If you thought that 2012 was one crazy year in the world of Cleveland Sports, 2013 proved that there is rarely a dull moment. There were good times and bad, hirings and firings, wins and losses, and appearances in postseasons and courtrooms. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last five years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the ten biggest sports stories to grace our local sports scene over the last 12 months. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. Do enjoy.
Stop me if you have heard this one before: The Cleveland Browns need a quarterback. You have all seen the infamous jersey. Since Bernie Kosar, the lord himself, your football team has struggled not just in finding a good, quality quarterback, but a competent one. It is truly incredible how many swings and misses several different regimes have taken with the various men under center. It doesn’t matter whether they went the first-overall pick route (Tim Couch), the first-round path (Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden), the mid-round developmental guy (Colt McCoy, Charlie Ward), the waiver wire pickup (Derek Anderson), the career backup (Kelly Holcomb), or the end-of-the-line veteran (Trent Dilfer, Jeff Garcia), nothing and I mean NOTHING has worked out long term since the Browns returned in 1999.
So here we were with yet another new president, new GM, and new head coach looking down the barrel of a QB situation they did not want. Mike Lombardi, on the NFL Network a year earlier heading into the draft, was a known critic of incumbent Brandon Weeden. We were told all spring and summer that Weeden looked terrific and that Norv Turner’s offense would bring out the best in the strong-armed, second-year 30-year old. Rumors of Lombardi’s infatuation with Patriots backup Ryan Mallett turned up nothing. The front office did not even draft a quarterback in April, so it looked as though they would enter the season with Weeden as the starter and veteran Jason Campbell as his backup. It wasn’t until May when another Lombardi favorite, former Pats backup and local product Brian Hoyer, became available after being cut by Arizona that the Browns made their move. Weeden won the job with Campbell and Hoyer on his tail.
I wrote about the debacle the QB position had turned into back on November 15.
Miami spanked them in the opener under Brandon Weeden, who we were told looked much more comfortable in an offense geared to his strengths, looking no different and an offensive line that looked completely overmatched (anyone else miss the Oneil Cousins experience?). Next they traveled to Baltimore to take on the defending Super Bowl Champions in their home opener where they raised another banner. Once again, the offense looked comically inept in a 14-6 loss where Jason Campbell had to step on the field for the final series of the game, needing to go the length of the field to tie the game with no timeouts.
As if things didn’t look bad enough on the field, Weeden was going to be lost for a few weeks with a thumb injury (which wasn’t viewed as such a bad thing) as the team was heading to Minnesota. GM Mike Lombardi’s favorite QB, Brian Hoyer, who had been third string since coming over in May, jumped Campbell on the depth chart and was given his second career start. Then completely out of the blue that same week, RB Trent Richardson, one of the more popular players with the fan base, was traded to Indianapolis for a 2014 first round pick. He was replaced on the roster by 32-year old Willis McGahee. Fans and media types were aghast. “The Browns are tanking the season” was a popular take both locally and nationally. Despite all of the talk, there was a game to play that Sunday against the Vikings.
Everyone outside of that Browns locker room predicted they would get blown out by Adrian Peterson and company. Instead Hoyer and the Jordan Cameron/Josh Gordon duo sparked the offense to heights we didn’t think were possible. On a Hoyer to Cameron TD pass with 51 seconds left, the Browns pulled off the upset and the St. Ignatius grad instantly become a hero. Nobody loves the “local boy makes good” story quite like Clevelanders and a week later, making his first home start, Hoyer and a rock solid defense beat down the division leading Bengals 17-6. At 2-2, people here started to believe. A national TV game with the Buffalo Bills game was next and the excitement of “Hoyer Mania” was growing in Cleveland. Could we possibly have the answer at QB or at least a competent future backup? One thing was for sure – we were all excited to see what these young Browns with a staunch defense and the Hoyer-led offense could do.
