The Cleveland Browns are in a place no one expected as of Oct. 4. Just two weeks earlier, it didn’t look like the Browns would ever win a game this season, and many suspected they wouldn’t even try. But if trading former top draft pick Trent Richardson was meant to help Cleveland throw in the towel, even that hasn’t worked for the now first-place Browns.
Cleveland’s 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 3 pushed it to 3-2, as well as 3-0 since the Richardson trade. To make it even more outlandish, the Browns won behind the quarterback it had given up on just two weeks ago. The benched Brandon Weeden had to return when replacement Brian Hoyer sprained his knee, and he still managed to help Cleveland score the last 20 points of the night.
Buffalo also played with a backup after E.J. Manuel sprained his knee as well. But unlike Weeden, Jeff Tuel made a costly mistake, as T.J. Ward sealed the Bills’ loss with a 44-yard interception return for the clinching touchdown. In contrast, Weeden pulled off a 37-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon in the third quarter, tying the score at 24-24 and trigging the Browns’ run to victory.
Two Billy Cundiff field goals and Gordon’s interception won the night in the fourth quarter. It also won first place for the Browns for at least the next two days, in an AFC North where the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals are 2-2 and the Pittsburgh Steelers are 0-4. With the Bengals facing the 4-0 New England Patriots on Oct. 6 and the Ravens visiting the 3-1 Miami Dolphins, the Browns could well have first place by themselves after this weekend.
When the Browns benched Weeden and traded Richardson, it looked like the most certain way to get a high draft pick and find a new franchise quarterback. In that regard, winning with Hoyer and Weeden may not be good for Cleveland’s long-term future. But given that the short term future was supposed to be dreadful -- and that Cleveland just got crushed again by the Indians -- the city will take three straight wins and first place regardless.
Still, Hoyer’s condition and Weeden’s return will give the Browns something to worry about during a long rest, before a much tougher test ahead in hosting the Detroit Lions on Oct. 13.