Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden (3) throws against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, in Cleveland.
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BEREA, Ohio — This season alone, he’s been a starter, backup, starter, backup and starter again. And, an easy target.
Brandon Weeden has become a punching bag for frustrated Browns fans.
The besieged quarterback has taken more than his share of hits, and he expects to absorb a few more. He’s been knocked around, but Weeden feels the hard times — the disturbing boos he’s been subjected to at home games — have toughened him and made him want to fight harder.
He’s lost games, yet none of his confidence.
“I have to fight through this and see what kind of man I am,” he said Wednesday.
With Jason Campbell sidelined with a concussion, Weeden will return to the starting lineup Sunday as the Browns (4-7), whose slim playoff hopes have all but vanished following consecutive division losses, host Jacksonville.
For Weeden, it’s another new beginning, a chance to show he belongs in the NFL.
Maybe his last chance.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” he said.
Not everyone shares his exuberance.
Last week, the sight of Weeden stripping off his hooded, cold-weather sideline jacket and taking the field to replace an injured Campbell triggered an avalanche of boos and an overall sense of doom inside FirstEnergy Stadium. Following the game, Browns cornerback Joe Haden acknowledged the moment gave him a feeling the game had slipped away.
In the eyes of some Cleveland fans, Weeden symbolizes everything that has gone wrong for the Browns, who have been unable to solve their quarterback position and can’t escape a continuous cycle of losing.
It’s not all Weeden’s fault, but his erratic play earlier this season, didn’t help. The 30-year-old said there’s only one way to handle the boos: ignore them.
“It’s pretty simple for me I don’t listen to outside noise,” he said. “I’ve gotten rid of Twitter and all that junk. I don’t need five-year-old kids telling me how to play the quarterback position, so it’s made it really easy. It hasn’t been an issue. I’ve got great support in this locker room, great support from family and friends back home.
“My wife has been has been remarkable, so it’s not a distraction for me. It’s the farthest thing from a distraction for me. I don’t get tied up in it. My main focus is getting better. I’ve only played 20 games in this league and I’ve got a long ways to go to continue to get better.”
Taking over last week with the Browns trailing 20-3 against the Steelers, Weeden was in a helpless situation. He threw some good passes, poor ones, had a few dropped and threw a touchdown pass to Josh Gordon, who broke a club record for yards receiving and tied a mark with 14 catches.
It was a mixed bag. Typical Weeden.
The booing made it worse.
Weeden claims the ridicule rolls off his back, but troubles his teammates.
“It bothers them more than it bothers me. I tune it out,” he said. I have way more to worry about in the huddle getting guys organized and lined up. I didn’t hear many boos when I threw the touchdown pass to Josh. You just have to go out and play well. You can’t control it.”
Browns coach Rob Chudzinksi denied there’s a crisis of confidence inside Cleveland’s locker room about Weeden, who went 5-10 as a rookie starter and seemed to play with more poise.
“I know that he has the backing of his teammates,” Chudzinski said. “The type of guys that we have in the locker room, their support for him, they want to win and everybody realizes that Brandon needs to play well, as everybody does. But Brandon needs to play well and do his part for us to win.”
Weeden’s future with Cleveland is cloudy. He won the starting job in training camp as the Browns decided to see if he could be their long-term answer at QB. But he injured his finger and found himself sitting behind Brian Hoyer, who jumped Campbell on the depth chart and sparked the Browns to two wins.
Hoyer’s season-ending knee injury pushed Weeden back into the spotlight, but he was demoted after two poor performances. And now Campbell’s injury has Weeden out front again.
With Hoyer emerging as an option, and the Browns expected to draft a quarterback in May, Weeden knows his days in Cleveland are probably dwindling.
He’s making the most of them.
“For the next five weeks, I’m a Cleveland Brown,” he said. “After that, whatever happens is out of my control. I’m excited. This is one of the best teams I’ve ever been on as far as just the group of guys, the atmosphere, the friendships and the camaraderie, it’s great.
“I’m going to enjoy every minute of it as long as I’m here, and then if they tell me to beat it, then we’ll see.”
NOTES: Safety T.J. Ward said he wasn’t targeting any teammates when he bemoaned turnovers following Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh, and that he doesn’t regret any of his comments. Ward, who is in the final year of his contract, said there’s a chance he’ll re-sign with the Browns. “I want to win ballgames,” he said. “Whether it’s here or somewhere else, hopefully it’s here. I just want to win.”