Created on Monday, 30 September 2013 Written by By STEVE DOERSCHUK, Canton Repository
Brian Hoyer shrugged off his team’s improbable ascent to first place in the wake of recent cataclysmic events.
Cleveland Browns running back Willis McGahee (26) runs the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals during an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
“I’m not into making statements,” said “The Cleveland Kid.”
Hoyer is into the Browns improving to 3-2 with a win over Buffalo on Thursday night, now that a 17-6 conquest of Cincinnati is in the bag.
The St. Ignatius product played circles around Andy Dalton, bettering the third-year Bengal 103.9-58.2 in passer rating. His two marathon touchdown drives helped the Browns catch Cincinnati and Baltimore at 2-2 atop the AFC North.
“Obviously, it’s a good day,” Hoyer said. “I grew up here. I know what it’s like.
“It was loud out there ... and the Tribe was winning, too.”
The defense was wailing on Cincinnati. The Bengals managed two field goals after scoring 54 points in wins over Pittsburgh and Green Bay.
Weren’t the Browns supposed to be playing for the 2014 No. 1 overall draft pick after starting 0-2 then trading Trent Richardson?
Outside linebacker Paul Kruger, part of the reason Cleveland is one of the NFL’s best defenses at the season’s quarter pole, must have wondered what he had gotten himself into. Less than nine months earlier, he had two
sacks for Baltimore in a Super Bowl win.
Suddenly, he was adjusting to life on an 0-2 team half the world was laughing at.
“The trade was a shock at first,” Kruger said. “Nobody saw it coming. Now, I think it was a good thing for us. Without going into the reasons it helped us, it has helped us.”
Kruger did bring up the new running back, Willis McGahee, who was his teammate in Baltimore for a while.
“McGahee is an older guy who brings a ton of confidence, and leadership,” Kruger said.
In the previous week’s win at Minnesota, McGahee ran eight times for nine yards. Against Cincinnati, there was more to his 15 carries for 46 yards than met the eye.
The Browns sat on a one-possession lead for most of the game. It was 10-6 when they took over on their own 9 with 11:31 left.
Hoyer worked some magic with his quick releases and completions, but he needed an offset, and McGahee was it. McGahee, 31, gained 5 yards on a second-and-4 and 4 yards on the next play.
Hoyer worked to wideout Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. After a 31-yard play to Gordon, McGahee ran on the next three plays:
Nine yards to the 15. Five yards to the 10. Nine more yards to the 1. It was the best running sequence of the season, at the most opportune time.
Hoyer forgot about blocking out the crowd after finishing the epic 91-yard drive with a touchdown flick to Chris Ogbonnaya, on the right side. The 27-year-old quarterback soaked in the sea of faces — the crowd was 71,481 — and let out a roar as he pumped his fist.
“By the time Obie caught the ball,” Hoyer said, “I was at the 40. He was so wide open. If I’d missed that throw, it would have been embarrassing.”
The lead swelled to 17-6 with 4:54 left. The Bengals were toast.
By now, the Browns’ season was supposed to be another embarrassment. They were to be 0-4, with too little offense to help an emerging defense, a sitting duck for ridicule on prime-time TV.
The prospect made captain D’Qwell Jackson utterly sick. Immediately after a loss at Baltimore put the Browns at 0-2 for the fifth time in his seven years with the team, Jackson called a team meeting.
A lead-by-example captain, Jackson got some double takes with his tone.
“It was not my library voice,” he said. “The message was, ‘Don’t go in the tank. I’ve been through that. I’ve been through that on some pretty bad teams. This is not that team.’ ”
On Cincinnati’s first snap Sunday, nose tackle Phil Taylor vaporized BenJarvus Green-Ellis for no gain.
“It did set a tone,” Taylor said. “We came right out and hit ’em in the mouth.”
The Bengals drove a bit and punted to the Cleveland 5. Hoyer drove the Browns 95 yards, featuring a 39-yard catch and run by Travis Benjamin. Cameron, the emerging fantasy-league superstar, scored his fifth touchdown on a 2-yard play.
A big moment followed a 40-yard pass interference call against Buster Skrine. That led to a fourth-and-1 at the 7.
Coach Marvin Lewis, perhaps in response to Rob Chudzinski’s aggressive approach — the Cleveland head coach had tried an onside kick earlier — went for it.
Jackson and defensive end Desmond Bryant stuffed Green-Ellis for a 2-yard loss.
As a result of Mike Nugent making a field goal and Billy Cundiff missing two, the Browns’ halftime lead was 7-3.
Cundiff redeemed himself with a 51-yarder that made it 10-3 in the third quarter. A chip shot by Nugent sent it to the fourth quarter at 10-6.
The Browns have let decent prospects slip away in fourth quarters a thousand times. This time, the defense stopped Cincinnati for one first down on each of three possessions. The offense delivered a 91-yard drive.
Taylor seemed of a mind to keep his jersey on until the next game.
“We’re not done yet,” he said. “We’ve got Buffalo Thursday night. We can go show them, as well.”
Show them? Was this a statement game?
Hoyer wouldn’t go there.
“Why not?” he said.