In the strangest and probably most trying week of his life, Brady Quinn comes back to his future Sunday when the Kansas City Chiefs visit Cleveland for a game most notable for its homecoming themes.
Browns-Chiefs will pretty much be dismissed nationally outside of Cleveland and Kansas City, and Quinn knows the feeling. For two years after being traded from the Browns to the Denver Broncos, he didn’t play. He’s on a one-year deal with the Chiefs, who first turned to Quinn seven weeks ago for two games and have started him in the last two.
Last week, a day after Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, then himself in front of current Chiefs and ex-Browns coach Romeo Crennel and other Chiefs officials, Quinn threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns and the Chiefs won for the first time since September. For his efforts, Quinn was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.
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His next chance — maybe his last, or maybe just the one he needed — comes in Cleveland.
That’s purely by coincidence, but it fits. Cleveland is where Quinn was supposed to be the star — maybe even the savior as an Ohio native and lifelong Browns fan — but it’s where he lasted just three seasons, playing a mostly forgettable role in two of them for two different coaches, then getting traded to Denver when a new general manager took over.
Browns fans know the movie. They’ve seen it too much, and not just with Quinn and Crennel in leading roles.
For Quinn on Sunday, the story isn’t in how the player for whom he was traded, Peyton Hillis, went from instant star to quickly dismissed in Cleveland and now is with the Chiefs, or that his 2009 offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, now has the same role in Kansas City. It’s that Quinn has had big games and shown flashes of what made him a first-round pick before in his NFL career, and the next week he was back to being average — or even worse.
He threw for 239 yards and two scores in his first NFL start (under Crennel) on Nov. 6, 2008. In the next game, he was 14-of-36. He then got hurt in the midst of an 8-of-18 performance against Houston in late November and was shut down for the season.
His best statistical game came on Nov. 22, 2009 at Detroit, when he started making big plays early in what became a 304-yard, four-touchdown day. The Browns lost on the last play after squandering a big lead, and any momentum Quinn established disappeared quickly, too. The next week vs. the Bengals, he went 15-of-34 for 100 yards.
Quinn has always been a top-notch person, even when things weren’t going well for himself or his teams, so it’s no surprise that he answered the call on and off the field last week for the Chiefs in unthinkable circumstances. Last week’s performance vs. Carolina was probably his best NFL game. Quinn stepped up as the team’s public spokesman, too, and in a conference call with Cleveland media this week he deflected all attention from himself and his future and talked at length about football’s importance (or lack thereof) in the big picture.
“Things never go the way you expect them to in life,” Quinn said. “My mind is not really on my career. If I’ve learned anything in my career, it’s that you really can’t take things past one day at a time.”
Said Crennel: “Brady has been very level-headed all along. He handles himself very well and as a quarterback, he is somewhat a born leader.”
His football future doesn’t necessarily come down to Sunday’s game or the three that follow, but Quinn has the chance he’s wanted and waited for. If he can break the trend of following his big games with bombs, for the first time since he was a senior at Notre Dame six years ago, he’ll have (at least) a little individual football momentum.
Plenty — including that know-it-all dork pictured above — have questioned Quinn as an NFL quarterback. Fifteen completions for 100 yards in the NFL? That’s Quinn being too content to dink and dunk, too robotic, not accurate enough. We’ve seen it.
He’s the only NFL backup quarterback who had multiple national TV commercials, but maybe there’s time to change that narrative, to re-write the football part of the story and go forward as some team’s productive player and reliable starter. Quinn, born on Oct. 27, 1984 and a six-year NFL veteran, is the young quarterback in Sunday’s game. Browns rookie Brandon Weeden, the Browns’ 11th opening-day starter since 1999 and fourth since Quinn started vs. Minnesota in 2009, was born on Oct. 14, 1983.
The revolving door in Cleveland has continued, especially when it comes to the game’s most important position. Quinn’s failure to become a star, much less the full-time starter, was especially disappointing because the Browns traded back in to the first round on April 28, 2007 to get him. He’d grown up in Columbus, wearing Browns jerseys and idolizing Bernie Kosar, and he’d gone to Notre Dame and handled everything that comes with being Notre Dame’s starting quarterback with aplomb.
The Quinn-Cleveland connection was so strong that former Browns general manager Phil Savage felt the right thing to do was to inform Quinn’s representatives the night before the draft that the Browns wouldn’t be drafting him at No. 3 overall. That didn’t ease what became a painful, televised wait for Quinn in the draft’s green room that day, but it ended with the Browns landing a blue-chip tackle in Joe Thomas and a blue-chip quarterback.
Fans immediately loved the Thomas pick. The Quinn pick overwhelmed the Browns’ website, with ecstatic fans shutting it down for hours.
Quinn held out at the start of training camp in 2007. Charlie Frye won the most painful training camp quarterback competition Berea has seen, but was traded after one game. Derek Anderson stepped in and got hot, and the Browns won 10 games and Anderson went to the Pro Bowl. Quinn played just once, making a cameo in the season finale when Anderson was banged up.
The next two years the Browns were bitten by bad luck and bad play. Anderson and Quinn were shifted in and out of the lineup, and neither had much success. Anderson was released in early 2010, and general manager Tom Heckert sent Quinn to Denver for Hillis and a late draft pick as the team moved on.
“I loved the guys on the team (in Cleveland),” Quinn said. “The fans there were amazing. I had such a wonderful time.
“That’s why I think when I got the call that I was being traded, I was just kind of shocked, to be honest with you. But that’s part of life, right? You’re going to get thrown curveballs here and there and you’ve got to adjust and move onto the next thing.”
If all of that feels like three lifetimes ago, by Browns standards it pretty much was.
Last week’s touchdown passes were Quinn’s first two since December 6, 2009. In four starts and two relief appearances this season he’s completed 67-of-106 passes (63 percent) and has thrown four interceptions.
In three years with the Browns, he completed 52.1 percent of his passes at just 5.4 yards per attempt.
He’s the starting quarterback of the moment in Kansas City, and with the Chiefs again headed nowhere but to the top of the draft, just about everything in that organization can have the “for now” label attached. Quinn not only can sell future potential employers on the fact that he truly hasn’t played a bunch of NFL football (he’s 4-15 as a starter), but that he’s the kind of guy teammates past and present speak highly of, and his work ethic and dedication to the game are unquestioned.
As for whether all that — and all that happened in a Browns galaxy that’s now far, far away — adds up to this return trip to Cleveland being a make or break moment for Quinn, he’s not interested in going there. He’s just glad to have another chance.
“I look at this opportunity to start as an opportunity to start this week,” he said. “I just want to try to continue to get better, try to lead my team and these men the best way possible.”