Browns get big boost from first win
Brandon Weeden passed up dessert on his birthday. A sweet win over Cincinnati was plenty satisfying.
The Browns rookie quarterback had never experienced life in Cleveland after a victory, and he wasn't the only one.
As luck would have it, the first time Weeden went out in public after a victory came on his 29th birthday. After the Browns snapped their 11-game losing streak Sunday with a win over the Bengals, Weeden celebrated the 34-24 triumph and his birthday with family members at a local restaurant.
Needless to say, the crowd was friendly.
''There were some excited people,'' Weeden said Monday. ''People were great, really friendly and congratulating. It just showed the passion this town has. I'd love to win a lot more because it's a lot more fun going out to eat and being around people when you win games.''
And now that Weeden and the Browns have tasted success, they're hungry for more wins.
One of the NFL's youngest teams did some growing up Sunday. Close and competitive but without a win through five games, the Browns (1-5) outplayed the Bengals (3-3) in the second half and came away with their first win since Nov. 20 while also ending a 12-game losing streak inside the AFC North.
For the first time this season, it all came together for the Browns and maligned coach Pat Shurmur, who needed a win to take some pressure off with presumptive owner Jimmy Haslam III about to officially take over the franchise.
''We needed it,'' Shurmur said, shifting the focus toward his youthful team, which has 16 rookies and 28 players with two years of experience or less. ''This isn't about me. This is about my players. This is about our city. This is about trying to build a consistent winner. It's our first win in a long time. We've been building up to it. I've sat here and said I think we're getting better. It's easy for folks to roll their eyes until you win a game.
''Now that we've won one, I want our players to get greedy with that feeling and go out and try to win against the Colts.''
The Browns will visit Indianapolis (2-3) next Sunday with Weeden matching up against fellow rookie QB Andrew Luck. The two faced each other in last year's Fiesta Bowl, with Weeden leading Oklahoma State to a win over Luck's Stanford squad.
Weeden, who has been steadily improving this season, said Sunday's win should provide a big boost for the Browns, who had been hanging with teams but had faltered down the stretch each time. Slowly but surely, Weeden believes the Browns are beginning to fit the puzzle pieces together.
''We're scoring a lot points, our defense is playing well, offensively we're starting to click and mesh,'' he said. ''The entire team, against New York we had a bad play and it kind of snowballed. That didn't happen yesterday. That kind of shows the progress we're making from what we've been through.
''It's a good thing. We've got a long ways to go, but we're on the right track.''
The Browns got a huge lift from cornerback Joe Haden, who contributed an interception and made several other big plays in his return after missing four games while being suspended for violating the league's drug policy. Cleveland also got unexpected production from backup running back Montario Hardesty. He came in when rookie Trent Richardson went down with a rib injury and rushed for 56 yards and scored the go-ahead TD in the fourth quarter.
There were positive plays on offense, defense and special teams. Shurmur had preached to his players that if they did the little things, good things would happen and they did.
''He never doubted our effort, but in order to get over that hump we have to make plays, we have to do things a little bit better in the crunch time of games when we needed to,'' linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. ''That was pretty much the message after the game. Great to get that first win for everyone. Coming from camps, it'd been a long spring, long fall, so it was finally good to get the first one. Now we got to keep it going and see where it takes us.''
The next test for the Browns will be doing it again.
There were plenty of problems on Sunday, like seven straight offensive possessions without a first down, some shoddy downfield tackling and blown coverages by Cleveland's patched-up secondary.
Shurmur and his staff have plenty of coaching points to emphasize this week, but Jackson, who is in his seventh season, said the biggest challenge for the Browns will be how they handle success, and that won't be known until they play again.
''We knew at some point we'd get our first win,'' he said. ''It's how well will we respond next week. That's going to be the true test of how well these young guys can understand the situation and actually get better week to week. Next week, we'll be able to tell what type of character team we do have. Right now, we're fighting every game. Just knowing yesterday was a chance for us to actually make some plays in the fourth quarter when we needed to and we were able to do it.''
Weeden, who threw two TD passes and his league-leading 10th interception, hopes the Browns' first win will trigger many more.
''The taste of winning, the feeling of walking in that locker room after you win a game, that never gets old,'' he said. ''There's nothing that can replace that feeling. After winning games like that, you want that feeling more than once. It's got to give us confidence. It's good for us.''
NOTES: Tests revealed Richardson has a right rib cartilage injury. Shurmur said Richardson ''is fine'' and is listed as day-to-day. Richardson was injured early in Sunday's game and was replaced in the third quarter after rushing for 37 yards on 14 carries. Richardson was not available for comment, but said Sunday he expected to play this week. ... Browns DT Phil Taylor is eligible to practice this week for the first time this season. He underwent surgery in May on a chest muscle he tore while lifting weights. Shurmur was noncommittal on Taylor's return. Once Taylor begins practicing, the Browns have 21 days before they have to activate him. ... Shurmur said he received a congratulatory text message from owner Randy Lerner, whose sale to Haslam will be approved at league meetings Tuesday in Chicago.