest stop mogul Jimmy Haslam III offering $1 billion to purchase the franchise. Meanwhile, McCoy’s team continues to deal with injuries and public relation nightmares due to off-field player issues as well as Randy Lerner, the team’s owner, being largely unavailable in these times of struggle. With his team’s defense and special teams keeping him in most games, McCoy has regressed mightily from his rookie campaign, providing an offense which has sputtered at best, one which continues to be in dire need of play-makers at each and every skill position.
Weeden was the last rookie quarterback to notch a win after having started all six of his team’s contests. Turning 29 years of age on this very day, the 6-foot-3-inch QB continues to mature with each passing week. Certainly, its a lot more enjoyable to mature in victory than it is with defeat.
“It’s a lot more fun coming out of that locker room with everybody excited,” said Weeden. “Going to work tomorrow is going to be a lot more fun than it has been in the last five weeks and that’s why we play the game. We want to have fun, win games and we finally got that notch on our belt.”
Editor’s note: If anyone can actually simulate the 2011 Browns taking on the 2012 version — Madden 13? — I’d love to know the actual result. Clarity-based update added to lede at 6:00pm.
(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)