Casual fans were expecting an ugly game Thursday night. Football geeks knew what they were in store for. The Browns’ 37-24 win against the Bills at home was one of the most entertaining primetime games of the young NFL season. But it may also have been one of the costliest with BOTH starting QBs going down amid a host of injuries. But the gloom and doom didn’t entirely overshadow a night that saw highlight-reel plays that set Twitter afire, a ceremony for one of the all-time greats of the NFL, and the Browns — the Browns! — move to 3-2 and into first place in the AFC North. Let’s get into all of Thursday night’s action.
About those quarterback injuries …
What started out as Manuel vs. Hoyer, ended as Tuel vs. Weeden. While quarterback injuries do occur (that is how Weeden originally lost his job to Hoyer), both starters going down is a rarity. Brian Hoyer has spent five seasons in the NFL and was on the verge of becoming just another journeyman quarterback until less than three weeks ago. In a week that saw Cleveland trade away franchise RB Trent Richardson and Week 1 starter Brandon Weeden injure his thumb, Hoyer assumed the starting QB gig and did the most he could with it, leading the Browns in two consecutive victories. For once there was hope, optimism and belief that a Cleveland quarterback could efficiently manage an offense. But those hopes appeared to fly out the window Thursday when, as Hoyer flashed his athleticism trying to get a first down in the opening quarter, he awkwardly slid into the turf. Hoyer needed to be helped off the field and FOX Sports 1’s Alex Marvez reports that he will undergo an MRI exam on Friday. In fact, there are some worries inside the Browns’ facility that Hoyer could’ve “tore some ligaments,” according to NFL Media’s Alex Flanagan.
Buffalo rookie EJ Manuel’s injury initially seems a bit less severe, but it’s still notable. Midway through the third quarter, the first QB taken in the draft also was scrambling to the left, trying to get out of bounds, when he collided with the Browns’ Tashaun Gipson. Manuel immediately reached for his knee and people on Twitter freaked out. Manuel never returned as he was taken into the locker room and diagnosed with a knee sprain.
Let’s talk about those backup QBs
The last couple weeks haven’t been kind to Weeden. After sustaining a thumb injury in Week 2, he lost his job. When Hoyer started winning in his place, Weeden became the scapegoat for the Browns’ early-season failures. After coming in for Hoyer on Thursday night, it took Weeden a drive or two to get into rhythm and the Dawg Pound let him hear it. Weeden’s first drive went three-and-out and they booed the offense off the field. After a few series Weeden, who completed 13 of 24 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown, piloted a 14-play, 74-yard drive that was capped off by a 1-yard Willis McGahee TD run to tie the game at 10-10. Oh yeah, and you’re wondering about the highlight above. Weeden came out firing in the second half and connected with Josh Gordon for a 37-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Jeff Tuel’s night wasn’t as impressive. The undrafted rookie from Washington State was, as you’d expect, wide-eyed and shaky. Tuel completed 40 percent of his passes (8 of 20) and made the game-killing mistake, staring down his receiver and allowing Browns safety T.J. Ward to pick off a pass and take it back 44 yards to make it 37-24 Cleveland in the game’s final two minutes.
Meet Josh Cribbs 2.0
Was this man shot out of a cannon? Travis Benjamin sparked the Browns fan base before halftime, slashing and dashing his way 79 yards for a score to make it 17-10 Cleveland just before the half. And he wasn’t a one-trick pony, finishing the game with seven punt returns for a franchise-record 179 yards. The second-year man out of Miami even earned high praise from a former Browns’ great:
Running back C.J. Spiller was quiet most of the night, battling a nagging ankle injury. But he exploded in the first series of the second half, tying the game and making frustrated fantasy owners happy for a change with a 54-yard scoring run, his first TD of the season. On the other side of the ball, Mario Williams racked up another two sacks to tie Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston and Colts defensive end Robert Mathis for the NFL lead with 7.5.
We should mention that both of these teams have some great rookies
Barkevious Mingo didn’t light up the box score, but his presence was felt. Mingo racked up four hits on the quarterback, deflected a pass and lit up second-year receiver T.J. Graham on this play. Ouch.
That man flying over the Browns offensive line, looking almost Polamalu-esque, is Bills rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso. If you haven’t heard of Alonso, he has been a big factor for the Bills defense, and Thursday night was no different. The University of Oregon product led the team with 12 tackles and set the tempo on that side of the ball.
Wide receiver Stevie Johnson left the game with an injury to his ribs, but rookie wide receiver Robert Woods looks like a mainstay for the Bills’ passing game. The second-round pick out of USC finished with five receptions for 64 yards on 13 targets and now leads the team with 265 receiving yards.