Brian Hoyer’s boyhood dream of being the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns remains a reality – at least for another week.
The native of suburban Cleveland looks to become the first signal-caller to win his first three NFL starts for the Browns on Thursday night at home against the banged-up but resilient Buffalo Bills.
Cleveland (2-2) has not posted a winning record through five games since it was 3-2 in 2001, but Hoyer has the Browns on the verge of making it happen again. After spending his first three seasons backing up Tom Brady and then throwing 53 passes for Arizona in 2012, the former Cleveland high school star has keyed the Browns’ two-week run of success.
Winless through two games and days after trading 2012 third overall selection Trent Richardson to Indianapolis for a 2014 first-round pick, Hoyer got the nod over veteran Jason Campbell to replace injured starter Brandon Weeden at Minnesota in Week 3.
In his second career start, Hoyer overcame three interceptions by throwing for 321 yards and three touchdowns, including a 7-yarder to Jordan Cameron with 51 seconds left for a 31-27 win.
In his home debut Sunday, Hoyer went 25 of 38 for 269 yards with two TDs and no picks in a 17-6 victory over Cincinnati.
“The alternative is bad when you’re 0-4 or 1-3 and fighting to try to get into the race,” tackle Joe Thomas said. “Sitting at 2-2, it’s not where we wanted to be. But after an 0-2 start, it’s as good as we could have done. Sitting there with a lot of games to go, but still fighting in the division. You can’t ask for any more.”
Cleveland will try to continue its run under Hoyer, who will start Thursday even though Weeden is back practicing despite a sprained thumb.
“He played well again (versus Baltimore) and for the past two weeks,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “Obviously, we’ve been able to win in those games and in a short week we’ll get ready and be ready to play Thursday.”
The legendary Otto Graham won his first three starts for the Browns in 1946 when the team was part of the All-America Football Conference, and no one else has done so since the franchise joined the NFL in 1950. Chudzinski has not named Hoyer the starter for the remainder of the season, but for now the local boy gets the chance to match Graham’s feat and further earn the respect of his teammates.
“Brian’s done a nice job for us coming in, providing that spark,” Thomas said. “He had two nice games already making the right throws, getting the ball out on time, just making sure everybody’s on the same page.”
A Cleveland passing attack that ranks 14th in the NFL with 247.8 yards per game has made up for a rushing attack that’s 27th at 76.0.
Cameron leads all tight ends with 30 receptions, and his five receiving touchdowns are tied for second overall in the league.
Suspended the first two games for violating the NFL’s drug policy, Josh Gordon has caught 14 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown from Hoyer the last two weeks.
Overshadowed by Hoyer’s success is a defense that ranks third with an average of 291.5 yards allowed. The Browns kept the Bengals out of the end zone while holding them to 266 yards and a 29 percent conversion rate on third down.
Cleveland’s 2.9 yards allowed per run is the best in the NFL, but Buffalo (2-2) is second in the league with 152.0 rushing yards a contest and is averaging 4.1 per carry.
Both Buffalo backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson expect to play despite dealing with injuries suffered in a 23-20 win over Baltimore last week.
Spiller, who was nursing a knee injury prior to that contest, hurt his ankle while rushing 23 times for 77 yards against the Ravens.
“If I can get to at least 85 to 90 (percent), I’m going to give it a go,” he said of Thursday.
Jackson overcame a sprained knee ligament to record 87 yards and a TD on 16 rushes versus Baltimore.
“Barring any major setback, I’ll be able to play,” Jackson said. “Right now it’s just about strengthening it, doing some rehab type things to get the ligament stronger.”
Buffalo receiver Stevie Johnson is dealing with a hamstring injury and the secondary could again be without injured starters Jairus Byrd and Leodis McKelvin.
Still, the Bills remain confident after intercepting Joe Flacco five times and holding the Ravens to 24 rushing yards after giving up 155.0 per game over the first three.
“It just shows you, like I’ve heard Fred (Jackson) saying, ‘We’re not the same Bills,'” safety Da’Norris Searcy said. “I would say fans are starting to believe. And we’re going to keep believing and keep pushing.”
Buffalo has dropped five straight road games but won 24-14 at Cleveland last Sept. 23. Spiller and Johnson each caught touchdown passes in the contest.