BEREA, Ohio (AP) Brian Hoyer won’t be hanging out at LeBron James’ mansion watching NFL games anytime soon.
The cool kids aren’t wearing his No. 6 jersey to school and his off-the-field exploits aren’t being monitored by TMZ.
Johnny Manziel’s got all that – and more – to himself. Hoyer, though, has something Johnny Football covets: The Browns are his team.
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After rallying Cleveland to a 26-24 win Sunday over New Orleans in the home opener, Hoyer became a quarterback in high demand. He spent Tuesday making the rounds of national radio and TV shows; everyone wanted to know more about his last-minute winning drive.
Manziel was out of sight.
With every completion and comeback, Hoyer embeds himself deeper as the Browns’ starter. This may not be what the general public craved or sponsors or broadcast executives wanted, but Hoyer, who overcame a serious knee injury, is converting some doubters. And demonstrating to his teammates that he’s their unquestioned leader.
”I’m a believer,” said linebacker Paul Kruger, ”and I think the whole team is.”
With just six career starts, Hoyer knows the perceptions about him. If he’s ever going to change them he has to perform well every time on the field.
”I understand the skepticism,” he said. ”I’m a guy who was cut three times. I played a little bit last year and had some success. I’m coming off a major knee surgery. A lot of people doubt even the greatest coming back from that. I understand it. I don’t really concern myself with that because all I’m really concerned about is what happens in this building and this locker room, and when we go out and play on Sundays.”
Backed up at his 4-yard line Sunday, Hoyer drove the Browns 85 yards, converting twice on third down and once on fourth. As 70,000 fans shook the ground under FirstEnergy Stadium, Hoyer was unflappable in the huddle. He calmly called plays and then executed them, moving the Browns into position for Billy Cundiff’s 29-yard winning field goal with three seconds left.
From afar, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh was impressed.
”That last drive was just about as good as it gets in the NFL,” Harbaugh said.
As he prepares his team to face the Browns this week, Harbaugh, who grew up a Cleveland fan and is therefore well aware of the team’s endless quest to find a franchise quarterback, had high praise for Hoyer.
”He’s played great for them,” Harbaugh said on a teleconference Wednesday. ”I know their history at quarterback, put it that way.”
Hoyer’s sample size may be small, but he’s been remarkably clutch in just a handful of starts.
He’s guided the Browns to last-minute winning drives against Minnesota and New Orleans; sealed a win against Cincinnati with a clock-eating, 91-yard drive; and rallied the Browns from a 24-point deficit in the second half at Pittsburgh before losing on a last-play field goal.
Hoyer’s 4-1 as a starter. While he may not be able to maintain that winning percentage, he’s certainly muted the drumbeat for Manziel.
But beyond the stats, Hoyer is providing leadership. It’s one thing to give a rah-rah speech in the locker room and another to go on the field and produce.
Browns Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron said the drive against the Saints altered his feeling about Hoyer.
”You just respect him a little more,” he said. ”What he’s preaching is working. It’s all about respect in this league. Guys see that, when you’re making plays in the fourth quarter and you’re driving down the field with two minutes left, starting on your own 3-yard line, odds are against you. He obviously fought through those odds and capitalized.”
Harbaugh knows the value of security at quarterback. Once Joe Flacco settled in and established himself, the Ravens took flight.
Hoyer isn’t nearly at that stage, but he’s making steady progress.
”It may be the most complicated, the most challenging position to play in all of sports,” Harbaugh said. ”It’s an absolute must if you want to have success as a football team. He’s made the difference for them whenever he’s been in there in the past two years. He’s done great since he’s been in there.”
Hoyer didn’t know about Harbaugh’s comments, but smiled when he was told.
”It’s a nice compliment,” he said, ”but I got a long way to go.”
He’s off to a nice start.
NOTES: Cameron (shoulder) and LB Barkevious Mingo (shoulder) both returned to practice on a limited basis after missing Sunday’s win. Cameron said he has no hunch whether he’ll play this week. … Browns coach Mike Pettine doesn’t expect RB Ben Tate (knee) to play this week because of a sprained right knee.
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