MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The young running back was traded away, the third-stringer was picked to start at quarterback, and Cleveland's jaded fan base was already pushing this week for the first pick in next year's draft.
The Browns haven't given up on the season, though.
Minnesota's might be slipping away.
Jordan Cameron caught three touchdown passes, including the go-ahead grab in the back of the end zone with 51 seconds left, and the Browns kept the Vikings winless with a 31-27 victory Sunday.
"If you let the distractions that are outside of the locker room affect the way you play, then you are tanking the season and you will have no chance," said Joe Thomas, the three-time All-Pro left tackle.
Brian Hoyer threw for three scores in his second career start, and the Browns (1-2) became the latest team to torch Minnesota's struggling secondary, which lost top cornerback Chris Cook to a groin injury in the first quarter. Hoyer overcame three interceptions to throw for 321 yards, going 30 for 54. Josh Gordon had 10 catches for 146 yards and a touchdown in his season debut, and Cameron had six receptions for 66 yards.
"It's just a matter of believing in Brian and believing in ourselves, and we did a good job of that," Cameron said.
Christian Ponder ran for two touchdowns for the Vikings (0-3), but he threw an interception, lost a fumble and took his sixth sack on the final play of the game. The Vikings went three-and-out six times, twice in the fourth quarter when they could've put the game away.
Ponder almost hit Jerome Simpson in a crowd at the goal line on the penultimate play, but the Vikings didn't get closer than the 34.
"We've got to look ourselves in the mirror and change this around quickly, because we're going to make sure this doesn't steamroll and snowball downhill," Ponder said.
After scoring 16 points over the first two games, dealing 2012 first-round draft pick Trent Richardson to Indianapolis and putting Hoyer in for the injured Brandon Weeden, the Browns looked finished. They were behind 7-0 after a long Vikings touchdown drive and a 45-second possession of their own forced a punt.
But they held Adrian Peterson to 88 yards and one score on 25 rushes, used a fake punt and a fake field goal in the first half to build a lead and kept the Vikings from scoring after Hoyer's first two interceptions. The third one, by Erin Henderson, set up Ponder's scramble for 8 yards to tie the game late in the third quarter.
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