The Cleveland Browns' 13-point lead was quickly evaporating. With 13:49 left in the game last Sunday in Dallas, the Cowboys pulled to within three points. Gone was the dominant first half. Gone was the two-score lead. Gone was seemingly any hope the Browns would win this game.
Ahead 13-10, it was up to the Browns offense to go win the game. And, with all due respect to Trent Richardson, when we talk about the Browns' offense this season, it begins and ends with its quarterback, Brandon Weeden.
Is Weeden the guy? Everyone from fans to the team's new CEO Joe Banner has asked that question. What we do know is, aside from a majority of the 2007 by Derek Anderson and a handful of games from Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb, Weeden is arguably the best quarterback this team has had since 1999 in terms of possessing a complete skill set an NFL quarterback needs.
Like any rookie season, we've seen Weeden have ups and downs, but he has yet to go win a game. Last Sunday's game was a microcosm if Weeden's season. There were ups and downs throughout the entire contest.
The ups? The play from Weeden that helped the Browns build the 13-0 first-half lead.
The downs? The Browns found themselves trailing 17-13 with 6:46 left to play after Tony Romo connected with Dez Bryant for a 28-yard touchdown pass. Once the Browns scored their 13th point, the offense disappeared. Then, on the ensuring possession after the Cowboys took the lead, Weeden almost threw an interception on first down and he was strip-sacked on second down. The Cowboys took possession deep in Browns territory and appeared poised to seal the game.
It was a certainly a down point for Weeden. After a strong first half, the Browns offense was struggling. Weeden held the ball too long that allowed the strip sack to occur. He offense was stagnant. Is Weeden the guy?
Weeden got another chance. Two more, in fact. And with each chance what happened in the past didn't matter. He responded.
After the Weeden fumble, the Browns defense got their own strip sack and gave the ball back to the Browns offense.
This time, Weeden drove the Browns down the field. The offense returned to their first-half form. Weeden was making strong throws. His receivers were catching the ball. Unfortunately, the drive ended with a bizarre play call on fourth-and-goal. Weeden threw an incomplete fade route to Cameron Jordan. Was it a bad pass? Yes. Was it an ever worse play call? Oh yes. It was Weeden's only incompletion of the drive. He finished 4-for-5 passing for 52 yards. The fault did not rest with Weeden.
So, game over, right? Nope. The Browns defense held the Cowboys and they regained possession at the Dallas' 17-yard line. First play, Weeden connected Ben Watson for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 1:07 left to play.
In the Browns' final two possessions of regulation, Weeden was 5-for-6 passing for 69 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers.
He did all he could to win that game for the Browns. The team's defensive backs had other ideas.
Yes, Weeden had an up-and-down day. Yes, Weeden has had some clunkers for games this season. But for all the dropped passes from the inexperienced rookie receiving corps and questionable play calling from the much maligned coaching staff, Weeden has played well. He's completed 55.3 percent of his passes for 2,998 yards with 11 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. There is room for improvement, but the starting point has been a welcomed sight.
For all the question marks on this team and its 2-8 record, Weeden is a piece this team can build around for whoever takes over as coach next season.
There is no question. Weeden is the guy. To say he isn't only delays the development of this team's young, talented corps and the oh-so-sought after winning football that the city, the franchise and its fans so desperately needs.