The Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns were hoping to have found their quarterbacks of the future after selecting Blake Bortles at No. 3 and Johnny Manziel with the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft.
While Bortles is getting his feet wet for the winless Jaguars, Manziel has hardly seen the field with Brian Hoyer shining under center.
Hoyer tries to the lead the Browns to a third consecutive victory when they visit Jacksonville on Sunday.
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After scoring 26 unanswered points to pull off the largest comeback for a road team in NFL history in a 29-28 win over Tennessee in Week 5, Cleveland (3-2) easily got by Pittsburgh 31-10 last Sunday. Hoyer threw for 217 yards and a touchdown while Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell ran for a combined 155 yards and three scores.
"To me, I expected it, honestly," Tate told the Browns’ official website. "I wasn’t really that shocked when we beat them. … It’s a new era. Coach (Mike) Pettine is trying to get this thing turned around."
Much of Cleveland’s success is due to Hoyer, whose passer rating of 99.5 ranks eighth in the NFL. Hoyer has thrown seven TDs and one interception, and he leads the league with 13.6 yards per completion.
Hoyer is 6-2 since joining the Browns in 2013.
"I just think (it’s) his consistency," Pettine said of Hoyer, who missed most of last year after tearing his ACL. "He’s not just wildly all over the place. At a position where you need somebody to be rock solid, he’s rock solid, not just from a performance standpoint, from a demeanor, from a leadership standpoint. He’s been solid and he’s been consistent. Guys know what they’re going to get from him."
Hoyer may not be as comfortable in the pocket without Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken fibula suffered against the Steelers. Mack had never missed a snap before going down, playing in all 5,289 since getting drafted in 2009.
"You just don’t replace that guy," Hoyer said.
The Browns also lost defensive end Armonty Bryant to a season-ending knee injury last weekend.
Despite the injuries, Cleveland heads into Jacksonville as the favorite.
"We want to have to deal with being favored in games," Pettine said. "We want to have to deal with, ‘Hey, this is a potential trap game for you.’ That’s part of being a good program is being able to handle all those different situations."
The Jaguars are on the verge of opening 0-7 for the second consecutive season after falling 16-14 at Tennessee last Sunday. Bortles found Clay Harbor for a 20-yard touchdown with 37 seconds left and drove the Jaguars into field goal range after they recovered an onside kick, but Josh Scobee’s 55-yard attempt was blocked in the closing seconds.
"A loss is a loss," said Bortles, who finished with a season-high 336 yards. "You feel the same about it no matter whether you lose by one or you lose by 40."
Cecil Shorts had a career-high 10 catches for 103 yards after sitting out the previous week with a hamstring injury. The Jaguars finished with a season-high 379 yards and went 8 for 15 on third down.
"Obviously there are a lot of positives as we go through it," coach Gus Bradley said. "But the bottom line is we didn’t come away with what we had hoped for. We addressed it, we talked about it as a team and I challenged them.
"I know we have courage. We’re going to have to put that courage to work starting today and address these things and continue to get better."
Bortles, set to make his fourth start since replacing Chad Henne, has completed 67.8 percent of his passes for the NFL’s sixth-best mark. However, his 0.57 touchdown-to-interception ratio ranks second-worst in the league.
Jacksonville won 32-28 at Cleveland on Dec. 1 thanks to Shorts’ 20-yard TD reception with 40 seconds left, improving to 10-5 in the series.