Monday leftovers (Friday edition)
The latest iteration of “Is There Really a Cleveland Sports Curse?” raised its homely little head Thursday night with the season-ending knee injury to Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer and screamed “YES!”
Just when it seemed as though the Browns might have gotten lucky with the emergence – at least for two games – of a local kid who began to look like a legitimate, game-winning quarterback, he goes down.
A mere two games are all we got from Hoyer, whose talent was dangled before us like a carrot on a stick and then ripped away. And now, we’re back to Brandon Weeden, whose style is the antithesis of Hoyer.
There has to be a curse of some sort. Why tease Browns fans with some real good quarterbacking and then yank it away before they had a chance to enjoy it? Makes no sense whatsoever.
All these years since the resurrection in 1999, Browns fans have waited patiently, almost longingly, for that day the quarterback of their dreams would finally arrive and bring back the good, old days.
Tim Couch was not the answer. Neither were Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Jake Delhomme, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and Colt McCoy. The litany of failure at that position has become legendary in the last 14 years.
For the most part, it’s been one double-digit losing season after another. That could have been avoided with good quarterbacking, which could have at least counterbalanced bad defense.
So when Brandon Weeden and his strong arm arrived in Berea last season, hopes rose that finally that bridge would be crossed. But a big arm, as it turned out, can be neutered by a failure to play the game properly between the ears.
That’s why Hoyer’s meteoric rise, in the wake of a thumb injury to Weeden, had taken on such a positive glow. He made the kind of throws not seen by Browns fans in at least 25 years. He actually took a moribund offense and breathed life into it.
It had taken on a storybook feel when his first two games resulted in victories, both of which were directly attributable to him. It was almost too good to be true – a hometown kid coming back to his hometown and actually making significant contributions.
A lot of people call Bernie Kosar a hometown product. Well, if you consider Boardman, Ohio, located about 60 miles southeast of Cleveland, a hometown, then yes, he qualifies.
But Hoyer is a product of the Cleveland school system. He is truly Cleveland, not suburban Youngstown. He was born and raised in the Cleveland area, went to high school there and yearned for the day he could return and play for his childhood team.
But when he did, it didn’t take long to be cruelly introduced to the Cleveland Sports Curse Thursday night against the Buffalo Bills. Just when his star was ascending, it was struck down with suddenness on what appeared to be a simple slide while scrambling.
Lifelong Cleveland sports fans are used to this. It’s not The Shot, The Fumble, The Drive, Red Right 88 or even The Decision. But it hurts nonetheless. And the hurt is felt deeply by those fans who must wonder by now just what Cleveland did to deserve this fate.
Hoyer, of course, will be back next season. What the roster will look like at that point is anyone’s guess. A lot will depend on what happens the rest of this season. But Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi have made it crystal clear a new quarterback will be wearing the Seal Brown and Orange in 2014.
Who knows? This might have been Hoyer’s only shot with the Browns. If so, the irony with which his career with the team ends is certain to be fodder for many conversations and subsequent arguments.
For now, though, it’s up to the next man up. That would be Weeden. So the Browns can now go back to the original plan to tank the season, which is where they were headed when Trent Richardson was traded to Indianapolis. Hoyer sort of messed things up by winning those two games, necessitating a Plan B. Back to Plan A.
~ Sometimes, it’s very important to pay attention to your coaches. Listen very carefully to what they tell you and then go out and do it. Take Buffalo Bills punter Shawn Powell, for example.
Thursday night, Powell punted the ball eight times for a 45.5-yard average. Not bad until you take into account that seven of them were returned by Travis Benjamin of the Browns, one winding up in the Buffalo end zone.
After Benjamin returned Powell’s first punt 57 yards to the Buffalo 31 late in the opening quarter, setting up the first of three Billy Cundiff field goals, one would think the coaching staff told Powell to kick the ball as far away from the punt return specialist as possible.
Either he wasn’t paying attention or developed a bad case of poor directional punting because two punts later, while trying to pin Benjamin to the right sideline, Powell missed by about 10 yards. In an obvious return left, Benjamin raced completely across the field, picked up several blocks, broke a couple of tackles and zigged and zagged 79 yards for the score to put the Browns ahead, 17-10.
For the evening, Benjamin wound up with a club-record 179 yards and provided the spark the club needed when Hoyer went down. As for Powell, the Bills cut him Friday.
~ It looks as though the Bills have a stud football player in rookie middle linebacker Kiko Alonso. He plays the game with reckless and total disregard for his body. He seemed to be everywhere against the Browns.
The Bills' second-round pick from Oregon has a nose for the ball you can’t teach. Whether it’s on a blitz or dropping into coverage, he almost always seems to be around the ball. He was in on 12 tackles and seemingly beat the offensive line off the ball most of the evening.
He made a play early in the fourth quarter that is certain to make the National Football League’s 2013 highlight reel. With the teams tied at 24-24 and the Browns facing a second and goal at the Buffalo 2 early in the fourth quarter, Alonso got a running start at the snap and launched himself over the both lines at the line of scrimmage.
He landed at the feet of Willis McGahee and dropped him for a four-yard loss. It was reminiscent of a similar play made over the years by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. If he can stay healthy, Alonso is going to be one hell of a player.
~Notebook: Hopefully, the Browns will never, ever, ever wear those all Brown uniforms again. But if they do, they need to put orange and white stripes down the side. . . . Cundiff is becoming a good friend of the defense. Of his seven kickoffs against the Bills, five were touchbacks and the others resulted in drives starting at the Buffalo 12 and 19. Nothing like giving the defense a long field. . . . On the other hand, maybe someone should tell Greg Little to remain in the end zone on kickoffs. He returned the first two against the Bills to the Cleveland 8 and 10. After a pair of touchbacks, he returned the last kickoff to the 26. . . . Ray Horton couldn’t have been pleased with his defense in the first three quarters, especially the tackling, or lack of it. That needs to be corrected. . . . The Browns caught a break when Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson left early with an injury. Joe Haden switched over to Robert Woods and shut him down. . . . Cornerback Buster Skrine played a solid game. He was active all evening with 12 tackles, a sack and a couple of passes defensed. . . . Left guard John Greco was a standout, too, pulling time and again to make running room for McGahee.