September 1, 2014

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Scott Petrak: Brian Hoyer, Browns both have work to do to make it back from quarterback’s season-ending knee injury

Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer limps off the field after being injured against the Buffalo Bills. Hoyer, the hometown quarterback who sparked the Browns to two straight wins, will miss the rest of the season with a torn right knee ligament. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer limps off the field after being injured against the Buffalo Bills. Hoyer, the hometown quarterback who sparked the Browns to two straight wins, will miss the rest of the season with a torn right knee ligament. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Every so often we get reminded that the cliches are true.

You can’t take anything for granted. No one’s promised tomorrow. Be prepared.

Crap happens.

Brian Hoyer’s torn anterior cruciate ligament brought an abrupt and extremely disappointing end to what was shaping up to be a memorable season for the North Olmsted native who grew up rooting for the hometown team.

The torn ligament inside his right knee must be heartbreaking for Hoyer.

Average-sized quarterbacks who go undrafted get one chance to prove themselves — if they’re lucky. This was Hoyer’s, and he was seizing it.

He officially became the first Browns quarterback to win his first three starts since they joined the NFL in 1950, although the record-breaking victory Thursday night consisted of seven snaps. He looked in total control of the offense, had renewed hope in the locker room and was the biggest reason for the turnaround from 0-2 to 3-2 and in first place in the AFC North.

Hoyer seemed destined to get the rest of the season to show the Browns and the league what he already believes — that he isn’t just a two-hit wonder and has everything it takes to be a successful long-term starter. He completed 59 percent for 615 yards,
five touchdowns, three interceptions and an 82.6 rating.

The 14 starts would’ve been enough for CEO Joe Banner, general manager Michael Lombardi and the coaching staff to draw their own conclusions. If Hoyer had kept it up, there was a reasonable chance the Browns would’ve passed on a quarterback in the first round of the draft in May.

But a late slide on a hustle play turned into a crunching hit from Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso and a painful landing. With his season over, Hoyer is powerless to build his resume. All he can do is have surgery, rehab and hope to return at some point next preseason — if the Browns pay him a $250,000 roster bonus due March 15, according to SiriusXM Radio’s Adam Caplan.

In case we needed it — and sometimes we do — here’s the reminder that the NFL is a cutthroat business and sentimentality doesn’t have a place.

Hoyer seems like a good guy and a hard worker who wants nothing more than to win games for the team he grew up cheering. If the Browns decide they can do better, or can’t wait, he’ll be cut loose.

The sample size was simply too small for the Browns to make any long-term commitment to Hoyer as the starter. He’ll turn 28 next week and has four starts and 192 passes in his career. It’s impossible to tell if he’s the championship quarterback Banner seeks.

There’s no arguing Hoyer’s misfortune. But the Browns would be foolish to abandon the plan of finding their quarterback in the first round of the draft.

It’s also unfortunate for the organization it didn’t have more time to see if it had caught lightning in a bottle. And for the fans who had been re-energized by Hoyer and also wanted to see if he could finally be the answer at the game’s most important position.

For the coaches and players, there’s no time to cry for Hoyer or themselves. The game didn’t stop Thursday night and the season will rage on this week. The AFC North looks flawed and winnable, and the Browns are right in the mix.

Brandon Weeden was standing feet away when Hoyer was injured. It took him about two seconds to realize the game was his. By Friday, he knew the season was, too.

Weeden takes a lot of grief from fans, and was booed after his first incompletion after replacing Hoyer. But he deserves credit for keeping the right mindset during his thumb injury and subsequent demotion. He also made a handful of perfect throws in the second half to win the game — despite practicing once in three weeks.

Weeden would never want Hoyer to get hurt, just as Hoyer didn’t want Weeden to get hurt in order to get his chance. But both were smart to be ready when the call came.

The focus has shifted back to Weeden. This season was supposed to be about finding out if he could be the answer. Hoyer’s hot start changed that, but only temporarily. Weeden has played better in each of his three games this year, and should get 11 more starts to state his case.

You never know what’s going to happen.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.