The Cleveland Browns play a meaningful game on Sunday. It is the team’s first meaningful game this late in a season since 2007.
That’s a lot of bad football in between.
We’ve seen our fair share of bad football in the first nine games this season. Losses to the Dolphins and Ravens to open the season and the big egg that was laid at Lambeau Field, but there have been some bright spots.
Here are what I think are the Browns’ top five plays from the first nine games of the 2013 season.
Let me know your to play in the comments.
Browns’ fake field goal vs. Vikings. Less than a week after the Browns pulled off the shocking Trent-Richardson-for-a-first-round pick trade, they traveled to Minnesota. While the fake field goal wasn’t the only big play for the Browns that day, it highlighted the way the team positively responded to the adversity.
T.J. Ward’s 44-yard interception return for a touchdown to give the Browns a 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night. The Browns led by six points and while the Bills had something called a Jeff Tuel at quarterback, admit it, you were thinking: “Final score, Bills 31, Browns 30.”
Barkevious Mingo’s first NFL sack. After missing the season opener because of an injury, Mingo’s first NFL game occurred Week 2 in Baltimore. On his first snap, Mingo sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
5. Travis Benjamin’s 79-yard punt return on Thursday night vs. Bills
After falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter, the Browns’ second quarter surge was punctuated with Benjamin’s return. The speed he displayed on the return was quite like nothing we’ve seen from a player wearing orange and brown in a long, long time.
For the moment, it helped us forget about the injured Brian Hoyer (we’ll get to that in a minute) and although the Browns would again relinquish the lead in the third quarter, the punt return itself was one of the more electric moments on the lakefront in a long, long time.
4. Gordon’s 47-yard touchdown reception from Brian Hoyer vs. Vikings
Josh Gordon did not play the first two games of the 2013 season. The Browns lost both games. Coincidence? Well, his absence didn’t help. This play, which was an easy pitch and catch did more than pull the Browns to a 7-all tie with the Vikings midway through the first quarter.
It announced the arrival of Gordon as a playmaker and Hoyer as a quarterback capable of making plays. Suddenly, the prospect of no Trent Richardson and an injured Brandon Weeden wasn’t viewed as a bad thing. The Browns had Gordon and Hoyer making plays and scoring touchdowns.
3. Brandon Weeden injures thumb at Baltimore
Let’s face it, if Weeden didn’t injury his thumb late in the game at Baltimore on Sept. 15, how long would the team have gone with him as the starter? Four games? Eight games? All season?
Thankfully, we didn’t have to find out and the injury forced the Browns’ hand.
2. Jason Campbell’s fourth down pass to Bess vs. Ravens
The Browns were facing a fourth-and-2 with two minute to play in the game and a three-point lead. Head coach Rob Chudzinski decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal. Campbell rolled right and found a sliding Davone Bess for three yards and a first down. A week earlier, Bess’ dropped balls and muffed a punt that cost the Browns a chance at a win at Kansas City.
1. Brian Hoyer’s 11-yard, first-quarter run that ended with a torn ACL vs. Bills on Thursday night.
Through the bizarre circumstances that is Cleveland Browns quarterbacking in 2013, the team appeared to find a savior with the emergence of hometown boy Brian Hoyer.
He started (and completed) two games for the Browns and won both at Minnesota and at home against the Bengals. He completed 59.4 percent of his passes and threw five touchdowns to only three interception. He engineered a game-winning drive at Minnesota and led the Browns to a game-clinching touchdown drive a week later at home against he Bengals.
He had the team and the fans believing this team had a shot in 2013. Then, he was flushed out of the pocket against the Bills on Oct. 3. The play ended with a torn ACL and the Browns lost him for the remainder of the season.
We’ll never know what this team could have done with Hoyer healthy for the remaining 14 games. Jason Campbell has played admirable filling in for Hoyer who filled in for Weeden.
We don’t know what the Browns will do with the quarterback situation this offseason. What we do know is thanks to the positive efforts of Hoyer and Campbell coupled with the frustrating performances by Weeden, this season has been nothing short of compelling.
And now the Browns enter Sunday’s game with an AFC North title theirs to lose. Just beat Cincinnati and sweep the season series with Pittsburgh.
As bad as football has been here since 2008, it’s a welcomed scenario.