BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Once practice ended on Friday, quarterback Thad Lewis was approached by Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who had great news for the third-stringer.
"He said, 'You're the man,'" Lewis said.
And just like that, Lewis became Cleveland's starter Sunday in the season finale at Pittsburgh, where he will take his first regular-season NFL snaps against the Steelers and their No. 1-ranked defense.
"It's exciting," Lewis said. "It's a blessing for a childhood dream come true."
Shoulder injuries to starter Brandon Weeden and No. 2 QB Colt McCoy will give Lewis a chance to show what he can do after almost three seasons spent on practice squads, running the scout team and finishing off exhibition games with other backups. He's been waiting for his opportunity, and he'll get it against James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and Co. — amid a sea of Terrible Towels.
Lewis never considered his first start would come against one of the league's most feared defenses.
"Part of my childhood dream was to be a starter one day in the NFL. Who it was against, I didn't have a visual of that," Lewis said, smiling. "But it's a challenge and if you don't like challenges then you're in the wrong sport."
With Weeden and McCoy unable to practice, Lewis spent all week working with Cleveland's first-team offense. Although signs pointed toward him making the start, Lewis didn't get the official word until after Friday's workout from Shurmur, who is confident the 25-year-old will perform well.
"He's been preparing himself to play all year even though he wasn't on the active roster," Shurmur said. "What we expect is that he goes out and plays winning football."
Weeden finished with 3,385 yards passing, a team rookie record. He was inconsistent, but Shurmur believes the 29-year-old's best seasons are ahead.
"Now that he's had a season under his belt, he'll come back here in the offseason, much like a lot of quarterbacks in this league that went on to have really good careers, just pick one," he said. "They all had rookie years where they were much better in their second year. I think he's shown quite a bit this year that's good."
For their last game, the Browns will also be without starting rookie running back Trent Richardson.
He sprained his left ankle in the closing seconds last week in a lopsided loss at Denver. He broke almost every Browns rookie rushing record but wound up 50 yards shy of 1,000. It's a disappointing ending for Richardson, who missed all of the exhibition season following knee surgery and played most of the season with a rib cartilage injury.
Browns running backs coach Gary Brown said Richardson was never at full speed.
"Although he was running hard and playing well, he just didn't feel like Trent," Brown said. "God willing he's going to come back strong from the rib and the knee is strong and the city of Cleveland will see exactly what Trent Richardson is, and I believe that's going to be a top-flight running back in this league."