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No Richardson, No Problem For Browns

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Brian Hoyer is the new starting QB in Cleveland. Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images.
Brian Hoyer is the new starting QB in Cleveland. Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images.

There will be those people who will point to QB Brian Hoyer’s performance Sunday as the reason why the Cleveland Browns captured their first victory of the season with a come-from-behind 31-27 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field.

And that’s understandable, for the Cleveland St. Ignatius High School product, getting just the second start of his five-year career and the first with the team he rooted for while growing up, threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, he was also intercepted three times, but that can be attributed to rust, and the first-game jitters.

He was brilliant on that all-important last drive, marching Cleveland 55 yards in 11 plays for the game-winning points on a seven-yard touchdown pass to TE Jordan Cameron with just 51 seconds left.

Hoyer also did a great job of not staring down his receivers, he was accurate and he put a nice, soft touch on his passes, making it easy for his receivers to catch the ball. He’s proof you don’t have to throw the ball 100 mph – and through a brick wall -- to complete it.

As long as Hoyer stays healthy, it’s a virtual certainty that the starter in the first two games, Brandon Weeden, who sat out the contest with a sprained thumb, will not see the field again. After all, head coach Rob Chudzinski can ill afford to break up a winning rhythm now, can he?

There will be those people who will point to Cameron.

And that’s understandable, for he grabbed three touchdown passes on the day and is emerging as one of the best young tight ends in the game. He’s a go-to target in the passing attack, and the Browns offense needs all of those types of players it can get.

There will be those who will point to WR Josh Gordon.

And that’s understandable, for he made his season debut something truly special. After being suspended for the first two games for taking a banned substance, he caught 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown on a 47-yarder. He also scampered 22 yards on an end-around. A big, strong, fast player who is a match-up nightmare, his ability to stretch the field and open things up for other receivers means everything to the pass offense.

There will be those people who will point to the Cleveland special teams.

And that’s understandable, for they pulled off two successful fakes. On an apparent field-goal try late in the first half, holder Spencer Lanning threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Cameron. On the other, defensive back Josh Aubrey, the up man in the punting formation, took a snap and raced 34 yards to set up a second-quarter field goal.

There will be those people who will point to Chudzinski.

And that’s understandable, for, with the fakes and his decision to go for it on fourth down, he pulled out all the stops to make sure the Browns won and he got his first victory as a head coach at any level. That’s way every coach should treat games. Conservative football is boring. It’s for sissies, and losers.

There will be those people who will point to the Browns’ resilience.

And that’s understandable, for with the departure of RB Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts in one of the biggest trades in team history, along with Hoyer leap-frogging second-stringer Jason Campbell and getting the starting job, the focus in the week leading up to the game appeared to be on everything but getting ready for the Vikings. There were enough distractions, and enough controversy, to fill up the Terminal Tower, if not Lake Erie.

But Cleveland wasn’t dissuaded by any of that and kept its eye on the target, even after blowing a 24-14 second-quarter lead.

But while all those things contributed to the victory, the thing that really put the Browns over the top was their defense. For the third straight week, coordinator Ray Horton’s group did an outstanding job. The defense did all it could in the first two games to get a win, but the offense was terrible. This time, the offense played much better, and the defense fed off that – was fueled by that. It seemed to get stronger as the game went on.

Cleveland, which has been especially tough against the run all year, limited the great Adrian Peterson. The best running back in the game got 88 yards and a touchdown, but he needed 25 carries to do it. And after scoring on a two-yard run on the opening possession of the game, he never hurt the Browns the rest of the day.

The pass rush was strong again, getting six sacks, matching its season total. It seemed fitting that the game ended with DT Desmond Bryant’s sack of Christian Ponder for an eight-yard loss after the Vikings had driven to the Cleveland 34 with four seconds left.

The Cleveland offense is likely to be an up-and-down the rest of the year, at best. The team’s franchise quarterback is still in college.

And you sure can’t rely on two big fakes on special teams to jump-start the club every week.

But with three consistently good performances, it seems apparent the defense can be counted on to carry the Browns. If the offense can do just a little bit, then the team might not do as poorly as many thought it would after Richardson was dealt.

But whatever happens down the road, for a team that has really struggled in the expansion era, Sunday’s win was a reason for all of Northeast Ohio to celebrate.