Brandon Weeden should have known it wasn’t his day when he was trapped under a giant American flag just before kickoff.
Somehow, though, things managed to get much, much worse for him Sunday afternoon.
Weeden put together one of the poorest statistical performances in Browns history — topped by four interceptions and two fumbles — as he had a huge hand in Philadelphia handing the Browns a 17-16 loss at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
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The former Oklahoma State star went 12-of-35 passing for 118 yards and a microscopic 5.1 passer rating, failing to lead the Browns’ offense on a drive longer than seven plays — or to a touchdown.
So much for getting the season off to a good start.
“Obviously, things did not go as I expected or how I hoped they would today,” said Weeden, who became the first rookie quarterback to start an NFL opener for Cleveland. “I take a lot of pride in playing better than that, and I put our team in a lot of bad situations. I’m down right now, and I expect to play better.”
As the numbers indicate, it would be virtually impossible for Weeden to play worse. Only 20 NFL quarterbacks in the last 52 years have thrown four picks and had a lower rating in a game — and none of them played for the Browns.
Weeden’s rating also was the sixth lowest in Cleveland history, only bettering then-rookie Don Gault (0.0 against Pittsburgh in 1970), Jeff Garcia (0.0 at Dallas in 2004), Bruce Gradkowski (1.0 at Pittsburgh in 2008), and two duds by Jim Ninowski (2.8 at Philadelphia in 1962, and 4.4 at Detroit in 1963).
“You want it to be roses all the time, but the guys you’re playing against are really good,” he said. “It’s a long year, it’s a long season, but obviously, I don’t want anyone to remember the first (game).”
The 28-year-old gunslinger made so many mistakes, describing them could take all day. Several of them, however, were more notable than the others because they proved so costly to the Browns in a one-point loss.
Weeden overthrew wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and tight end Alex Smith when they were wide open in the end zone in the first and third quarters, respectively. Both drives ended with Phil Dawson field goals.
“I just missed a couple of throws, that (Massaquoi) one and the one to Alex Smith,” the first-round draft pick said. “I make that throw 10 times out of 10 (to Smith), but on the first one, I was a little amped.”
Weeden also threw the ball toward an invisible receiver on third-and-goal to start the fourth quarter, and fumbled twice during a seven-minute span in the third. He also lost the football after being sacked in the first, but that fumble was wiped out by an Eagles penalty.
“There are going to be some plays he’s going to shake his head on that he can do better,” Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur said. “But I did not see a guy that was starry-eyed, not at all. I see a guy that can play better, absolutely.”
While the first of Weeden’s interceptions was solely the fault of Greg Little, who dropped a nice throw near the goal line, the other three were on him.
Two deep tosses to Travis Benjamin were easily picked off by cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, while safety Kurt Coleman appeared to be the intended receiver on the initial play of the Browns’ final drive with 1:12 left.
“I was excited when we got the ball because we practice that two-minute drill in practice and I knew the situation: We needed a field goal,” Weeden said. “The ball just took off on me, and bad things are always going to happen when that happens.”
“Bad” also would be an apt, if not too tame, description of Weeden’s actions with one second remaining in the first half and Philadelphia holding a 10-3 lead.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder took the snap at the Eagles’ 48-yard line, eluded the pass rush, and headed up the middle of the field. But when he saw one defender heading toward him, he inexplicably slid to the grass to declare himself down — ending the half with a whimper and a chorus of boos.
If there was any consolation, at least Weeden wasn’t buried under Old Glory and surrounded by soldiers while he was on the ground. That situation played out earlier when he was caught off-guard during preparations for the national anthem.
“I always play catch at the 35- or 40-yard line before the game, and nobody warned me the big (100-yard) flag was coming out,” he said, chuckling. “The equipment guy and I had to duck down and lay on the ground for a minute and let it roll by. I looked at him the whole time and said, ‘Man, this (stinks).’”
Weeden didn’t know it at the time, but it wound up being the highlight of his first professional game.
“Part of my makeup is that I have a pretty short memory,” he said. “I’m not going to let anything get to me. I’m going to continue to work, bust my tail, and give this team a chance to win.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.