CLEVELAND — The final two weeks of the preseason got a lot more interesting Saturday night.
A quarterback competition specializing in missed opportunities was energized with the fourth-quarter performance of rookie Brady Quinn. He threw two touchdowns in his first two professional possessions and earned a longer look as the regular season nears.
Coach Romeo Crennel wouldn’t say when he’ll name an opening-day starter nor rule Quinn out of the mix.
“All the quarterbacks will tell you they can play better,” Crennel said after the 23-20 loss to Detroit on Saturday. “We’ll evaluate it, then make some determinations.
“We’ve got a couple weeks left. We’ll see what happens.”
The ideal scenario entering training camp was for Charlie Frye or Derek Anderson to emerge as the undisputed starter. That would’ve allowed Crennel to sit Quinn at the start of the season.
But Frye and Anderson have taken turns struggling in two games, Anderson worse than Frye. Neither has led a touchdown drive, instead combining for four turnovers.
Their refusal to take control brings Quinn into the equation, even after an 11-day holdout cost him 16 practices. If Quinn is the future — the Browns traded next year’s first-round pick to move up to draft him No. 22 — and he’s playing as well as the other two candidates, why wait to put him in the starting lineup?
That’s the question facing Crennel and general manager Phil Savage. They could start to answer it by giving Quinn more repetitions with the starters this week during practice, and perhaps giving him the start Saturday night in Denver.
The fans surely want to see that. They spent Saturday night chanting Quinn’s name and taking pictures of his debut.
“It doesn’t make a difference what I say, they’re going to still be encouraged by what they saw,” Crennel said. “And I think you have to give the young man credit for being able to come in and do what he did.
“Their best guys weren’t in there, but our guys weren’t in there, either. Let them get excited, but we still will do what we feel is best for this team.”
Quinn was protected by the second-team tackles, but threw to third- and fourth-team receivers and running backs. With Detroit holding a big lead, the defense sat back and gave Quinn room to throw underneath. He took advantage with eight completions to running backs Jerome Harrison, Chris Barclay and Jason Wright.
“He took what the defense gave him and showed athleticism out of the pocket,” Frye said.
Quinn went 13-for-20 for 155 yards, touchdown drives of 63 and 92 yards and a 121.9 rating. Four of the incompletions were spikes to stop the clock. He scrambled to his right on a 4-yard touchdown to Efrem Hill and showed good pocket presence as he saw the rush, stood in and delivered a 24-yard strike over the middle to Steve Sanders.
“Quinn came in there and did a nice job with the plays he was given,” Crennel said. “He showed some composure and was able to move the team down the field in a tough, critical situation. If you’re looking for something that’s encouraging, that’s encouraging.”
Quinn’s night was in stark contrast to those of Frye and Anderson. Not only did he put points on the board, he controlled the action and didn’t get flustered.
Frye failed on a rushed, ill-advised sneak on fourth-and-2, and Anderson presided over a trip inside the red zone that included two timeouts with the play clock at two seconds, a delay-of-game penalty on an audible from the 1-yard line, a false start by guard Seth McKinney and an interception.
“When you’re not concentrating the way you need to concentrate, those things happen,” Crennel said. “Those things took points off the board basically.”
Quinn put them on, which had the fans in a frenzy. Quinn said he heard the chants “one or two times,” but cautioned the fans to get behind whomever Crennel chooses.
“I always heard the backup quarterback is the favorite quarterback,” Quinn said. “They need to follow whoever the starter is. Everyone’s got to know that’s the best guy for the job and that’s what the head coach is here for.
“That’s our guy and that’s who we’re running with. All our quarterbacks support who the starter is. That’s how our team feels, so I think our fans need to feel the same way.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.