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BEREA, Ohio — The disgust came quickly, boos raining down from every corner of the stadium on Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden before he had barely broken a sweat.
Forced into last week’s game against Buffalo after Brian Hoyer went out with a season-ending knee injury, Weeden, who began the year as Cleveland’s starter only to lose his job to injury and be demoted, threw a couple incompletions and then felt the enormous pressure of more than 70,000 demanding fans breathing down his neck.
He could have cracked or crumbled.
Instead, Weeden conquered. He turned the game — and perhaps his career — around.
“Facing adversity, it makes you stronger as a person,” Weeden said. “That’s life.”
Weeden’s season has turned 360 degrees in just five weeks. After spraining his right thumb in Cleveland’s second game, Weeden sat for two weeks while Hoyer, the lifelong Browns fan who dreamed of leading his hometown team, led Cleveland to consecutive wins.
Weeden recovered, but Browns coach Rob Chudzinksi decided to stick with Hoyer, dropping Weeden to a backup role.
He went into last Thursday’s nationally televised game against the Bills as Cleveland’s No. 2 quarterback but was thrust into action when Hoyer tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Weeden came in rusty, missed on his first two passes and then jogged to the sideline amid jeers.
Weeden, though, rallied himself along with the Browns (3-2).
He threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon and led the Browns to a 37-24 win, putting them in first place after five games for the first time since 1995.
Cleveland’s comeback, and Weeden’s rebirth.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said Weeden grew from all that he has experienced already this season.
“You look at being the starter, getting injured and having to sit and watch,” he said. “And then get thrown out into the game, early in the game where he didn’t get a lot of practice time; getting booed; back and forth; and him ultimately making some big plays that helped us win that game.
“I think that’s growth, and I think that he has a sense of confidence of what he’s been able to do. We’ll get him back out there for another week of practice, and I think that will help him get better and get ready to play even more so.”
Weeden, who will start this week as the Browns host the Detroit Lions (3-2), said the time spent off the field was invaluable to his development.
“You dig deep and you try to find yourself and you do a lot of soul searching,” he said. “You’ve just got to find a way to take the positives and build on them.”
Weeden heads into this new beginning looking to fix some of his issues — decision-making, pocket presence top the list — during Cleveland’s first two games, losses to Miami and Baltimore. Weeden was guilty of holding onto the ball too long while waiting for receivers to get open.
The delays made it tough on Cleveland’s offensive line, which can’t hold blocks forever and contributed to Weeden being sacked 16 times.
He knows he must get rid of the ball more quickly, and said the play often dictates when he can let it go.
“There are times you’re going to have to sit back and hold it because you might have a double move or you might have a deeper progression route,” he said. “That goes to the confidence I have in the guys up front and go from there.”
One major difference for Weeden is that he has Gordon as a target. The receiver was suspended for Cleveland’s first two games, depriving Weeden of one of his biggest playmakers. Gordon had 14 receptions in two weeks with Hoyer, and grabbed four of Weeden’s passes last week.
After Weeden started poorly, Gordon pulled him over on the sideline and encouraged him to believe in his teammates. Gordon urged Weeden to put the ball in the air for himself and receiver Greg Little.
“Sometimes it’s not going to look very pretty,” Gordon said. “It looks like it’s almost lucky, and that’s what’s involved in a lot of the games, a lot of luck and a lot of just trust and ability.”
Weeden listened, and like so much that has happened to him, learned.
NOTES: For the second time in three weeks, Chudzinski dismissed trade rumors about Gordon. “We’re not shopping Josh and we have no plans of trading Josh,” Chudzinski said. ... OLBs Jabaal Sheard (knee) and Quentin Groves (ankle) returned to practice and could play this week. ... Chudzinski said he hasn’t given much thought to the Browns possibly appearing on HBO’s Hard Knocks next year. If no team volunteers, the league passed a measure that would exempt teams with new coaches, clubs that reached the playoffs in one of the previous two seasons, or those that appeared on the documentary-styled show within the preceding 10 years. “I’m not a big fan of Hard Knocks,” Chudzinski said.