Hoyer’s starting nod prize? Luck & Colts

Published 12:37 am Sunday, December 7, 2014

CLEVELAND (AP) — Brian Hoyer has had some wild work week.

The Browns’ quarterback held off hotshot rookie Johnny Manziel again to keep his starting job and now faces a must-win situation to keep Cleveland’s playoff hopes alive.

All he has to do is outscore Andrew Luck and the high-flying Indianapolis Colts and their No. 1-ranked offense.

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All he has to do is outduel Luck while missing his most consistent wide receiver, playing behind a backup center and with two rookie running backs who have had trouble holding onto the ball.

And, all Hoyer has to do is appease a divided home crowd, with thousands ready to break into “John-ny, John-ny” chants the moment one of his passes wobbles off target.

Maybe playing for your hometown team isn’t all what it’s cracked up to be.

Still Hoyer, who has put the Browns (7-5) in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, believes he and his teammates can snap out of a three-week slump.

“We’ve done it before,” he said. “This is the NFL. Not every week is going to be easy, and you’re going to play tough teams. That’s not something that we haven’t done before and something I haven’t done before. I have total confidence in myself and in my teammates and in our offense. We just need to get back to what we do best. You see it in games, and when we’re on, we’re on.”

Hoyer certainly wasn’t “on” last week in Buffalo.

After throwing his second interception — and sixth in three games — he was yanked in the fourth quarter for Manziel, who came in and led the Browns to their only touchdown in a 26-10 loss.

Browns coach Mike Pettine considered switching this week to Johnny Football, but decided that Hoyer gave the Browns the better chance to beat the Colts (8-4), who can wrap up the AFC South title with a win and if Houston loses to Jacksonville.

Pettine’s choice prevented the Browns from making yet another quarterback change. They’ve already had 20 quarterbacks since 1999, and remarkably, Hoyer (10-5) is the only one with a winning record.

Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson rode Cleveland’s QB carousel during eight seasons with the Browns, and feels Hoyer is under appreciated.

“He’s a winner,” Jackson said. “Guys follow him. He’s a great student of the game. He understands his strengths. He moves the ball around. I’m pretty sure it’s been a tough road for him trying to block out all the noise and just play football. In my opinion, I think he’s done a phenomenal job with just playing football and making the best out of his opportunity.”

Unless he wins, Hoyer’s chance could end Sunday.

While much of the focus will be on Hoyer, who lost clutch wide receiver Miles Austin with a season-ending kidney injury, here are some other things to watch as the Browns host the Colts:

JOHNNY PACKAGE: Manziel’s showing last week — 5 of 8 for 63 yards in two series — has the Browns considering using him more during games. Manziel said he took more snaps during practice, and Jackson figures No. 2 will make an appearance.

“I think at some point there’s a good chance we could see Johnny Manziel,” he said. “If I were to put my offensive coordinator hat on, I would probably sprinkle him in a little bit just to keep us honest, just to keep us on our heels.”

LUCK’S NUMBERS: Luck hits milestones each week, and he’s on the cusp of doing it against the Browns, too. He needs five completions to reach 1,000 in his career, nine attempts to reach 500 for the third straight year, 20 completions and 81 yards passing to break Peyton Manning’s NFL records for the most by a player in his first three NFL seasons (1,014 completions and 12,287 yards).

WELCOME HOME: For several Colts, the trip to Cleveland is a homecoming. Jackson, return specialist Josh Cribbs, running back Trent Richardson, safety Mike Adams and Indy coach Chuck Pagano spent time with the Browns. Cribbs enjoyed a tight bond with Browns fans and was disappointed the team wouldn’t re-sign him. He’d like nothing more than to take a kick or punt back all the way and celebrate with a leap into the Dawg Pound.

BALL SECURITY: Fumbles have been a problem for Browns rookie backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, who had the ball stripped by the Bills and returned for a game-changing TD.

“I let my team down, but it’s a big opportunity this week to redeem myself,” said West. “I’m looking forward. I’m past that point.”

TYING PEYTON: Colts receiver Reggie Wayne’s run as second-best could come to an end Sunday. Barring a surprise, the 36-year-old will tie Manning for the most games played in Colts history (208). A win would allow Wayne to tie Manning for another franchise record — most wins in Colts’ history (141).


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