CLEVELAND — Brandon Weeden lost his starting job, but never any confidence.
He promised that if he ever got the chance to start for the Browns again, he would make the most of it.
And Thursday night, in front of a home crowd that booed some of his early throws and a national TV audience, Weeden came to Cleveland’s rescue.
Weeden replaced injured starter Brian Hoyer and rallied the Browns to a 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills, who also lost starting rookie quarterback EJ Manuel with a knee injury.
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“You can only control what you can control,” Weeden said. “I’m just sticking my neck on the line for this football team. I prepared like I was starting, but it was tough with zero reps the last two weeks. I was a little rusty to start.”
Weeden threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon in the third quarter as the Browns (3-2) won their third straight and temporarily moved into sole possession of first place in the AFC North. It’s the Browns’ best record after five games since they were 3-2 in 2001.
“We don’t care about history,” Gordon said. “This is a new year, and this is a new team.”
Safety T.J. Ward intercepted Jeff Tuel’s pass and returned it 44 yards for a TD with 1:44 left to end any comeback hopes for the Bills (2-3).
“We’re a hungry football team,” Weeden said. “It took all three phases.”
Hoyer suffered a potentially serious right knee injury on a scramble in the first quarter, and Manuel was forced out after taking a helmet to his right knee on a run in the third. Neither returned, and their injuries could impact both teams’ seasons.
C.J. Spiller had a 54-yard TD run and Fred Jackson had a pair of 1-yard TD runs for the Bills, who could do nothing on offense once Manuel left the game. Tuel is an undrafted rookie from Washington State.
Billy Cundiff kicked field goals of 24 and 44 yards in the fourth quarter for the Browns, who overcame a 10-0 deficit and were down 24-17 less than two minutes into the second quarter.
Cundiff’s second kick put the Browns ahead 30-24, and Cleveland turned it over to its third-ranked defense.
With the Bills still within a TD, Tuel locked in on Robert Woods and never saw Ward, who cut in front of the receiver and scored untouched, allowing Cleveland fans to relax after a hectic second half.
Travis Benjamin had an electrifying 79-yard TD punt return in the first half for Cleveland.
Bills leading receiver Stevie Johnson injured his back in the first half and didn’t return.
Browns defensive end Desmond Bryant was taken to the hospital after experiencing shortness of breath.
• In his first for-the-record comments since his name has been bandied about as a possible replacement for Lane Kiffin at USC, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio declined to address speculation he might return to his alma mater. Asked if he’d been contacted by USC, he said, “No. No. No, there’s nothing to speak on that subject.”
• Getting into the Minnesota Vikings’ glitzy new stadium will come at a high cost for some fans: an average of $2,500 for the right to buy a season ticket in the new building. The ticket licenses cover three-quarters of the building’s 65,000 seats.
• Wide receiver Chris Williams, who negotiated his release from the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger Cats this week, has signed a contract with the New Orleans Saints.
• The Jacksonville Jaguars were awarded rookie linebacker John Lotulelei off waivers from Seattle.