Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden had a golden opportunity to silence his critics Sunday afternoon.
Instead, his ears wound up ringing with a familiar sound: Well-deserved boos from a sellout crowd at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Weeden threw two costly interceptions — one of them blooper-reel quality — as the Detroit Lions scored 24 unanswered points in a 31-17 victory.
“A loss is a loss, whether it’s by one or 14 points. It’s frustrating,” the second-year pro said. “I felt comfortable and I thought we had an outstanding week of practice, and I told the guys that today. I felt good about the way we prepared and I loved the game plan.
“We played so well in the first half, it’s just disappointing that we weren’t able to find a way to finish it and get the win.”
Weeden finished with respectable statistics, completing 26 of 43 passes for 292 yards, two touchdowns, two picks and a 76.9 rating in reclaiming his job from the injured Brian Hoyer.
But those numbers don’t tell the true story about how he played in his first start in a month.
The Browns failed to score on all six of their second-half drives — turning a 17-7 lead into a 14-point loss — as Weeden remained winless since Dec. 9, 2012.
Even more damning, Cleveland has been outscored 55-3 in the second half in Weeden’s three starts this season, seemingly proving that he cannot adapt to opponents’ halftime adjustments.
“At the end of the day, it’s a team sport, but it (stinks) that a lot of the time the blame gets put on the quarterback,” guard Shawn Lauvao said. “Brandon is a tough guy and he has a strong will, so he has to just look past this.”
Despite having 10 days to prepare for a good but not great defensive team in Detroit, Weeden again failed to make quick decisions and flung the football all over the field.
Two of those off-target throws wound up in the hands of Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy, who couldn’t believe his good fortune.
“Other than the two picks, I don’t think I played too well today,” said Levy, who had seven interceptions in his 62 previous NFL games. “The first one, I kind of anticipated it, turned around and got it. The other one, I was just trying to be around the ball.”
Levy made his first theft in the second quarter when Weeden underthrew fullback Chris Ogbonnaya on a sideline pattern, but his second came on an even worse pass.
With 4:44 left in the fourth and the Browns trailing 24-17, Weeden was pressured by Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Even though it was first-and-10 at the Detroit 44, the 6-foot-3 quarterback inexplicably tried an underhand flip toward Ogbonnaya on the left sideline.
Levy grabbed the gift, which was such a remarkably bad decision by Weeden, it left the 71,513 fans in stunned silence — unable to boo because they were unable to process what they had just witnessed.
The jeers did return minutes later while the Lions marched down the field for their game-clinching score.
“It’s like Norv (Turner, offensive coordinator) said, anytime you underhand stuff, bad things happen,” Weeden said, attempting to lighten the mood at his postgame press conference.
“I was trying to flip the ball way over Oby’s head, but it would have been better to take the sack. That one’s on me. I’ll just tuck it and go down the next time.”
Though Cleveland fans don’t want to hear this, Weeden will definitely have a next time. And a next time. And a next time after that.
With Hoyer undergoing reconstructive right knee surgery this week, Weeden figures to start Cleveland’s remaining games. Jason Campbell may be an adequate backup, but he is well past his prime and not part of the franchise’s plans.
Weeden also isn’t viewed as a keeper by Browns CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi, but has been given — essentially, by default — a 10-game audition for his next team.
If Weeden can keep Cleveland competitive, as Hoyer did in going 3-0, he could land a starting job elsewhere.
But with a 5-13 career record and an 18-to-22 touchdown-to-interception ratio, the odds are against either of those things happening.
“Brandon is our starter and we have complete faith in him,” guard John Greco said. “And I know he has complete faith in us, which is the way it has to be.
“You feel for him on a day like this, but it’s a long season, and he knows that. This is the situation we’re in, so we don’t really have a choice but to move forward as a team.”