By Anthony Slater – Aslater@opubco.com – @anthonyVslater
It took 29 years — to the day — including attempted careers in two sports, but Brandon Weeden finally has his first professional victory.
And regardless of the extended wait, which finally ended with Cleveland’s 34-24 triumph over Cincinnati on Saturday, that’s a moment not experienced by 99.9 percent of the population.
“It was fun to see guys jumping around and happy,” Cleveland kicker Phil Dawson said to reporters, speaking about Weeden and the Browns other rookies. “They never had that feeling before and it was great to see.”
Even greater for the former Oklahoma State star? He played a big role — possibly the key role — in helping Cleveland break its franchise-record 11-game losing streak and give the new era of Browns football its first win.
Overall, Weeden went 17/29 for 231 yards and two touchdowns, throwing himself a perfect 29th birthday bash in his home stadium.
That included a perfect 71-yard first-quarter toss that hit Josh Gordon in stride to spark a 34-point outburst and a fourth quarter game-clincher to Benjamin Watson that ended it.
His rookie season hasn’t come without worts, including a disastrous four-interception debut and an NFL-worst 10 picks on the season, even admitting the turnover issue was an ‘ego thing.’
But Weeden has shown immediate growth, the kind you’d expect from a first-year starter, throughout the first six games.
Since the stinkbomb opener, he’s averaging 280 yards per game, including three multi-touchdown performances. And in those three games, Cleveland scored 27 or more points each time. The Browns only scored 20 or more twice last season.
So despite the mixed results, it’s been a rocky but somewhat successful first six weeks, especially considering he’s third in the NFL in passing attempts with 202 (behind only Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers) as a rookie in one of the league’s toughest defensive divisions.
And that culminated in a nice birthday present on Sunday.
“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,” Weeden told reporters. “We want to have fun, win games and we finally got that notch on our belt.”
Of Weeden’s 17 completions, two went to a familiar friend and college teammate.
Former Oklahoma State slot receiver Josh Cooper was activated from the practice squad this week and immediately produced, catching two passes for 39 yards.
And both of those receptions went for important first downs (I’ll allow a moment for Cowboy fans to reflect fondly and quietly whisper ‘Coooop’).
“I think we saw them connect quite a bit when they were both learning the system in the preseason and in the offseason practices,” Browns coach Pat Shurmer told the Akron Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich earlier this week. “Hopefully that connection is still there.”
Weeden on Josh Cooper’s first catch…
“That’s my boy, that’s my boy. I was so pumped for him I could barely call the play in the huddle. I was so excited for him and he made a great catch. He made a good one. It’s not the easiest catch in your NFL career. You usually want to catch a hitch or something like that, but he caught a back shoulder wheel route and it was a heck of a catch. It didn’t surprise me, that guy can flat out play. I was spoiled at Oklahoma State with him, so whenever I heard he was getting an opportunity I was pumped for him personally, but I was also pumped for us. I think he’s a guy that can make a lot of plays.”
For a brief moment, Dez Bryant looked like the hero. But then he was suddenly the scapegoat.
Bryant, another one of OSU’s former stars who were active in the league on Sunday afternoon, had a career-high 13 catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns.
But after a key fourth-quarter score, Bryant dropped what could have been the game-tying two-point conversion.
“I applauded Jerry Jones for trading up to draft Dez but I am close to concluding his huge positives no longer outweigh his negatives,” ESPN talking head Skip Bayless tweeted after the play.
Bryant’s big drop was almost deemed irrelevant, when Dallas got the ball back with a chance to win. But Dan Bailey, another former OSU star, missed a game-winning 51-yard field goal as time expired.
Strange day for a couple former and current Cowboys.