A 23-20 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday was representative of the season for rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and the Cleveland Browns.
So close, yet so far.
Optimism for the future, frustration in 2012.
“What I'm proud of is you can tell teams aren't taking us lightly,” Weeden said. “They know we're not a team that's going to roll over. We've battled hard every game. We've just seemed to be a play or two away so many times this year.”
Cleveland, 2-8, isn't fighting for a playoff berth. But Weeden, the 22nd overall pick last year out of Oklahoma State, believes the Browns aren't far away from being a viable playoff contender.
Of the Browns' eight losses, six have been by seven points or less.
“Even with the record where it is, there are a lot of positives,” Weeden said. “You hate to lose. But we have a lot of good players. We're young. We're right there.
“I feel we're on our way. I'm very optimistic about this football team, seeing the positivity week in and week out. I'm very excited to be part of a team I think has a very bright future.”
The Browns owned the lead much of the game at Dallas. After they were stuffed on three consecutive plays one yard short of a go-ahead touchdown, the Browns took a 20-17 lead with 1:07 left on Weeden's 17-yard TD pass.
Instead of it being a defining play/win for Weeden and the Browns, the Cowboys, aided by two Cleveland defensive penalties that accounted for 50 yards, marched to a tying field goal, then won in overtime.
It was one of Weeden's top performances in an up-and-down rookie season. Weeden completed 20 of 35 for 210 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. His one mistake was a fumble.
“There were some positives, but it's hard to get excited about them when you lose,” Weeden said. “Nothing replaces winning. The goal is to win games. I'm so critical, especially of myself.”
Weeden's 70.3 passer rating ranks 31st in the league but is higher than Troy Aikman's rookie season (55.9) and close to Peyton Manning's rookie campaign (71.2).
The Edmond Santa Fe product has thrown 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions but ranks in the top 20 in the league in passing yards (2,298).
One area Weeden is focused on improving is a 55.3 percent completion percentage. He's had more passes dropped than any quarterback in the league, but also has missed his share of open receivers.
“This thing is all about completions,” Weeden said. “This isn't like Oklahoma State. There are so many ins and outs that you have to learn on the fly. You can't come into the league and expect to know some of these things that quarterbacks know that have been playing a lot of years.”
Weeden, 29, is much older than your typical NFL rookie quarterback. He played professional baseball before resuming a football career at OSU. He said the biggest adjustment is the pace of the game compared to the Cowboys' up-tempo offense that ran 90 to 100 plays a game.
“All the little nuances can make such a big difference, like checking down to a receiver,” Weeden said. “It's such a different mindset how you go about a game, even small things like running the clock.”
Weeden lives in Edmond in the off-season. So many friends, relatives and OSU fans attended last week's game he joked even the family dog made the trip to Arlington, Texas.
“It was a playoff-like atmosphere,” said Cleveland cornerback Sheldon Brown. “Each and every game is giving him experience. We're so proud of how Brandon has handled everything from the time he stepped into the locker room (last spring).”
Rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have enjoyed immediate success, but that's rare. Most rookies have to pay their dues like Weeden.
“No question I'm getting there,” Weeden said. “Teams will bring some crazy (defensive) stuff at me but I've pretty much seen everything for the most part. That's good. Early on I'd miss some things.
“I'm not where I need to be but I feel I've gotten better week in and week out. ... There are so many things I can do to get better. I'm so focused and bought in on this team. I just want to help this team start winning a lot of games.”