Hoyer’s late drive helps Browns shock Saints 26-24
CLEVELAND (AP) — When the Browns explained their plans to Brian Hoyer about bringing rookie Johnny Manziel into the game, Cleveland’s starting quarterback bit his lip and devised one of his own.
With the game on the line, he executed it to perfection.
Showing the poise that helped win him the starting job in the first place, Hoyer completed several clutch passes while driving the Browns 85 yards to set up Billy Cundiff’s 29-yard field goal with 3 seconds left, giving Cleveland its first win in a home opener since 2004, a 26-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
“It’s a long time coming,” Hoyer said.
The last time the Browns (1-1) were 1-0 at home, Hoyer had just finished high school, his future uncertain.
It may have arrived.
Hoyer went 8 of 11 for 78 yards on the final drive, converting twice on third down and threading a 10-yard pass over the middle to tight end Gary Barnidge on fourth down — the kind of play that can help convince skeptical fans and earn the trust of teammates.
“It’s great to get a win,” said Hoyer, who finished 24 of 40 for 204 yards and a touchdown. “The biggest thing for me is to win a game like that. We won one like that in my first start against Minnesota last year and you see the guys when you get back to the sideline really believing in you. That’s the best feeling there is.
“Winning the game is great, but when the guys in that room respect you, that’s what it’s all about and it’s a great feeling.”
Hoyer wasn’t feeling nearly so excited earlier in the week when offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan informed him that Manziel might play some. Johnny Football came in for three plays, handing off twice and scrambling before throwing a pass dropped by fullback Ray Agnew.
But Manziel’s time on the field seemed to inspire Hoyer, who completed 15 of 19 passes after his backup came out and handed the Saints (0-2) their fifth consecutive regular-season road loss.
“When there’s only one of you on the field, it’s hard for you to get taken off,” Hoyer said. “Kyle was up front with me, and said, ‘Look, we may do it. We may not. If we need to use it, we might.’ I think that helped me. As mad as I was when he told me, I think it mentally helped me prepare for it.”
Here are some other things we learned during Cleveland’s win:
HOLE-Y SAINTS: For the second week in a row, New Orleans defense didn’t get the job done in crunch time.
The Saints were unable to get a stop on Cleveland’s final drive, and they helped the Browns with an offside penalty and blown coverage on a key 28-yard pass play.
If that wasn’t bad enough coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had a heated exchange on the sideline in the fourth quarter. Payton shrugged it off as something that happens in “every game” but at 0-2, the Saints are feeling some pressure.
JOHNNY PACKAGE: Manziel’s debut was brief and rather ordinary.
He entered the game with 14:07 left in the third quarter and handed the ball to fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell for a three-yard gain on a read-option play. He returned later for another handoff and incompletion. Browns coach Mike Pettine, who got his first career win, said the Browns had considered using Manziel last week at Pittsburgh.
DREW’S DAY: On a day when he moved into fourth place on the NFL’s career passing list, Saints quarterback Drew Brees left unsatisfied.
After a slow start, Brees went 27 of 40 for 237 yards and threw two TD passes to Jimmy Graham. Brees moved ahead of Hall of Famer John Elway in career yardage, but would have preferred the win.
“We’re one play away in each of these games from being 2-0 instead of 0-2,” he said.
BE LIKE MIKE: Pettine was presented with a game ball by Hoyer and got a handshake from Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown.
Pettine is trying to change the culture in Cleveland and this was a big step.
“From the day he’s been here he has really tried to instill in us to play like a Brown, the mental toughness, being smart, accountability,” Hoyer said. “Our team has really bought into that.”
KARLOS’ KO: Overshadowed by Hoyer’s drive was Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby’s sack of Brees late in the fourth, which stopped a Saints drive and took them out of field goal range. It was Dansby’s first sack with Cleveland and the 39th of his career.