BEREA — Brandon Weeden had never experienced this side of his new hometown. Happy people, excitement in the air, free dessert.
Weeden finally saw Cleveland after a Browns win Sunday night. After five weeks of agonizing losses, he had something to celebrate at dinner with his in-laws besides his 29th birthday.
“It was a lot different,” Weeden said Monday, less than 24 hours after a 34-24 win over the Bengals. “The morale was a lot better. People were great. Really friendly and congratulating and really excited about what we were able to do.
“It just showed the passion this town has and I’d love to win a lot more because it’s a lot more fun going out to eat and being around people when you win games.”
Weeden has improved in his first six games and was smarter with the ball Sunday. His only interception — his league-worst 10th of the year — was tipped at the line and he threw for 231 yards, two touchdowns and a 92.7 rating.
As the quarterback, he will always be judged on wins and losses. So even if the 0-5 start wasn’t his fault, the first victory carries extra weight.
“It was a good one for me, good for the confidence and good for all us rookies to get our first win,” he said. “The taste of winning, the feeling of walking in that locker room after you win a game, that never gets old. There’s nothing that can replace that feeling.
“After winning games like that, you want that feeling more than once. It’s a lot more fun today.”
The five losses were maddening for how close the Browns came to victory. Each week they were sabotaged by the inability to make critical plays late in the game. Instead, dropped interceptions, blown coverages, missed tackles, Weeden interceptions and dropped passes hurt the cause.
That changed Sunday against Cincinnati. Rookie receiver Josh Gordon caught a 71-yard touchdown early, but then the funk set in. The Browns went seven straight possessions over the middle two quarters without a first down. The fans in the stadium were restless, while some at home threw down the remote and went to work in the yard.
But the Browns emerged on the other side with clutch plays and a victory.
“It wasn’t always pretty,” said coach Pat Shurmur, who won his first division game in nine tries and snapped the Browns’ NFL-long 12-game skid in the AFC North. “We had too many three-and-outs.
“We were calling bad plays and we weren’t executing them right. I thought we were playing a pretty salty defense, too. We just kept picking away and we found a combination of plays that worked and then you get into a little rhythm.”
A Joshua Cribbs 60-yard punt return and a Joe Haden interception led to field goals that trimmed the deficit to 14-13 in the third quarter. The offense caught the spark and totaled nine first downs on two straight touchdown drives to win the game.
“We found a way to score enough points and I’ve said all along, it’s about points and not yardage,” Shurmur said.
The Browns are averaging 22.3 points after 13.6 in 2011. That was one of the areas Shurmur pointed to during the losing streak as a sign of progress. The victory is validation.
“We’ve been building up to it,” he said. “I’ve sat here and said I think we’re getting better. It’s easy for folks to roll their eyes until you win a game. Now that we’ve won one, I want our players to get greedy with that feeling and go out and try to win against the Colts.”
Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is in his seventh year with the Browns, which means he’s seen a few wins sprinkled among dozens of losses. He wasn’t getting carried away after the latest one.
“We knew at some point we’d get our first win,” he said. “It’s how well will we respond next week. That’s going to be the true test of how well these young guys can understand the situation and actually get better week to week. Next week, in my opinion, we’ll be able to tell what type of character team we do have.”
It’s only one win, but it seems to carry a greater significance. Jimmy Haslam III will be approved as the new owner today at the NFL owners meeting in Chicago, and a positive vibe is flowing around Browns Town.
Outgoing owner Randy Lerner was a Browns fan his entire life but decided it was time to turn over the franchise to someone else after nearly a decade. He hasn’t been around much since the sale agreement but texted Shurmur congratulations Sunday.
“Randy, he wanted us to win,” Jackson said. “When he was around, he respected all of us. I built a relationship with him and his kids. I wish him nothing but the best moving forward.
“But this new guy, Haslam, he’s been around. You can tell he’s a fan. He’s a fan of the game, he’s a fan of just people. You can tell he wants to be successful. I have a good feeling when they actually vote to make him the outright owner, I think things are going to change for the better.”