CLEVELAND — Brandon Weeden’s goals were to manage the game, not make any mistakes and keep Cleveland’s offense going forward.
He did much more than that.
Weeden made coach Rob Chudzinski’s debut a success, and the second-year quarterback may have stopped any controversy before it started.
Weeden threw a touchdown pass and led Cleveland on two scoring drives, and Travis Benjamin returned a punt 91 yards for a TD as the Browns won Chudzinski’s first exhibition game, 27-19 over the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night.
By going 10 of 13 for 112 yards, Weeden provided a performance that should help end any talk of a quarterback competition in Cleveland and silence some of his critics. Chudzinski has not yet chosen his starter, but Weeden did everything he needed to secure the job.
“I thought he did a good job.” Chudzinski said. “He looked calm. We had good drives and he was a good part of it.”
Weeden hooked up with running back Dion Lewis, starting for Trent Richardson, for a 2-yard TD on the first play of the second quarter.
St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford threw a 3-yard TD pass to Chris Givens as Rams coach Jeff Fisher left his starting offense in after Benjamin’s runback made it 17-0. Bradford went 5 of 8 for 102 yards, including 59 on a deep ball over the middle to Givens.
Greg Zuerlein kicked field goals of 54 and 55 yards for the Rams, one of the NFL’s youngest teams still going through growing pains.
“The first game is never an indication of where you’re at, because there’s so many different things going on,” Fisher said. “We had one period to prepare for them, and that’s certainly not enough considering what they were doing defensively.”
The Browns are counting on Weeden to take a major step following an up-and-down rookie year. Chudzinski and new coordinator Norv Turner have tailored Cleveland’s offense to better suit Weeden, who has won over his teammates with his work ethic during the offseason.
Now, all the soon-to-be 30-year-old has to do is convince skeptical Cleveland fans that he can be the man. This was an ideal start.
“I thought for the most I made good decisions tonight,” Weeden said. “But I’ve still got a long ways to go.”
Weeden was composed as he led the Browns to 10 points on their first two possessions.
He went 5 of 8 on Cleveland’s first drive, which included wide receiver Greg Little — a former basketball player — making a leaping catch of a pass that deflected off tight end Jordan Cameron’s facemask. Brian Bogotay’s 25-yard field goal gave Cleveland a 3-0 lead.
“I don’t know if I scared Jordan or what, but I hit him right between the eyes,” Weeden said.
Weeden was even better the second time the Browns got the ball. He completed all five passes, connecting on a 30-yard crossing route to Cameron before capping the drive with his TD strike to Lewis, who juked Rams rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree before hauling in Weeden’s throw.
Cleveland’s revamped offense clicked even without Richardson, kept out as a precaution as he recovers from a shin injury. Weeden saw plenty of progress.
“We maneuvered well,” he said. “We didn’t have any penalties. We didn’t do anything to move backward. We were moving forward. For the first game out, I think we did some good things.”
Benjamin gave the Browns reason to believe they won’t miss spectacular return specialist Josh Cribbs, who signed with Oakland. With Cleveland leading 10-0, Benjamin backpedaled and caught a punt at his 9. He broke toward the left sideline, picked up a couple blocks, one by rookie Barkevious Mingo, and went untouched to the end zone.
“It’s that classic out-kick-your-coverage type thing,” Fisher said. “I’m glad it happened in the preseason rather than the regular season.”
There were other moments Fisher doesn’t hope to see repeated.
Running back Isaiah Pead fumbled away St. Louis’ first possession at Cleveland’s 26, and the Rams’ defense did little to slow Weeden.
St. Louis, though, did bounce back nicely after Benjamin’s return.
Givens got behind reserve cornerback Trevin Wade to haul in Bradford’s beautifully lofted throw. Two plays later, the pair connected again for a score that pleased Fisher — even if it came against Browns backups.
“A little frustrating on the first drive,” Bradford said. “We put something together, had a nice third-down conversion and we were moving the ball, and to turn it over in scoring position is always a little bit frustrating. But it’s nice to finish the night with a touchdown.”
NOTES: Mingo had a sack nullified by a tripping penalty, and the first-round pick showed his exceptional speed off the edge on several rushes. … Rams RT Rodger Saffold injured his shoulder on St. Louis’ second play and did not return. X-rays were negative. … Givens finished with three catches for 82 yards. … Browns CB Chris Owens, competing with Buster Skrine for a starting job, was a late scratch with a foot injury. He is not expected to miss significant time. … Rams rookie WR Tavon Austin did not have a catch, but dropped a third-down pass in the second quarter. … Browns WR Josh Gordon, suspended for the first two regular-season games, had two catches for 27 yards.