All of that excitement quickly went down the drain the first quarter against the Bills when Hoyer slid to the ground and stayed down, holding his knee. Just like that, Weeden was back in and we would soon learn that Hoyer’s season would be over with a torn ACL. The 2012 first round pick came on in relief and led the Browns to a third straight win, 37-24, which was aided by a Travis Benjamin punt return for a TD and a game-sealing pick six by T.J. Ward. While he threw for 197 yards in three quarters and made some big plays, Weeden was still sacked five times. Now winners of three straight, Cleveland was Believeland once again. Unfortunately, the real Brandon Weeden was about to reappear.
Weeden was awful in losses to Detroit (31-17) and Green Bay (31-13) with the capper being his horrific underhand toss interception which killed any chance of a Browns comeback against the Lions. It was clear that a change had to be made. Weeden had become Chris Perez, an extremely unpopular figure who just could not come back out on the field in home games. They were 3-4 with nothing to lose, so coach Rob Chudzinski was given no choice but to turn the offense over to Campbell, who nobody thought was worthy of being starter again and had already been passed over once. The last time we saw Campbell start was last season for the Bears where the 49ers turned him into a piñata on a Monday night. It was not exactly the kind of game tape that Campbell would want on his resume. But nevertheless, the sentiment in Cleveland was “he couldn’t possibly be any worse than Weeden.”
All Campbell was asked to do was beat the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs on the road with no running game to speak of. Most of the first half was a bleep show to say the least. The first three series under Campbell were all three and outs. But something clicked after Campbell hit Josh Gordon on a well executed flea flicker late in the second quarter. The Browns battled back and were in the game all the way until the end. Afterwards we would learned that Chud’s impassioned halftime speech fired up his team. He pulled no punches and called his players out. They responded and would later praise him for it. There was no shame in losing 23-17 at Arrowhead and the second half play of Campbell was very encouraging. As we had seen with Hoyer under center, the offense moved the ball thanks to the quick release and pocket presence of Campbell, who used his legs to avoid pressure. Campbell’s play was the truest indictment of Weeden’s abilities, or should we say lack there of.
After leading the Browns to a home win against the Baltimore Ravens, giving every Cleveland fan that glimmer of hope that things had finally started to turn around, reality set in. Campbell came crashing back down to earth against the Steelers, was unimpressive and eventually hurt, knocked out with a concussion. This caused the last thing Browns fans (and the front office for that matter) wanted to see; a return to the starting lineup for Weeden in a home game no less.
The two-win Jacksonville Jaguars came strolling into town and the Browns former first round pick made one key mistake and bad throw after another. Weeden was sacked three times, picked twice on back to back series late in the second quarter, and panicked himself into a safety early in the fourth quarter which gave the Jaguars a 22-21 lead.
On the final offensive playoff the game, Brandon was concussed. Nobody knew it until after the game when he wasn’t made available to the media. With Campbell still out, the Browns were staring at untested and undrafted rookie Alex Tanney who had been on the team a whole week as their possible started in New England a week later. Caleb Hanie, another out of work QB, was brought in for a week just in case. Luckily for the Browns, Campbell was healthy enough to return against the Patriots and if not for a debacle late in the fourth quarter, he would have led his team to one of the biggest upsets in the league this season.
So here we sit heading into the final Sunday of the season and the Browns are a four-win team who will 100% be searching for a quarterback in either the draft, free agency, a trade, or all of the above. Many in this town are rooting for the St. Ignatius grad, Brian Hoyer, who impressed in his two-game cameo. While his story was nice, he is still a career backup with two good starts in Cleveland under his belt. You know who else had two good starts and got everyone all buttered up about his future? Kelly Holcomb. I think Joe Banner and Lombardi would like to go into 2014 with a first-round quarterback, Hoyer, and Campbell on the roster. Let Hoyer and the rookie battle it out for the starting job. Regardless of what happens going forward, the 2014 quarterback carousel in Cleveland was just more of the same, par for the course. The names change, but the results never do.
(Image via Candice Vlcek/WFNY)