The Minnesota Vikings are among the last teams to make the playoffs after starting a season 0-2. Facing a third-string quarterback and avoiding a star running back might help them to start climbing out of that hole again.
The Cleveland Browns play their first game since the shocking trade of Trent Richardson as they visit the Vikings in a matchup of winless clubs Sunday.
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Neither of Cleveland’s first-round draft picks from last year will play after starting the last two games, but for very different reasons. While quarterback Brandon Weeden is out with a sprained thumb, Richardson was dealt to Indianapolis on Wednesday for a 2014 first-round pick.
“This was more about the moment presented itself, and based on the situation the Colts found themselves in, it wasn’t something where we could say, `Can you wait three weeks to think about this or learn more?’ We thought it was a move to make us better,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said.
“I think we feel good about where we’re at moving forward.”
The absence of Richardson, who ran for 950 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie, leaves the Browns without one of only two players to have a rushing attempt this season. The other is Weeden, who will be replaced by third-stringer Brian Hoyer instead of veteran backup Jason Campbell.
That’s all proof Cleveland is going in a completely different direction after its winless start, but the Vikings surely are not.
Minnesota was one of three teams to overcome 0-2 starts in 2008 and qualify for the postseason, rebounding to win the NFC North. No team has done so since, and both of the Vikings’ defeats this year are to division rivals.
“It’s nice to know you’re the last team to do that,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “But you can’t look ahead and say we’re just going to do it or the past is going to repeat itself. You have to put the work in and make the plays on Sunday.
“We’re doing the right things during the week. Now, on Sunday when it comes down to crunch time, make the plays when they come to you.”
Minnesota thrived in close games last season en route to a surprise playoff appearance, going 5-1 in contests decided by seven or fewer points. The Vikings, however, allowed the go-ahead touchdown with 10 seconds left in a 31-30 loss to Chicago on Sunday and have blown leads in both games.
“We’re a resilient group. We’ve got a lot of veteran guys in here, and we’ve just got to keep trucking, man,” cornerback Chris Cook said.
“It’s a long season. Fourteen games left. You know? It can be all uphill from now. It can all go downhill. I’m definitely, definitely, sure that we’re going to go uphill from here.”
This contest is the home opener for Minnesota, which can at least point to some positives from last week. After giving up 24 points in the first half, the defense forced two turnovers and two punts in the second half before the disastrous final minute. Adrian Peterson had another 100-yard rushing game, though he did lose a fumble.
The circumstances appear much different for the Browns as they make their first trip to the Metrodome in 18 years.
Undrafted rookie Bobby Rainey and little-used Chris Ogbonnaya were the only running backs left on the roster following the trade of Richardson, who had run for 105 yards through two games and received just 31 carries. The Browns added another Thursday with the signing of veteran Willis McGahee, who led Denver with 731 rushing yards in 10 games last year, but it’s uncertain if the two-time Pro Bowler will play in Minnesota.
Hoyer, meanwhile, makes his first start for a Cleveland team that hasn’t scored a touchdown in six quarters.
Weeden got hurt in a 14-6 loss to Baltimore last Sunday, and the Browns opted to go with Hoyer – who started one game last year for Arizona – over Campbell. Hoyer is the 19th starting quarterback for the Browns since they re-entered the NFL in 1999.
“I feel like based on our current situation – where we’re at offensively as well as getting into the game planning for Minnesota – that Brian’s strengths are the best fit for this week and that he gives us our best chance to win,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “The things that he does well fit what we need. For me, it’s about who gives us the best chance to win.”
Hoyer gets back top receiver Josh Gordon, who was suspended for the first two games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. Gordon led the team with 805 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2012.
“He’s a huge difference,” Campbell said. “He’s a big target. He’s a big guy. He’s a big part of what we do offensively. Not having him out there, definitely hurts a little bit, because he is a big part of what we do. So it’ll be good to get him back, get him going, try to get him back into a rhythm.”
The Browns need Gordon’s production after scoring 16 points through two games, second fewest in the NFL. Cleveland has converted five of 29 third-down attempts.
These teams last met in 2009, when Brett Favre made his first start as a Viking and led Minnesota to a 34-20 win in Cleveland. The Vikings have won four straight in the series and are 10-3 all-time against the Browns.