I got a call Thursday night from former colleague Stephanie Kuzydym, who left The Oklahoman just a few weeks ago for a job in Cleveland, working for cleveland.com and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Kuzydym had just been to some function at a pub in downtown Cleveland and had spotted a guy with a cap that sported the state of Oklahoma in orange, outlined in black.
Kuzydym is a pretty social person, so she struck up a conversation with the guy. Turns out he is a friend of Brandon Weeden’s and was actually there with Weeden’s father. Kuzydym chatted with Weeden’s dad and discovered that a big band of Weeden’s family and friends were in Cleveland to watch the Cleveland-Buffalo game Thursday night, then celebrate a surprise birthday party for the quarterback from Edmond and OSU.
The only bummer, of course, is that Weeden had lost his job as the Browns’ starter. He suffered an injured thumb in Cleveland’s second game, Brian Hoyer took over and played well. When Weeden returned to relative health this week, he was the backup.
You know the rest. Hoyer was injured early in the Browns’ game Thursday night, Weeden came on and led Cleveland to a 37-24 victory. His first celebration was not the party. Among the revelry was an appearance on the NFL Network’s post-game show, which included Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk.
“Brandon had to knock the dust off a little bit from the injury,” said Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon. “I told him go out there and wing it, man. Have fun. Just trust in us. He did exactly that.”
Weeden completed 13 of 24 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown. And he did so under trying circumstances. Virtually no practice time the last two weeks and an atmosphere of discontent. Not only did the Cleveland fans boo quite severely Weeden’s early incompletions, but the NFL Network crew at halftime suggested that the Browns themselves lost enthusiasm when Hoyer went out, even to the point of substandard blocking.
But Weeden said he kept his head. “You have to,” Weeden said. “You gotta control what you can control. I’m going to stick my neck on the line for this football team. I prepared like I was going to start. That’s the only way I know to go about it. It was tough, very few reps (repetitions), actually zero reps the last two weeks, so a little rusty coming in here. It’s rusty to start. But I got great guys around me.”
Weeden wasn’t sensational. But after a rocky start, he settled down and played solid. The Browns got two monster punt returns from Travis Benjamin, then the Cleveland offense started producing. Weeden took the Browns on two touchdown drives, plus two late field-goal drives after the game was tied 24-24.
“It’s exciting,” Weeden said. “Great showing tonight. Lot of enthusiam on national television. Gotta show what Cleveland Browns football is all about. We’re a hungry football team. It took all three phases. Travis Benjamin’s plays were kind of the firestarter, and we didn’t stop from there.”
Weeden was asked the uncomfortable question of what he learned in his two games watching Hoyer take over the job.
“What Brian does really well is get the ball out quick,” Weeden said. “I told my line, there’s a couple tonight I should have got the ball out quicker. Throw it away or whatever it is. Brian’s an accurate thrower. He’s smart. He’s making big-time plays. He’s a great player. Hate to see him go down. He’s a friend. He’s a teammate. He had a great two games. I tried to learn what I can. He’s been around (Tom) Brady and those guys. He’s a smart football player.”
But Hoyer’s injury is Weeden’s gain. He’s back as the Cleveland starter, and the 3-2 Browns stunningly are in first place in the AFC North.
“You gotta take all the good and really build on ‘em,” Weeden said. “It’s still early. Lot of football left. This is a hungry football team. We talk about it all the time. Be relentless. Be hungry. Don’t listen to outside noise. That’s all you can ask. It’s fun to come to work every day. Good group of guys on this football team.”
Weeden turns 30 this month. Hence the birthday party. A 30-year-old quarterback, even a second-year man, has a mental edge. Better than most, Weeden probably can tune out the discontent from Cleveland fans.
“It’s tough,” Weeden said. “You gotta realize the ins and outs of the business. That’s out of your control.” He said the team as a whole did that in Week 3, going to Minnesota and getting a tough victory. “That shows the strength and cohesiveness of this football team. You can’t listen to it. I’ve been around it, playing baseball. I’ve scuffled. Been through ups and downs and adversity. But you just gotta keep your head down and keep grinding.”